practical empathy

indi speaking at ux lausanne 2014

The organizers at UX Lausanne run a little conference I highly recommend. They have made my 23-May-2014 presentation, Practial Empathy, available. (38:05) Transcript below

Excellent. Thank you guys. Hello! How’s it going? I think this part of the stage got really lonely. I’m coming over here. I’m also going to help you with the whole neck thing. I’ve been looking that way too long. How many people have a sore neck from doing that, on the edges? Anyway, I’ll wander around.

When you say the word, “empathy,” a lot of different concepts come to mind. And you really don’t know … it sounds like a great idea. It sounds like something positive, one of those keywords that everybody’s kind of gathering around. Let’s get momentum behind this. But what is it really? And what you think it is, and your coworkers think it is, and your manager thinks it is, might be slightly different. So what I set out to do is to define a kind of empathy that we can all sort of gather around, get behind, and actually push forward and make useful.

Let’s start off with that definition. These are some potential, possible definitions of empathy. One person might be thinking about it in terms of, “I’m trying to understand the way this other person reasons.” Someone might be thinking of it in terms of, “I can feel her joy. I can feel her emotion that she’s feeling. It’s reflecting on me and I’m feeling it in my heart,” or someone might be using it to make themselves more patient with really slow people getting onto the airplane, right? There’s that phrase, “Show me a little empathy.” That’s kind of a cry for some sympathy. The definition of empathy and sympathy and compassion, what are the differences between all of those things? There are a lot of questions around here.

But as I was doing the research for the book I found out that in psychology literature there are at least six different definitions of empathy. I’ve got them up on the screen here, and I want to start with the bottom one which is called mirror empathy. This is when … you have certain neurons in your brain, cognitive scientists have discovered this over there past couple of years, that if you see somebody’s expression or gestures you’ll tend to mirror them. For example you’re, I don’t know, in the lunchroom or something, and someone’s over there talking on the phone, and they get some really good news and they’re just laughing and shining. And you’ve seen that. You feel it a little bit too. A smile comes on your face. This happens when maybe a stranger smiles at you on the sidewalk, when you’re walking somewhere. Suddenly you’re smiling back at them, and you’re feeling that lightness. That’s what mirror neurons are.

The personal distress one … the personal distress is more along the lines of when you see something happening to someone and you feel it happening to you in a really distressful way. These are usually negative things. One of the examples I use is seeing somebody cut their finger or trip and fall. It’s like, ah, you feel it. You kind of tense up a little bit. You heart rate might go up. That’s more of a negative scenario.

Empathic concern can be a little bit broader where you’re looking at someone in a situation, and you’re like, “Wow, I wonder what it feels like.” Or, “I can imagine what it feels like to be that person.” Maybe a person who’s homeless and sitting on the street or maybe it’s a child who’s playing on a swing. You can kind of imagine what it feels like.

Self-empathy, up at the top, is kind of about understanding your own reasoning, your own emotions, and recognizing what’s ticking over in your brain, what’s happening in your heart. Recognizing it. Acknowledging it. This is actually the stuff that our spiritual … religions and things have been attempting to help us with all these centuries. How many people have tried meditation? Yes. This is what we’re trying to do, is understand our brain. Quiet it down so we can understand it a little bit better. So that we can have better control over outbursts.

That leaves the last two, cognitive empathy and emotional empathy, which are the ones that are more common. Emotional empathy and cognitive empathy are kind of similar but also kind of opposite. With cognitive empathy it’s purposeful. I want to understand this other person. You have an intent to understand the other person. With emotional empathy, it’s reflexive. Emotional empathy is something that happens to you. It usually only happens about understanding other people’s emotions. Cognitive empathy happens with their reasoning as well. That was that first example over here on the left on that first screen. It’s understanding how another person thinks. It’s seeking out to understand their guiding principles. It’s wanting to understand what their reactions are and to see how they are different than your own or just to understand them in terms of being able to support them better.

