Wired to Care: how companies prosper when they create widespread empathy by Dev Patniak with Peter Mortensen

Part II: Creating Widespread Empathy – 4. The Power of Affinity

  • It seems that it helps if the people in an organization are like the people they serve. In short, it’s a good idea to hire your customers when possible. (Doug: In my case I often hired parents as classroom aides. They generated great PR for my school.) It’s also vital to know what your competitors are up to as you work to keep in touch with reality. It helps if your workers use your products. (Doug: For teachers, ask yourself would you do anything different if you child was in your class?)

5. Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes

  • Having a deep connection with one type of person can hinder you from connecting with other types. The ability to empathize with multiple types of people can be the difference between success and failure. In a course he teaches, Dev requires students to spend time with another person who is completely different from themselves. (Doug: For teachers, try to spend time with many different people.) Hopefully, this kind of experience can change the way you see the world.
  • Dev explains how mirror neurons allow us to replicate in our heads what we think we are going to do or what other people are doing. These neurons light up as we watch others. They help you experience other people’s lives, but they require first hand input. This is why meeting face to face with people you serve if vital.

6. Empathy That Lasts

  • When we act according to our human impulse to care for other people, we develop the courage to stay the course. There is a great story here about Brad Lewis who produced the Pixar file Ratatouille. To get the feel about how real people work in a restaurant kitchen, he went to work in one doing the lowest jobs. He didn’t think that focus groups would do the job. People driven by empathy don’t want to let down the folks they serve. The human brain is structured to put emotion ahead of intellect thanks to our mirror neurons. Unfortunately many managers and economists (Doug: and school leaders), encourage people to look at the data, not the people. Few of us get inspired just by reading data on a page.

7. Open All the Windows

  • Empathy can help make good leaders into great ones. Here we get the story of Jack Stack, a manager for International Harvester. By opening the books and teaching all employees how to read them, he got people to see how their individual performance impacted the bottom line. This was a real game changer. Success results not from one leader’s plan, but from the thousands of individual decisions made on a daily basis. An organization is like a rowboat with a thousand oars. It is vital, therefore, to show employees the link between the products and service they create and the people who use them. Be sure not to insulate your people from the rest of the world. Target enjoyed success due in part to the fact that they put a Target store next to Target headquarters and expected employees to wear Target clothes to work.
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