Collaborate To Innovate

Empathy for a Better Business

Michiel Bloemendaal is co-founder of STUDIO.WHY and really goes crazy in Design Thinking – Context Design. Especially the topic Empathy is something he knows a lot about and trans organizations across the globe.

Iris wanted to learn more about how Empathy tributes to Better Business. She had a conversation with Michiel and wrote an article about it. This article is especially good for people that don’t know that much about this subject and want to gain some knowledge.

And this is what you will learn more about in this post.

Empathy for a Better Business

Iris Lubberink is a writer from the Netherlands who explores a world that is unknown to her. In this article Iris took it upon her to interview Michiel Bloemendaal from STUDIO.WHY about how empathy makes businesses work better.
In a time where everything is changing rapidly, it’s important for organizations to be flexible. They have to be able to respond to the newest developments in order to reach their full potential. Organizations have to think of new ways to handle the changes in their surroundings. A question that arises is; ‘How can we, as an organization, be ready at all times to handle changes and be flexible?’. This question can’t be answered through a protocol. It requires an entrepreneurial mindset. A mindset that will ensure, regardless of existing protocols, opportunities will become visible and can be acted upon.

STUDIO.WHY Design Thinking

STUDIO.WHY teaches organizations to think differently and helps them develop a Design Thinking mindset to turn opportunities into value for others. STUDIO.WHY’s Design Thinking has its focus on a way of thinking that is more entrepreneurial, innovative and flexible. Where most people work project-based, where there is a problem, there are protocols to solve it, STUDIO.WHY works process-based. Process-based working is about the appropriate and fitting action for a certain situation. What do people who are involved actually want? Can you have an understanding of your internal and external stakeholders to see what is truly needed? STUDIO.WHY doesn’t tell people what they should do and where they should go, they help them experience what is needed and guide them towards that point.

When organizations want to act upon opportunities, they’ll often approach it from their own point of view. The focus is more on the organization itself, than on their stakeholders. However, it’s crucial to take stakeholders into account. Because then the solution can work for their stakeholders and create the right value. It’s extremely important to value your stakeholders and to keep monitoring their opinions. That’s the point where empathy becomes interesting. Helping people renew or improve themselves, is unthinkable without empathy. And empathy is inseparable from Design Thinking.

What is empathy?

Empathy is about having a deeper understanding of the reality and points of view of the person in front of you. It’s important in all parts of life, but especially when interacting with others, because everyone is unique. Therefore, it’s almost impossible to make assumptions about the needs of other people. When empathy is added into a new way of thinking, you can discover and learn the most about the interests of others. When you have this
knowledge, you will know how to add value for your stakeholders. Emphatic conversations ask questions and listen to understand instead of listening just to respond. Empathy is the part where you examine what is desirable for the other person. Where can we create value? Are we solving the right problem? A situation could be exactly the same, but the perception could be different. With empathy you can understand the perception of others, independently from your own perception. You are trying to change the perspective. When having emphatic
conversations, you learn to understand why people make choices.

Empathy for your organization

In first place, it is not important what the organization wants, it is what your stakeholders
want. Secondly, the question is which wishes suit the organization, can you meet them and what value does that bring to the organization. It’s important for a stakeholder to feel heard. If the organization is focusing on ideas that come from within, instead of focusing on solutions to actual problems, it may cause friction. Therefor you need to explore the market and the needs of the stakeholders in it. When a good examination has been done, you can provide a correct solution. But if you haven’t explored the needs of the stakeholders you are communicating with, the focus is on the wrong needs. Thanks to empathy you shift the focus from oneself, to another and organizations can reach their full potential.
When STUDIO.WHY helps organizations to seek solutions, they start with an exploration phase, which contains empathy. Organizations have to talk to stakeholders, in order to understand what’s important to them and get a correct definition of the problem. These insights are the starting point when brainstorming for solutions.