Here’s a couple of examples. Cognitive empathy, I see now how the team’s coach is helping them handle the losses that they’ve had this year. So I’ve talked to that coach. I’ve listened and understood what that coach is doing to help the team not give up entirely, for the season. The emotional example–layoffs. This is something really common in the US. Apparently it’s not so common here. Another example could be, “I empathize with you about being kicked out of your apartment.” Oh. Maybe that doesn’t happen here, either. Five of my friends have gotten kicked out of their apartments in San Francisco in the past year.

Anyway, so what I’m really interested in is cognitive empathy. That’s the intentional kind. It’s not the kind that just happens to you. The kind that happens to you is important and can be used but that’s not something that you can take into and make practical in your organization. It’s something more like lightning strikes. And what we want is electricity. We want to harness that lightning and make it usable. Make it run the machinery within our organization–in terms of making things and in terms of interacting with the other people that we work with.

To start with, to create cognitive empathy, to develop it in your own mind, you need to listen to people. You need to gather stories and you need to gather them in a way that’s very neutral, where you’re not in that story. You’re just turning your brain off, and you’re accepting and absorbing their perspective. Another word for cognitive empathy is actually “perspective taking.” They teach this to some kids sometimes.

So, the next step after listening to those stories is understanding them a little bit better. I use the analogy of simmering. You simmer a sauce to thicken it. How many people are cooks, and they’ve simmered sauces? You know what I’m talking about here. Yes, okay. You want it to be richer. You want to have a little time with it. Time makes a huge difference in your understanding of it because when you’re listening to these stories, there’s a part of your brain that’s still active that you can’t help having assumptions about what somebody is telling you. If you go back through it and you spend some more time with these stories, then you will be able to see where you had made that assumption … where you had thought they were going for this point and really they were going for another point. And you’ll notice it.

The only way to do this of course is when you’re doing it formally and you’ve recorded it somehow and you’ve gotten a transcript of it. You can also do it from memory. Yesterday in our class we did it from memory. It’s about 30% as effective, but it works. There’s no reason to have to get the recording and be all formal about it.

So, the next step after you’ve spent some time enriching your understanding is to take a look and investigate the differences between what you heard. The different stories. Doesn’t matter how many people you talked to. You could talk to three people. You might hear differences. You might hear similarities. And you’re interested in how things come together. You might talk to 30 people–you’ll be doing your investigation a little bit longer than with just three three people–but you’ll also be finding patterns. And these patterns are not in the end result of what people are trying to do, but in their thinking styles, in their reaction styles. In the different beliefs that they use to make decisions, okay?

That’s the point at which we now encounter another kind of empathy. And this is applying empathy. There’s two parts to it. There’s developing empathy. That’s when you then thicken it, enrich it, find the patterns and then you apply it. So many times when people are talking about empathy, especially trying to use it in your work, it’s just one big thing glommed together and that’s why it doesn’t really … it acts more like lightning. And you can’t harness it like electricity. So by breaking it apart, it clarifies this a little bit

And with applying empathy, the interesting thing is in all the articles that I’ve read, they aim toward persuasion. They want to use empathy and understanding of, like, say how a voter thinks. Or an understanding of how maybe members of a club … other members of a club … think, so that you can make decisions together. And the point is to try to persuade them to your point of view. Make them change their mind. This is a very common use of empathy.

Another really common use of empathy, especially when we’re talking about children or learning, is growth. The opportunity to understand that other people think differently and expanding or opening up your mind and accepting more differences of opinion. So growth is another great application for empathy.

What I’m going to use it for though in the organization is for something slightly different. I don’t want to persuade people. I don’t want to come in with this sort of like story behind the scenes, like, “I’m really going to get you to do what I want you to do.” Instead what I want to do is support people better. I’m going to help them do something. Adrian said something similar to that. Yes. Anyway so what I’m interested in is trying to help that person continue thinking and reacting the way that they do, or if the reactions are negative or they’re having trouble, help them get past it. That’s what I mean by support.

