newsletter #1 | 15-Dec-2015
Hey, thanks for being one of the original group of people to sign up for my newsletter. This means you’re probably already a believer–you already know the value of understanding what goes through other people’s minds. You agree that much of the research we do for products and strategy is too shallow or fast. You have seen that getting deeper than the level of opinions, preferences, and explanations helps you develop empathy, which is much more useful to your work. And now our job begins—show everybody else the value of this deeper, perennial listening. This newsletter can be a touchstone for all of us, to know that there are other people around the globe who are intent on making deeper empathy-based strategy research more mainstream.
One of the core ideas of this kind of research is that you don’t know how another person’s mind works just by looking at them, that you can’t be an expert but only an open-minded student. With that in mind, I want to launch this newsletter by shedding light on a habit that we all need to break. I’m serious when I say “all of us,” because I am as guilty as anyone. What is the infraction? Demographics: inferring a behavior by using a physical, numeric, or statistical descriptor of a person that has nothing to do with their inner thinking. It’s shorthand that we use to convey a correlation quickly. I find myself doing it in fun, to elicit a laugh. But the demographic phrases can still have a negative effect; they stick in our minds as truth, and then later we make decisions based on them. Earlier this year I made a point of trying to stop myself from using demographic shorthand. So I thought maybe we could try to spread this around, not by preaching, but by showing another way. It will be wordier than using a demographic inference, and less humorous … but potentially much more illuminating.
Here is a recent blog post about Demographic Assumptions.
(ps: Some of the examples I use in the blog post above come from one of my favorite podcasts, 99% Invisible. It’s a podcast about design which actually does get deeper than opinion, preferences, and explanations. It’s a rare good example that inspires me.)
Video: Enabling Empathy
Here I mention my “allergy to demographics.” I talk about developing awareness of your casual internal chatter, which has a way of filtering out into the working world. If you haven’t already seen it, my 36-minute talk also includes my definitions of empathy and advice for using it in your work.