Wired to Care

Summary Written by Susan Gregory
"This is the story of how companies, and indeed organizations of all kinds, prosper when they tap into a power that every one of us already has: the ability to reach inside ourselves and connect with other people."

- Wired to Care, page 4

The Big Idea

Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

"Over time, any organization can learn to hear what people outside its walls are talking about, feel what they are feeling, and see the world through their eyes."- Wired to Care, page 139

What is empathy? Empathy means to be able to feel what someone else is feeling. Or, at least, to be able to strongly imagine what another person feels in his or her situation.

How can we create strong empathy? The old saying goes “Walk a mile in their shoes.” One day in 1979, Patty Moore, an industrial designer, came up with a unique way to do just that. In order to understand what it was like to be an elderly person, Patty modified her appearance, movement and senses to change how she experienced the world. She put on a body brace to make her shoulders hunch. She plugged up her ears to make hearing difficult. She added glasses to make it harder to see. When she had achieved the desired effect – making herself “old” – she went about her day. Simple tasks were much, much harder. Climbing stairs, dialing a telephone number and opening a refrigerator door all represented a challenge.

Patty continued her experiment for three years. She paved the way for a new approach to understanding customers’ needs. For example, if an elderly person can’t open a fridge door, perhaps there’s something wrong with the door. Also, if a door can be made to open more easily, that will benefit all customers, not just the elderly.

Patty worked with a range of large companies over the years, including Boeing, Toyota and Merck. Through her approach, many organizations have learned to create products and services that meet unspoken needs. This helps make life easier for many.

The lesson here is that when we have empathy for others we can uncover hidden difficulties and obscure opportunities. Finding solutions where none existed previously can open up new markets, make work meaningful and ultimately improve the bottom line.

Insight #1

Be Your Customer

"The simplest way to have empathy for other people is to be just like them."- Wired to Care, page 71

Imagining how someone else feels is much easier when you believe the other person is just like you. For companies to have empathy for their customers, the best way to do this is to be just like their customers. Better still, to BE their own customer.

When companies become successful, they can lose touch with the large majority of the people they serve. Take airlines for example. How often do airline executives fly economy? How can they really have empathy for the bulk of people who buy airfare?

I recently had yet another horrible experience flying United Airlines. After realizing that, in economy, they charge for every checked bag, every beverage and the in-flight movies and shows, I tried to relax in my seat. I switch off the screen in front of me and turned the volume off. As I started to get comfortable, the screen switched back on with full volume, to blare a United advertisement in my face. It seemed somewhat ironic, given that the ad depicted how much United cares about customers.

Other companies do a much better job. For example, Harley Davidson hires riders. Outside their headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a sign states the company’s priorities: “No cages. Motorcycle parking only.” After buying Harley back from AMF in 1982, managers set out to reconnect with and hire riders. As Lara Lee of Harley said “We don’t think about how we can sell more stuff to customers. We think about how we can better serve riders. Because at the end of the day, we are them and they are us.”

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Insight #2

Stories Not Statistics

"The more time you spend with the people you serve, the more the line between producer and consumer begins to blur."- Wired to Care, page 164

If we cannot directly experience what our customers’ lives are like, at least we can spend time with them, get to know them and ask what their lives are like.

Mercedes-Benz wanted to make cars that appealed to young Americans. A group of twenty executives travelled from Germany to California to meet with innovation experts. As Patnaik and his team from Jump were meeting with the executives, he mentioned the opportunity they were missing. They had travelled all the way to San Francisco, where their desired market lived, and they were spending all their time holed up in their hotel.

At this moment, he opened the conference room doors, to reveal ten men and women from the Bay Area. Put together in small groups with the young Americans, the executives were able to chat and understand better what their lives were like. Some of the insights astounded the Mercedes leaders, such as the realization that these affluent individuals didn’t really care about cars. Some people didn’t wish to own any car, let alone a luxury vehicle.

The experience the Mercedes leaders had were far more meaningful than any report or market research statistics. They had met with their market and made an emotional connection with real people. It created a fresh perspective and put faces to their most important stakeholders – real (potential) customers.

Wired to Care creates a strong case for developing Open Empathy Organizations. The concept allows all employees to have firsthand knowledge of why what they do is important and how they can each add or subtract value. Imagine working in such an organization: What you do every day makes a difference. You’re creating or supporting products and services that make people’s lives better, for people you care about. It’s a compelling vision.

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Dev Patnaik

DEV PATNAIK is the CEO of Jump Associates, a strategy and innovation firm. Jump helps companies create new businesses and reinvent existing ones. Jump works with some of the world’s most admired companies, including GE, Nike, Target, and Virgin.

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