This is all the ‘detail-y’ stuff, the definitions of it. Now that that’s off the screen I’m going to give you a bunch of examples.

This is Srinivas Raghavan, he works with Qualcomm. Qualcomm develops all the little things that go into your phone for communications. Not only that, they also do other communication stuff. He was working with a division that does tracking of vehicles within a fleet. So you could think of it as maybe a fleet of taxis or a fleet of electricians or a fleet of plumbers or anything that has a fleet, a fleet of delivery trucks. This technology is actually in all the FedEx trucks, things like that. Essentially what their management said was, “Go build us a better dispatch software.” Andrea Villa also joined the team and we went out and did a bunch of listening to people’s stories. People who owned fleets of vehicles, and you know what they told us? They don’t have any problems with dispatching really. What they have problems with is, “When do we grow the fleet? What condition is the right condition under which I add a truck or a car or a taxi?” That’s the thing that they’re grappling with.

By listening we were able to tell the management then, “Gosh, you know, building a better mousetrap, a better dispatching system isn’t really going to get us ahead in the market. But instead, here’s this other area where we’re going to be able to help people better. We’re going to be able to support them with what they wanted to do.” Now that’s an application.

The interesting thing about empathy is that it doesn’t apply to just web development. It doesn’t apply [only] to products, digital services. It doesn’t apply only to these things, but also to anything else that you make. I purposely use that word make, because when you write something, you’re making something for a particular audience. You have a reader in mind, right? When you make a process that you follow at work, you’ve got people in mind. You’ve got suppliers and distributors and things like that. When you write a policy to follow, you’ve got people in mind. This is anything that you make that you make that you can apply empathy toward.

Here’s another example. This is more along the content strategy … This is Becky Reed, she works for Healthwise. Healthwise creates the content for a lot of the health insurance companies. That when you go online you’re like, “Oh I’ve got this weird sniffling nose. What does it mean? I want to look it up instead of going to see the doctor.” It also is a WebMD content. So they license it to a bunch of different people. And they recently, like in the last 10 years, they decided, “Instead of thinking of our customers being these people who license, we should start thinking of our customers as being the end readers of this content.” And so they have done a lot of studies. They have done studies about people with low back pain. They’ve done studies about people who are pregnant. Trying to quit smoking. Quit smoking. Sorry, I’m in Europe. I’m from California; we don’t smoke there.

Anyway, this in particular, was about losing weight. And after listening to a bunch of people, they found out that losing weight is not just one way through that maze. There are a bunch of different ways of approaching it. One of the ways of approaching it–they created a persona, of course, around it–it’s a behavioral audience segment that’s trying to lose weight. And this is the person who is resigned. “Hey, I’ve tried this before it hasn’t worked. I’m just going to have to buy a whole new wardrobe and be this weight, okay? I’m fine with it. This is life.” They’ve got a bunch of content here. What I’m showing over here is some of the summaries from some of the stories that we heard. These are stacked summaries. This is part of a mental model diagram, actually. So when you’re doing the story gathering, it’s exactly the same thing that you’re doing when you’re creating a mental model diagram. The diagram is just much, much, much formal, which you might need at your organization or you might not. You might be able to use something very informal.

What we see over here is the content that they created. Now take a look at that content and compare it to the content here on this screen. It’s completely different because this persona is facing different issues–has different guiding principles in her mind. This one is the sidetracked. “I know this can work for me. It’s just that right now in this time of my life I’m traveling a lot and I can’t control what I’m eating. Give me some tools to get around that sort of thing.”

Then take a look again at the differences in this persona, the inconsistent. She’s the one who gets the gym membership as a part of her New Year’s resolution and by the third week of January she’s never going back. Right, we’ve done this. Anyway, so, completely different content for supporting this person, for acknowledging that this is the way she thinks, and we’re going to let her keep thinking this. We’re not changing her mind. We’re not trying to change her behavior; we’re trying to support her behavior. You see the difference here in the application of the empathy.