Mindset is key

It can be difficult for businesses to implement empathy. Institutional complexity and the culture of the organization are big factors. Familiarity provides safety . And finding safety in the way ‘things always have been done’, is one of the biggest causes of a fixed mindset. It leaves little space for empathy. A common misconception is that it’s difficult to challenge the status quo. But difficult certainly doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Teaching empathy shows organizations that it’s not needed to be rusted in old protocols and habits. If an organization wants to be able to renew or change, it is possible, but they need to be flexible.

When an organization tries something new, it’s meaningful to keep testing if it’s adding value. When it doesn’t, you have to try a different approach. Empathy is the key in keeping the conversation alive. This way not only the success of the organization can grow, but also the relationship with the stakeholders. Organizations can’t exist without their stakeholders. Therefore, emphatic relationships with stakeholders are crucial.

You can’t determine someone else’s problem by yourself. With empathy you can look further than your own assumptions. When coming up with a solution, you need to ask the following questions:

  1. Are we actually solving the right problem?,
  2. Is there need for it?,
  3. Are we doing the right thing for our stakeholders, or are we doing what we think is best?

Often, the focus is on the achievability and profitability of the idea, instead of the importance and desirability. And when the idea is already carried out, organizations will make up their own, new problem to sell it. Even when that problem isn’t a right one.

When an organization wants to be more flexible, they need to know how to stay relevant to customers and stakeholders. Therefore, they need to know the wants and needs of their customers. This shows that empathy is valuable on an organizational level. The better the understanding of the needs of stakeholders, the better an organization can provide it for them. Organizations can find out where they can gain economic benefit because they’ve explored the field. They showed interest with empathy. This empathy gives security that they’re following to right path. If they connect better with the wishes of their stakeholders, they will do better than the competition. These interests can be charted in stakeholder dashboards.

Empathy is not only needed on an organizational level, but it’s also important inside the organization. It’s crucial in order to avoid a working climate where tasks are delegated to other departments because it’s not known what’s needed. Empathy can help understand the different perspectives of colleagues and how they want to be communicated with. Empathy also improves teamwork on a team level.

Finally, empathy is needed on a personal level. If you know your interests, strengths and weaknesses, it’s easier to receive the feedback of others. Receiving and implementing feedback adds more value to a situation. The more feedback, the more you learn and grow.

Asking different questions and listening in a different way

In conversations, one can listen with the intent to respond or with the intent to understand. People will frequently listen with the intent to respond. The reason of asking questions is often to confirm or validate one’s own thoughts. However, in this situation the focus isn’t on trying to understand what the other person is saying. You can have your own vision, but you have to be open for feedback. Empathy is about disconnecting from your own vision, to be open to the vision of one another. Before you pitch an idea, you have to make sure that you’re solving the correct problem. And in order to chart that, empathy is needed in examining the field. When people listen to understand, it indicates a better understanding of the other person. People must consider if they ask the right questions, from the answers you get. It’s not about who can sell the idea the best, but what idea is the best. Mindset supports the way questions can be asked, to find out what truly matters. It’s a choice one must make; do you want to confirm or do you want to understand? You gain more benefit if you learn from others. When empathy is added, a shift from an egocentric focus to a focus on others will occur. When you add empathy, you will know that an idea is good, not because the organization believes so, but because the stakeholders believe so.

When STUDIO.WHY teaches empathy for a better business, a massive shift is perceived. People have developed a different listening technique and shared their experiences: “With just a small adjustment in listening, a more open and personal conversation is created full of inspiration for innovation or improvement”. Employees learn things about colleagues they didn’t know before. They learn each other’s values. They often have an idea of what conversations in a training might be like, but the reality surprises them. They tell STUDIO.WHY; ‘The conversation changed my perspective in every way, I got some new insights’.

Michiel Bloemendaal is co-founder of STUDIO.WHY and enthusiastic about empathy and training people towards an entrepreneurial mindset.

"Success comes from empathy. Empathy makes you a better innovator."

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