The Future of Business: 3 reasons empathy will be everything

Leonardo da Vinci famously said: “Tears come from the heart, not from the brain.” When, at 19 weeks, I looked at images of my little baby daughter on an ultrasound screen, a tear came to my eye. Her heart, beating in black and grey. My daughter. My first child, one I thought might never be…

This did make me wonder, what will the future be for her. In 18 years, what will the world look like? So, I looked back to ancient history.

What I found was that humans are masters of outsourcing! We began a long, long time ago when we used sharpened rocks to outsource our relatively blunt teeth and nails. The next, one of the greatest changes ever, we used fire to outsource our stomachs. Our brains were able to grow because we used cooking to break down food outside of our bodies utilizing energy from fire. This outsourcing powered massive brain growth!

We then used animals, then machines to outsource our lack of physical strength. We outsourced our memories through stories, writing and now through hard drives and mass server banks. Now we use the computational power of computers to outsource our large, logical brain power. On the horizon looms robots, AI and Quantum computers. These technologies are the next great wave of outsourcing and will change the game. The thing we have valued so much, for so long, our computational brain, will ultimately become more and more redundant.

The futurists all agree that AI and Quantum computing will create huge disruption. From driverless cars, mapping individual genomes to the end of human chess players, we are being pushed out of the -mental-capacity throne by computers.

At this point, it is appropriate to ask: What is left for humanity?

Fortunately, I don’t think we are redundant just yet. One thing that computers are yet to work out: Empathy! I keep empathy pretty simple, understanding what makes humans do the wonderful, sometimes unpredictable and weird things, they do. Being able to truly understand the complex mix of emotional and rational drivers that make a human tick is many years away. Being able to judge what clothes to wear, what wine tastes the nicest or which strange piece of fabric, torn and tattered, is now at the cutting edge of fashion!

So, if you are a leader, here are 3 reasons why you need to embrace empathy as a strategic capability.

1.      Economics is flawed: It’s all about how we feel

One of the basic tenets of economics is that we make rational decisions to maximise utility. This suggests, humans, with massive, cerebral brains and ability to rationally weigh up all the options, will make logical choices. The challenge is, while we do have a massive cortex, we don’t use it all that often.

The real Captain at the helm in our little heads is our emotional brain, the Limbic System. This emotional brain makes most of our decisions, whether we like it or not.

This is why we need Empathy. I define Empathy as understanding the emotional and rational drivers of people. If we want to connect to customers, suppliers, partners and employees, we need to not only explore the logical elements, but we need to understand the emotional drivers of stakeholders too.

Jeep have taught us all a great lesson on this. Remember the days when car advertisements had lists of features, prices, discounts, warranties… they were so boring! Do we really think people bought that Ford Fiesta because the 5th feature on the list was ABS Brakes? No.

Jeep worked this all out. Their “I bought a Jeep” campaign delivered the most significant uplift in Jeep in Australia, ever! Why? Because people don’t buy cars based on what they are, but instead, on how it might make them feel. The emotional drivers are powerful. While we know the roughest place our tough Jeep will go is the potholes at school drop off, we still want to feel like we could drive to the top of some mountain! After years of flat sales in this country, the campaign that barely showed a car in the ads grew sales to record highs.

2.      I AM SPECIAL, make me feel magical!

Building empathy by mastering emotions is not just a way to build short term performance. It is also a powerful strategy to build long term business outcomes. Disneyland Theme Parks have 7 of the top 10 theme parks in the world by visitor numbers. More than 140 million visitors go to Disneyland each year with a return visitor rate of 70%. So how does Disneyland use empathy?

Disneyland train employees to have deep empathy and embedded this into meticulous processes to ensure every visitor has a magical experience. One example of this is for children with disabilities. While safety is paramount at theme parks, parents of children with physical limitations find their experience is impacted by having to constantly explain the limitations to different staff.

Disneyland don’t want limitations to spoil their magic. Each guest with a limitation is given a special pass at the entrance. Then, every staff member is trained to understand the limitations and how to ensure that both the child, and the parent, is able to have a magical and seamless experience while not compromising safety. Disneyland don’t leave this to chance. It isn’t luck that ensures you have a great experience. It is driven by process, discipline, training and empathy! Empathy can allow you to understand both the mechanical and emotional limits and find ways to create magical experiences.

3.      Want to lead people? Find our what it feels like!

Empathy is not only important to influence the people outside your business. It is just as important for your employees and colleagues. At Empathic Consulting, we became fascinated by the vastly different career experiences some women had while having a baby, even within the same companies. Our research on the challenges of Maternity Leave showed that, while policies and incentives are important, the key factor that drove productivity, employee satisfaction and company commitment was their Leader.

People who had leaders lacking empathy reported a massive drop in their level of commitment to the organisation, reporting a Net Promoter Score of -60! It doesn’t get much worse than this! However, there were glimmers of hope, we did see people with Net Promoter Scores of +4. These people had Empathic Leaders. Leaders who showed a real willingness for deep understanding of the rational and emotional drivers of their people,

To help build this in our Empathic Leadership Workshops, we start by challenging some of our male participants to go through a number of simple exercises, packing up their desks and picking up some papers. But to create an empathic experience, we ask them to do this while wearing a 10kg baby carrier.

By simulating what a woman may feel at 7 months pregnant, if only for a few minutes, we are able to tap into the Limbic System and engage the emotional core. This simple exercise allows people to move past the rational arguments and policies and actually feel it.

After battling with the fake belly, one participant put it so well: “I weigh 100kg and this is really hard. My wife is about half my weight and she has had 3 kids. I don’t know how she did it!”

He went home and bought her flowers. Goes to show empathy can help you reach your customers, engage your employees and might even improve your relationships at home!

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