All right, so why is empathy important? Why should you try to bring it into the organization? I mean, besides just that it sounds good and everybody’s talking about it? There’s a lot of reasons, but one of which is that the organizations themselves continue to work in a way that was really designed for the industrial manufacturing era. There’s a lot of processes in place that have to do with what we used to do when we were building widgets, things.

Let’s look an example. Records, LPs, vinyls, CDs … we don’t really even have these anymore, but these are the things that were going through the factory, being built. And when they are putting them together in the factory, they had to narrow down all of the different variables and try to put things together so that they come out the other end. They have a bunch of data that ends up defining the way that we look at our music now. We’ve got data like it’s an LP, it’s a CD, a disc. It’s a thing, a collection of songs. It has an artist in it. It has a genre of it, right? Now what if you extend that? I mean it’s just data; it’s just music. Why don’t we have data that helps you see maybe the sequence of it? Maybe it’s a symphony and you play it in a certain order. Maybe it’s a podcast and there’s chronology to it and builds a story maybe or refers to things that you’ve heard in a couple of past podcasts. Or maybe there’s other relationships to other media out there that you’re curious about.

And when you are fan of music, you’re not that interested in these little data points so much as, like, what was the artist undergoing when he wrote that music? What was the world culture scene like? What was going on? What were they influenced by? Other artists, past artists from the history? This is the stuff that, when you pick up a Rolling Stone magazine and you’re reading about something, this is the interesting stuff. This is the stuff that’s pulling you into that article. (And hopefully not being distracted … by ads.) Anyway, so why don’t we have this? No one’s thinking about this because we’re just stuck with our old model. We’re just sticking with it. We know that there’s Rolling Stone articles out there and people are fans, but we’re not putting it together yet.

A similar example, what if you are an architecture fan? And this crazy building here happens to be the LA Music Hall in Los Angeles; it was it done by a certain architect. What if there was a way that, you could have your phone out or something, and it says, “Guess what, there’s a person in your contacts, your dad in fact, who works in a building who was done by that same architect. And guess what, that city that you’ve got tickets for, that you’re flying to in two weeks, has two buildings by that same architect.” If you’re a fan, you’re going to walk past those. You’re going to want to know about those. Why can’t we lace this stuff together? There’s more to it. There’s much, much, much more human stuff. Because this is what’s ticking through our brain, right? These connections, these other things, the more human things … the things that interest us, that draw us in.

The thing is, is that I think manufacturing, engendered a lot ways of measuring. And the measurements made people feel confident that what they’re doing was going to be successful. Those things also started sounding very ‘science-y’ and it became a meme that the ‘science-y’ stuff that you’re seeing, creeps into what we’re doing now to, to measure. It’s like let’s tell people what proportions of this and that came from … what are the paths? Where are people coming from? And does it really tell us anything? No. “Well, let’s go do a survey. Let’s write a quick survey and write out our own answers and see how many people pick our answers.” (You can tell how much I like surveys.) This is not helping either, but it’s safe and people do it because it’s “scientific.” And you can say, “X percent of our respondents out of a thousand people said X, and so I feel confident about doing X to support those people.” That’s complete falsehood. They were just picking some of the answers that were closest … of what you developed, that were closest to what they were thinking. You actually didn’t hear from them at all.

The whole thing is that the science vocabulary persuades. That’s what we’re using it for. We’re trying to let people go ahead and do the thing we want them to do because they feel confident in doing it. You can see this word here, science, health science. What does it really mean? It means nothing. It’s just an advertisement.

In fact here we’ve got an example also of using numbers. You can see these numbers here, 250 million, 71 million. What they’re talking about is water rights in California and they are making this brave statement that says, “Hey, you know, these people who own the water use more water than we even have,” which is technically impossible, unless they’re conjuring it up like Harry Potter. Anyway but these numbers are meant to persuade. These numbers are meant to make somebody say, “Oh that’s outrageous. They shouldn’t do that. I’m going to vote for you.”

