When we talk about empathy in the problem solving context, we typically relate it to empathy for users. When we try to help organizations innovate and change, understanding user experience is important, but one sided empathy alone is not enough. To drive and facilitate change we need three-way empathy.
1. Empathy for the users
To design anything relevant to people we need to understand their needs and pain points. We need to solve problems for them that are worth of solving. Empathy for users starts from understanding that you yourself are not the user. And neither are your colleagues. People are different, and so are their experiences. By embracing the versatility of differences in what drives people’s behaviors we can learn how to design solutions that create value to users. Designing for everyone and looking at averages doesn’t help us to come up with sharp solutions. We need to look at different individuals and truly understand their life trough empathy to get inspired to create something relevant, something that people love to talk about. Empathy is skill fuelled by the mindset of curiosity.
2. Empathy for the CEO
Empathy for the users is a starting point for innovation that becomes meaningful for people and valuable for organization. However, focusing only on users will lead into paths that are not relevant in relation to strategy of the organization. The sweet spot of innovation is in where user needs and company’s intent and capabilities collide. To be relevant and efficient human-centric designers should also develop their empathy for CEO. We need to understand why organization needs to change and what may prevent that change. This helps us to better understand how the company is looking at it’s business and customers. You will have a clear understanding of brief and can communicate in the same language with the management. Only insights that get a buy-in and are relevant for business will eventually lead to change.
3. Empathy for the co-workers
Human centric design all about building solutions together. The old way of designing solutions in isolation leads to vast implementation and change management projects. When the true problems are realized and discussed together and solutions are born from co-creation, there is less resistance for change. To build things together we need empathy for our co-workers — the team we work with, and eventually for whole body of organization who is involved in change. Instead of selling our own viewpoints, we need to learn to truly listen different perspectives, even the ones that are driven by fear for change, and learn to build on each others ideas. Innovation is not a competition of who is most creative. Listening is not easy when you disagree. But when we listen with curious mind, we open the horizon of new opportunities and deeper understanding of our problem we are trying to solve. Without organizational empathy we end up using lot of time and energy in internal struggles. That energy should be utilized for constructive solutioning. And in design, solutioning is not intellectual debate - it’s about proving your point and assumption by making it real and testing it out, then making it better based on what you have learned. Both from users and the organization. Everyone can contribute to making the solution better.