Dr Vinay Dabholkar in his blogpost Can Empathy be taught? talks about the concept of empathy walk. He shares the story of movie Rainman as an example to state how walking a few steps with someone can create empathy for them, and this empathy can tell you much more about the psychic makeup of the person and his needs and wants. He also mentions the empathy walk experience of an MIT student. If businesses could use this technique to understand their customers, they would be producing far more relevant products and services.
When I read this piece on Vinay’s blog, like always it set me thinking. Is it not a natural human process to be empathetic? Did we always need empathy walk like solution or is this a new requirement that has cropped up in the current day individualistic society, where we are forgetting to live with people and hence no empathy is exchanged. We are in as much need of being understood as we need to understand those around us. Is this a result of not having complete communication with those around us, and trying to understand people and their needs more based on data and statistics rather than on the basis of what their body language tells us, what their tone of answer tells us, what their interests and inclinations tell us. Take a simple example, I may be using a certain brand of toothpaste and hence adding to the statistic of its user base, revenue, profit etc and somewhere it is assumed that I like it and that is why I buy it, while the truth may be that it is the only brand available at the store I shop, or it is the brand that shopkeeper decides to push to me, or because there is a common toothpaste that we buy as a family and it is not my choice but of someone else in the family, it can be a result of my disinterest in the choice as all of them sound the same and many such reasons. Should a new flavor designer or teeth cleaning solution designer take into account what I would really like or should they just go ahead and analyze data. I know this is a very simplistic example, the real problem areas can be quite complex.
Given the direction in which our super connected yet lonely society is moving, I think we do need to include experiments like empathy walk in our curriculums so that students learn to gaze into worlds other than their own.
From an Innovation perspective this would lead to my favorite Intersectional Innovation, where the ideas from diverse worlds meet to create new solutions.
Vinay Dabholkar in his article on Following the Bright Spots…makes an interesting observation about Ideas that exist within the system but somehow do not get the kind of attention that they deserve.
He sites examples of Steve Jobs telling Intel’s Andrew Grove about importance of microprocessors that was ignored and we know what happened next. His case study on Indian Railways and figuring out the bright spots in its freight business is very interesting.
Bright spots can exist in the system as a small subsystem or as an idea inside an employee’s head or somewhere in between. Vinay gives an approach to spot the bright spots, as applied to Indian Railways case study.
I assume you would need two different approaches for the bright spots in the system i.e the things that are working better than the others and to spot the ideas that may be in the heads of your employees, but both may require you to establish processes that scan the two periodically to tap into the ideas.
Art Markman in his HBR Article
says you do not have to think differently, but you have to think different things to be innovative, to be able to come up with innovative solutions for the known problems. He argues this on the basis of how our memory works. He says when you are in the kitchen, your memory of every associated with how the cooking happens comes in the front just like all the rules and records of a game come to forefront when you want a game. So when you think about a problem from different perspectives you invoke different parts of your memory and get different solutions with the help of these various slices and dices of your memory.
Interesting take, I think.
Retail giant TESCO came up with this technology enabled sales channel to reach out to its customers who can now use their everyday wait time to finish grocery shopping, and receive the items at home. Definitely innovative. Let us see how this channel picks up for retailers around the world.
- For most people grocery shopping is the only outing they get from daily routine of home and office? Would they choose this as a primary channel of grocery shopping.
- This may be a good green initiative, saving a lot of fuel as many trips to grocery stores will be saved. Grocery store delivery can use logistics algorithms to optimize delivery routes if volumes pick up.
- Channel may have to deal with issues that will crop with peak hour rush, which is the time when most shoppers will shop. Can the shoppers get the whole menu on their smart phones or tablets to use it during travel time?
I would like to track this channel and see how it evolves. Any customers out there, who would like to share their first hand experience of using this.
Paul Sloane in his recent newsletter says “Recently I visited the beautiful city of Antwerp and while there I filled my car at a fully automated petrol station. There was no attendant and no shop. You just put your credit card into the machine and then fill up. It reminded me of two innovation lessons. You can always get innovative ideas by traveling because people in other countries solve problems in different ways. Secondly a good way to innovate is by eliminating things – in this case the attendant and the shop.”
Now what this small note tells me is that traveling to a new place can fuel your innovation quotient. You can pick up ideas from the way people in this country live and deal with the inherent problems that they have in their system. For example visitors to India can pick up a tip or two on Jugaad. The moment you are in an environment other than you live in, you start seeing the things that are obviously different from your own. It reminds me that a few years back I was traveling in Bhutan and I realized there not many shops selling clothes or garments. In fact the small number of shops that did have clothes were not the clothes common people were wearing there and were obviously meant for the high end visitors. Upon enquiry I figured out that most people there weave their own clothes, which may seem very primitive to most of us, but it is the way of life there. Now you never know when this brainwave strikes someone and they make this idea of weaving your own cloth popular and it may become a fashion statement to wear self woven clothes.
Secondly, the difference between how you operate and how they operate can give you the models or small tricks to use while doing a formal idea generation, like the author picked up the idea of elimination which can be and is used popularly in product designs.
On a lighter note, this tells is that a true professional will always find his subject’s angle no matter he or she is, working or on vacation.
I was reading the book Tata – The evolution of a corporate brand by Morgen Witzel
and read about this concept that the group follows called ‘Dare to Try’. This is an award that is given to innovations done by the teams anywhere in the group, which are pathbreaking but did not take off in the marketplace. Couple of examples mentioned in the book are:
- Plastic doors for cars
- Flavor capsule for tea, that you can carry with you. Imagine having a Ginger capsule that you can carry in your pocket, and use as and when you want. I know there used to be drops that I bought from Kerala sometime back, but then being liquid it was difficult to carry them.
Interestingly, an article by Sam Swaminathan in Mckinsey’s MIX
( Management Innovation Exchange), also mentions creating a space for employees to share their mistakes and rewarding few of them based on some criteria.
Now what happens is, essentially employees get a message that failing in an attempt is fine and will not work against them in the organization. I am not sure if people would really want to be rewarded for mistakes, but it does give confidence to everyone to try and explore the ideas in their heads. It can create an environment of openness as ideas can get evaluated from various angles by various people and in a modified form, idea may still see the light of the day or cross-pollinate other ideas.
Do you know any other examples of the organizations doing this formally?