There was a little study done that was presented at TEDxMarin by a guy in Berkeley, and he was really interested in the science of greed. Look at that, science again, right, to attract your attention. I think really what he was after was grant money. He wanted money to do more research. Perfectly good thing to want, and so he went out and he did this study of pedestrians standing at crosswalks, and then he watched to see which cars didn’t stop. He counted them up and he said, “Luxury cars don’t stop. Ratty old beat up cars: they stop. The people who are rich won’t stop for pedestrians, therefore rich people are greedy.” He has no idea what those “rich people” were thinking. He doesn’t even know if they were rich. Maybe it wasn’t their car. Maybe it was the nanny driving the car, and she was distracted by the kids in the back seat. Right? He doesn’t know. Again it’s just like the survey. It’s false. He’s making his answers reflect what he’s seeing … or something.

Anyway, so what people are trying to do is to get that grant money or whatever. We’re using these statistics. We’re using numbers. We’re using these metrics that were coming from the old way of doing things in the industrial age, not the digital age. We’re using that to prove things, to make things safer feeling for us to go forward. Risk free.

I want to introduce the idea of natural science versus artificial science. Statistics and numbers and all of that measure … are usually used to measure natural science. Natural science is everything that occurs in the world that would still be there if humans went away. If humans went away we would still have rocks and ducks and sunshine, right? Artificial science is the study of anything that humans have had to do with. It’s the study of building bridges, the study of our governments, the study of sociology, the study of the things that we’re building digitally.

What we are trying to do is use the vocabulary of our natural science for our artificial science goals. What we’re doing is that. Sure we try to inject a little bit more humanity into it. So this is like the daily scrum; we’ve got people standing around. They’re trying to tell their own stories and trying to inject a little humanity into it. And this is good. This is a good step forward, but it’s not enough.

This kind of reminds me of the inspirations that we saw yesterday–all those videos that we saw that Simon showed us. Each one of those videos was kind of like that person saying, “Look how smart I am. Look how creative I am. Wow, I am groovy.” I want to see more of the opposite. I want to see like, “I want to turn this off and find out what you’re guys are thinking. I want to learn more about you, and then turn this on and have that understanding influence what I’m doing.” I’m no longer doing it so that I can make a video of myself and how smart I am. Or to have something cool or beautiful. I mean cool and beautiful is great, and you need that. But you can’t have it just based on your own head. It doesn’t work. It only goes so far. It only serves a small number of people. It also makes it so that you’re not aware of all of the other types of thinking that’s out there.

The other way that we work is very much in the Think, Make, Check cycle. Lean, Agile … it’s all about, “Let’s brainstorm this idea. Let’s do a prototype of it really quick. Let’s go out and test it, okay?” So that brainstorming is happening in the Think. The user research is happening in the Check … and typical user research. That was when Joe introduced me and he says, “User research.” I’m like, “Well, guess what? I’m actually doing a different cycle.” This cycle is all around an existing idea. It’s all around this thing that you thought off or this data that you’re trying to pull together or mine. It’s all around the object or the digital service that you created. It’s evaluative. “How well is this thing going to work for the person that we intend it to work for?”

What I’m trying to do over here is cycle around people outside of any ideas. This is upstream of those ideas. This is more along the lines of, like, “Well, I want to listen and deepen my understanding”–that’s how we’re developing empathy–“and then use that to apply it.” Guess what, that’s where the spark is. The application of your empathy to support someone is exactly what you’re doing in brainstorming. That’s where it’s used. That’s how it gets over into that other wheel. This is how these things connect, and this is what I mean by having all of those other people’s voices in your head when you’re doing this brainstorming. It’s cycling around people.

