Why is Empathy a catalyst for Business Innovation?

Article submitted by: Wendy Mahoney

Why is empathy a catalyst for Business Innovation? If anyone had told me a couple years ago that empathy was essential to innovation and profit, I would never have taken them seriously. I mean how can such a soft skill like empathy have a place in hard innovation and profit, right? It was only after years of studying and lecturing business innovation that I now understand the immense value of empathy, why and how it truly unlocks innovation quicker than any other skill.


So, lets back track a little and understand what empathy is and what business innovation is and how they are possibly linked.


Merriam-Webster describes empathy as, “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner”.


Tim Brown describes innovation as the process of receiving inspiration and through ideation and implementation, converting ideas into products and services of value. The process is described as being human centered, the conceptualizing of an idea for a human being by a human being.


The link between innovation and empathy, is that the more empathetic one is the deeper they are able to connect with a stakeholder. This connection and ability to feel the pain of another or desire to enable another, is a catalyst for inspiration and ideation. The greater the depth of your feeling for another and the more closely you understand their environment the better able you are to solve their problem and the more effective your solution. Innovation is all about problem solving and creative solutions of value.


So how does one begin to cultivate empathy, how do we step out of our model of the world, suspend our belief systems and step into the world of another? In my opinion we first need to become aware of our unconscious bias and through that knowledge begin to understand that our perspective on the world may not actually be reality, it is just our reality. Reflect on how diverse your circles are and how inclusive you are of views that differ to your own. A quick tip would be to master the art of listening to understand as opposed to listening to reply. This alone will allow the cultivation of greater empathy for another, fueling your ability to innovate.


We will dive a little deeper next week into diversity. A topic that is gaining increasing momentum given its immense value in business innovation. It has been noted by McKinsey that diversity boosts innovation value by up to 35%!

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