Composure | Empathy: The Engine for Innovation
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Empathy: The Engine for Innovation

Ideo is one of the most innovative and award-winning design firms in the world. Over the last few decades, they’ve designed hundreds of products, like the first computer mouse for Apple in 1980 and the Palm Pilot in 1998.

Perhaps surprisingly, one of the secrets to IDEO’s success is empathy. As pioneers of the Human Centred Design Process, Ideo believe the key to successfully designing innovative solutions lies in:

  1. Understanding your customers through actually observing them, and
  2. Putting yourself in the situation of the end user – to experience what they experience and feel what they feel.

In its simplest form, empathy is the ability to not only experience and understand another person’s circumstances, but to put ourselves in the other’s shoes and really experience what they are feeling.

Although many companies are searching for ways to innovate their products or services, they do not always connect the ability to empathise with successful innovation. In fact, many organisations attempt to innovate in a way that is disconnected from the real needs of their customers, because they are caught up focusing on what their competitors are doing, and looking for ways to keep ahead of them. Similarly, some organisations become fixated on the technology they can use rather than beginning with the customer’s experience.

What is becoming clear is that successful innovation starts with the ability to empathise with our customers – to experience what they experience.

Through this we can better understand their needs, and therefore their pain points (or desires) that are not being meet in the current market.

Most of us understand empathy on an individual level: the ability to reach outside of ourselves and walk in someone else’s shoes, to get where they’re coming from, to feel what they feel. Widespread empathy is about getting every single person in an organisation to have a gut-level intuition for the people who buy their products and services.

Creating an innovative business requires an innovative culture and it is becoming clearer that this begins with teaching and promoting greater levels of empathy across the whole organisation. In this way empathy can become embedded in the fabric of the organisation and act as the engine for successful innovation.

Written by: Jim Houston
Principal Consultant

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