(You can get this up on the website. Rosenfeld Media has all of the images from my Mental Model’s book up there. There’s an old version of this. This is the new version. It’s also up on Slideshare, so if you need it …)

But essentially what I’m saying here is that we’ve got all of these techniques. They fall into generative versus evaluative. Generative helps you brainstorm those ideas. Evaluative helps you check those ideas. But they also fall into these columns, solution focus, cycling around the idea versus person focus. Hmm, but gosh, we don’t have a whole lot of those. What I’m saying is doing some developing of empathy over here is going to help us. We want to balance this out, okay? This is how empathy is practical.

This is a screenshot of the typical way of making a reservation for an airline. I just did a year’s worth of empathy interviewing about airlines. And here they think that they are top of the line. Hey, you can say multi-city. You can say that you’re flexible about your dates and that’s really like frontline awesome. But guess what, that’s not what people were concerned about. They were concerned more about, “Well, I have certain things that have to be done before I leave,” or “I have a certain date that I need to be back by because such and such is happening … and I don’t know maybe when such and such is happening and is there a way to make that flexible sort of a change? Change the last minute when I know when it’s happening.” “Is there an alternative way to get there? Is there a different way of putting a train and a plane together that would help?” Maybe even lower carbon footprints … Or maybe “I’m interested in my points, and I want to make sure that I hit the next level. So give me an idea about that.”

We have all of this data. We have all of the past reservations these people have made. Why aren’t we using them? Why don’t we use the route that they usually take to get here? Maybe they have a favorite flight that they use. Why aren’t we using that? It’s such a pain now. It used to be, we would just call up an agent, a reservation agent. There were no computers back then that we could access. They could access them. And the agent was the human agent who knew about all the options and how to put them together. It only took us 10 minutes to make our reservations. Who has managed to make a reservation in 10 minutes in the past year? It takes forever because there is that one magical perfect flight out there that you wish existed. And you’re always looking for it.

Here’s another example. Netflix. You guys may not have it over here, but it’s video rental or streaming. And you can rate things. They just did a whole million dollar contest about improving their ratings, and yet they still only have the settings for, “I liked it and I didn’t like it.” And nowhere in there is anything about cinematography or violence or the way the acting was done. Nowhere in there can you rate all of these other types of things. Nowhere in there can you say, “Hey, I watched this movie when I was a teenager, and I don’t like it now. Please don’t make suggestions based on that.”

What we’re doing right now seems like the minimum viable product, and that’s it. We aren’t pulling in all of this other human thinking, all of the other reasoning that’s going on. We’re just letting ourselves be blind. And essentially … there’s always that phase two thing. The mythical phase two. Everybody knows about that: one in 10 projects gets to the mythical phase two. It’s not the only reason why it’s a problem. But what’s happening is that we put something together that we think works for us, and then the whole market comes and it’s a shambles. It doesn’t work for them.

Anyway, so your job is supporting the customer. Your job is trying to make it so that … maybe you build four or five houses and they’re hurricane-proof, and different hurricanes come to different houses, right? I’m meaning different audience segments. The trouble is, is that, you are expecting your executives, your leaders, your decision makers in your organization to also care about the customer, right? They don’t quite know what to do yet. And so they’re asking you to give them the same proof that they require when they’re making decisions about the organization. So essentially an executive’s goal is to keep that organization around, to be able to support people, to be able to keep people employed, to be able to support the customer. For years! “That’s my goal, and I don’t want that to be at risk. I want this organization to continue.” And that’s his job. That’s how he should think. Don’t ask him to think another way.

The problem is, is that they’re asking us for this kind of proof when we’re trying to do something new. They’re asking us for the quantitative proof, “Give me some numbers. We want to be data driven.” You’ve probably heard this data-driven thing before. A lot of organizations that are engineering-driven, that’s also another way of saying the same thing. The interesting thing is that they tend to … or people tend to think of quantitative as the opposite end of the spectrum from qualitative. In fact they’re two different spectrums. They measure different things. Quantitative obviously measures numbers, and it can go from estimates to actual calculations. Qualitative measures patterns, measures differences, comparisons, things that cannot be expressed in numbers but in words. And what else but all our thoughts … can they be expressed in numbers, no. Words, yes. That’s what’s going through our brains. That’s how we describe what goes through our hearts. And so what we are investigating is qualitative. And of course it can go from a guess to a detailed depiction because you’ve done all this listening. That’s what empathy is about.

