The Ups and Downs of Extreme Empathy

Photo by Jacob Walti on Unsplash

Human-centred design is anchored on three pillars:

Empathy, Collaboration and Experimentation.

From those three pillars, empathy is my favourite.

As an introvert, observation and listening are skills that come naturally to me.

I find it fascinating to understand people, immerse myself in their worlds and imagine reality from a different perspective.

When empathy gets hard

Almost three years ago, I started a new job to lead an Innovation team in a government organisation that supports the recovery of people injured at work.

It was a stark difference when compared to my previous innovation role in retail.

From understanding buying behaviours, I was now immersed in the stories of people who were sometimes going through the worse moments of their lives.

Right on my first week, I met an injured worker whose story impacted me significantly for weeks. I never forgot what I heard from him.

You have to go deep

Being exposed to those stories is critical to Innovation.

If your empathy practice only scratches the surface, you are playing safe.

To uncover meaningful insights, you have to go deep. And when you go deep, you have to take care of yourself.

My team relies on collective debriefs and support from psychologists to process some of those stories.

In my case, I keep that story from my first week close and use it to motivate me when I have to push against resistance.

It keeps me honest about what matters — impacting people’s lives.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it. Connect with my on Twitter for more content related to Corporate Innovation, Design and Leadership, or if you’d like to ask any question.✌️

This article is part of a series of 30 Atomic Essays I wrote for 30 consecutive days. You can check all of them here.

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