Innovating with Heart


Innovating With Heart: Why Empathy Matters

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Much has been written over the past few months about how business will evolve as we enter into the next stage of post (almost, maybe) pandemic life. With topics ranging from the future of work to evolving consumer behavior as restrictions lift, there is no shortage of prognostication on how we as people or organizations will or should move forward.

We even put out our own blog post about how we will evolve as an organization to better meet our clients’ needs as they face evolving challenges. We highlighted three pillars that we believe will be central to the work we do on behalf of clients to help them grow and prosper:

  1. Foresight – Mapping accurate future scenarios and potential impact on organizations (and people)
  2. Empathy and Heart-Centeredness – Digging past the obvious on deep human emotion
  3. Community – Building loyal, connected ecosystem of customers and stakeholders for clients

I want to look a little more closely at empathy and heart-centeredness. First to dig into the meaning from our perspective, then to share how we tackle these ideas on innovation and other projects.

Our Take on Empathy and Heart-Centeredness

Since we can’t literally walk in a consumer’s shoes or experience their frame of reference – the actual definition of empathy – we find ways to stand next to them as they live their lives. We’ve conducted our own “consumer conversations” with various cohort groups throughout the pandemic to get their pulse. We’ve been (digitally) welcomed into homes across the country to discuss, probe, watch, and listen as part of ongoing client research. What the work has and continues to reveal is that consumers, more than ever, are looking for connection, for security and peace of mind, and for purpose. We believe these deeper emotional yearnings will be something that “sticks” as people resume their everyday lives.

Layering onto that, what then do we mean by heart-centeredness, in a business context? As a heart-centered firm, our approach at GrowthWorks is to clearly identify our values and make sure our work aligns with them (more on this in later posts!). But it also means recognizing that consumer feelings are valid inputs that complement learning generated by proof-point analysis. Leading with emotions, feelings, and your own intuition can be a powerful tool that helps uncover differentiating opportunities and build stronger consumer relationships.

The link between empathy and heart-centeredness is listening…we deeply hear your customers and internalize their values, needs, expectations, and what they really want in their lives. Getting down to this level lets us intuitively pull far more meaningful learning out of the research for far more successful innovation.

How to Amplify Emotion in the Work

There are some specific tools we employ to get to this more empathetic, almost soul-level understanding and perspective on what people long for:

  • Consumer Conversations – large group, small group, ongoing – it is critical to keep up on the pulse of those you serve to hear about new pain points as they emerge.
  • Emotion Intelligence – a process developed by Martec that we use in partnership to uncover the hidden sentiments, opinions, and associations of your current or potential customers. Using this technology allows us to scan across data sources—surveys, research reports, social media/other online activity — to dig for the kind of “nonconscious” and emotive reasoning people use (going with their gut) to make decisions.
  • Mobile Ethnography and Seek™ Optix — live dialogue with consumers who are at home or on the go, seeing and probing their experience in the moment.
  • Online Communities and photo/video and interactive sharing platforms – creative exercises, group and individual conversations, journaling, etc. for rich visual and emotional feedback.

We map the journey consumers take, spending time with them at key junctures along the path to purchase and hearing how they feel at each point. Our tools and approaches help us understand consumers in the context of their lives and do more than bring their voice into the work…we bring the unsaid, the heart, and the soul of their emotions and feelings to drive truly consumer-empathetic innovation.

They are wicked smart, able to get to the core of what someone is thinking or feeling, even if it’s not articulated. They can really feel what a consumer is getting to, and that’s something that is a big art, and requires a certain kind of rare intelligence. They leverage an ability to distill truths from insane complexity.

Ultimately, empathy for us is about being of service: giving our clients what they need to grow and prosper and helping them to make a positive difference in the lives of their customers and in their community.

And being truly of service is about listening, understanding, and going deeper – something that is now and always will be a major focus of our work.

Phil Roos

About The Author

Former CEO.