You may need to persuade someone, “This is Dr. Brene Brown, and she has some great persuasion, some great TED Talks. Go ahead and take a look at her if you need help persuading your upper management.

Some of the other things that you may be up against is that … This is a list that Dan Szuc did, he’s the organizer of UX Hong Kong. There’s a lot of silos within a lot of organizations, especially the larger ones. But I’ve been listening to a couple of people who are growing their companies, it’s like, “Yeah, we’ve hit 48 people and now it’s too many.” One person is like, “Yeah, we’re six people and that’s perfect. We keep adding people and it just falls apart. There’s too many people to try to communicate with.” And so you start getting silos. You start getting different definitions of the customers in the different silos. You get the marketing people thinking that the buying segments that they made personas out of are the one and only personas. And then you’ve got your department that’s got other behavioral segments, not the buying segments but maybe the day-of-travel segments, or something. It’s completely different behaviors. So, there’s all of this to address as well.

But essentially I think a good way to picture yourself is to picture yourself in either one of these roles. The idea that the philosopher is the person who’s asking, “Why?” I am going upstream of this. “Sure we’ve got something and how good is it working and how well is it working for our business, to sustain our business so that we’re around for another 10 years, but why? Why are building this? What are people thinking in terms of their intent? How are we supporting those intents?” Let’s get upstream of this, okay?

Essentially the message is to really try to care about the people that you’re serving, that you’re supporting, as humans. To pay more attention. To gather their thoughts and use that in that little spark when you’re doing your brainstorming. Keep that as a part, a continual part, of the way that you are making things. And you’ll make those things that are closer to being able to support people rather than sort of going to be wrecked in the next hurricane.

We’re no longer in the manufacturing age. We’re also no longer in a digital frontier. The low hanging fruit has already been grabbed. We need to do some serious thinking. We need to do a little bit more work and spend a little bit more time with the people that we’re serving, so that we can serve them better. Okay, so thank you very much.


 

Host:       Thanks Indi. Do we have any questions?

Indi Young:      Yeah it’s always the whole question thing.

Speaker 2:(no mic)

Indi Young:      Yeah, sure. So the question was, can you talk a little bit about the scenario when you’re talking to the customer and the setting, and how do you go about doing that? That was actually a part of what I did in the workshop yesterday. The very core of it is … anyone in the room? Listening. It’s all about being able to turn off the way that you’re thinking. Turn off your analytic brain because that’s what we do. We make things. We’re makers, we’re doers. We’re solvers, and so our brains are always thinking and I think that’s the hardest part. It’s really hard to turn that off. Be passive. One of the students yesterday was saying it’s really hard to be passive, and I love that word. It’s just like all you need to do is be like cotton and absorb what the other people are saying to you. In addition to that, you need to be able to support them in that little cocoon of that listening session so that they feel like they can open up to you. There are ways to do that, and I’ve got all of that in a book. (I only had 40 minutes today.) In addition to that, being able to dive under the surface. Quite frequently when we’re in conversation with people we say surface, we stay at the … “My opinion is such and such,” or “I like blah, blah, blah,” or “I hate that.” Those are preferences. Those are surface level. They are reasons why you have those preferences. They are reasons why you have those opinions, and you need to dig into that and find out what’s behind it. Because that surface level stuff isn’t any good. It’s like sugar for empathy. It’s fun. It’s all poppy and energetic, but it’s not going to help you understand that person. So those are three of the core things. Excellent.

Anyone else? I know, the dead silence. I was going to say if you guys don’t have questions I’ll have a question for you.

