Why is empathy the way to go for successful and sustainable business and design solutions? Why are feminine values an unlocked source of strategic advantage? We are four students from the Digital Business program at Hyper Island on a mission to demonstrate this to the industry through Frank - our newly born empathy-driven agency.
“In order to get to new solutions, you have to get to know different people, different scenarios, different places.” Emi Kolawole, Editor-in-Residence, Stanford University d.school
Put yourself in their shoes
Empathy is complex. In broad terms it can be explained as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. In psychological terms, empathy involves imagining different scenarios and reflecting on different outcomes, as well as intellectually understanding the feelings of others. Empathy also means that mirror neurons in our brains are activated as we are imitating, hence mirroring, emotions expressed by others. Thus, empathizing is literally about immersing ourselves in another world, seeing and feeling from another perspective.
Why is empathy important?
By implementing empathy in our work process, we can more clearly understand the perception we create in others with our words and actions. It enables us to predict the actions and reactions of people we interact more accurately and also provides us with insights of how to motivate the people around us. When we possess the powerful capacity to understand other people’s feelings, needs, and perceptions, this allows us to solve problems from their perspective. Therefore, empathy is a vital ingredient in customer-driven business models and a central theme in human-centered design. By understanding people, seeing what they see, hearing what they hear, gaining insights from their experience and context, we are able to design better for them. When we truly understand each other, we care, we connect and help each other.
Is it overrated?
Empathy is a valuable and powerful tool for problem-solving well worth the hype. However, it also has become a buzzword with limits. It is not an easy-peasy act to place ourselves in other's shoes and dismiss our own values, beliefs, evaluations and critiques. To let go of all judgments and see through the eyes of others can be extremely hard when the user’s subjective world is perceived differently than common values. We are more prone to direct our empathy to people who are close or similar to us, and even to those who we think are more attractive or vulnerable, and less frightening.
“Empathy is a spotlight with a narrow focus; it shines brightly on those we love and gets dim for those who are different or strange.“ Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology at Yale University.
As a gut feeling empathy can be misleading, which is why it is important to look at data and facts to see what actually works and what doesn’t, instead of assuming things based on one’s emotions. We have to be creative and analytical, and combine an empathetic and data-driven approach to problem-solving. Essentially, empathy reflects our own biases. When undertaking the perspective of another, we also have to be aware of our own beliefs and perceptions.
Empathy & Feminine Leadership Styles?
Frank’s focus on empathy is our contribution to make sure that the future actually is female - not only a t-shirt slogan. This does not mean women will dominate the world, but that feminine-coded skills and traits are to be more successful in today’s business climate (1). There’s an on-going shift in the business world where we see success in companies that put purpose before profit. Furthermore, as our interconnected society gives access to a huge amount of information, businesses that are humane, empathetic and transparent are ahead of the game.
Besides empathy, feminine leadership styles are associated with:
- humility: aiming to support others and to share credit
- inclusiveness: asking and listening to many voices
- patience: having a long-term view.
Leaders that emphasize collaboration, communication and consultation are known to be more prosperous than those characterized by aggressive and hierarchical practices (2). Research shows that effective teams are characterized by psychological safety, which is created through norms that are aligned with feminine leadership styles. To summarize, the future is female - as a human-centered approach, empathizing and relating to customers, communities, colleagues and other stakeholders in a business increase the quality of work.
During the next couple of weeks, Frank will travel around the word to solve briefs for companies such as Airbnb and Adidas. Stay tuned for how we work with empathy with our clients and the tools, methods, and frameworks we use.
This article was written by Andrea Dahlbäck, Emma Osvald, Andrea Meilgaard and Nicoline Blincher.
Follow us during the next couple of weeks @agency.frank
* EU residents can still apply to all fullt-ime programs in Sweden