Speaker 3:       I liked your presentation very much. I think it was very inspiring, but I’m wondering about something. Is empathy something that we can learn? And how could you be sure that you’re being empathetic and you’re able to interpret correctly what happens with the people?

Indi Young:      Right, okay good. Can empathy be learned? I say yes it can be, but there are a few personality core things that you probably need to have in place. Maybe not everybody has them. Believe it or not, it’s not the whole introvert, extrovert thing. That doesn’t matter. I’ve had introverts (I’m an introvert) be really good at this. I’ve had extroverts be really good at this. What is key is curiosity. It’s like, “I am interested in the other people.” The people that you saw in the inspiration videos probably aren’t that, curious about other people. They are interested more in their thought process and their creativity and their sparky little ideas. Not so interested in other people. So you kind of have to have that in there. When I grew up I didn’t have that. I was not curious about other people. I was scared by other people. It is learnable, if you know what the outcome can be, and how much richer it can be. I believe that because I could do it. But of course there are maybe are personalities that can’t get past that, which is fine. You’ve got hopefully peers and a team that you can work with and the people who do have these kinds of abilities can do that sort of work. Does that make sense?

Okay, you’ve got a question now.

Speaker 4:       Again, really enjoyed it. Do you have a lot of experience working with education, sort of the knowing versus learning mind and these types of…

Indi Young:      Okay, the knowing versus learning mind. I don’t personally. I thought where you were going with this is like I’ve worked with a lot of clients in Higher Ed, but they’re not doing what you’re talking about, not at all. They’re all sort of stuck in a rut that we’re in. No. But what I have a little bit of experience with is linguistics and the idea of understanding the meaning of words … and the way you put words together and exchange them with other people and try to get a meaning across between you and it involves gestures. It involves pictures and substitute words and translations across different languages and stuff. But if you have … Again, this kind of goes back to your question too. If you have that intent to really understand someone and get at their words you can start to pick apart their words, and you can work with them to pick up at their words to get at it. It’s an absorbing sort of a situation I guess. I said cotton before. It’s really trying to turn yourself off and let the stuff soak in.

Yeah, okay.

 

Speaker 5:       Thank you for your presentation. I was curious to know if you’ve seen any links between the level of empathy and listening that there is internally within an organization, and their ability to empathize with customers. So I imagine it might be one of those things that you have to learn yourself and apply internally. I mean the same would be true for an individual person. They have to learn how to listen to themselves before they can listen to others. So is there a link?

Indi Young:      That’s a nice question. I think that a better link exists at the individual to team level, because when you move up to the organization level you end up with all those silos and things. And as an organization, a really large one especially, even just 100 people or more, it gets more difficult to act like an entity. And people don’t understand at an individual level what the organization intends. It’s not clearly communicated necessarily. So some of the things I talk about in the book is like understanding what is your organization’s purpose. What’s their intent, and how do you all organize around that? I think that the learning thing on a personal level could translate more to a group level rather than from a group level to an organization level. Just because of the number of people involved. But yeah it rubs off too. I think if you’re around a coworker who does this sort of thing, or if you are the coworker who does this sort of thing, you can be the example. And help the people around sort of turn a little bit and adopt this kind of a mindset.

Like I was saying with those two different cycles, you can be the person who starts this other cycle going and keeps it going. Investigating different types of audience segments and different types of behaviors. Sometimes you have to get that thing going in sort of the underground skunkworks/gorilla sort of style and then come to a meeting with the voices. And you say the voices out loud. And people are amazed. I have heard so many stories from people who’ve had to do this. They have no budget. They’ve done it on the lunch hours. And they come into some design meeting where they’re working with people and they’re all like, “You know, you’re saying this idea and what I hear people saying over here is something slightly different. What do you think about that?” Then that starts affecting the way that we’re brainstorming ideas. Okay? It’s kind of interesting to see it coming that way. It’s great to see it start off.

We’re done.

Host:       Thank you again Indi.

Indi Young:      Excellent. Thanks you guys.