Empathy: The Jet Fuel of Innovation

You, yes you, are creative.  In fact, you have just as much natural creativity as Walt Disney, Steven Jobs or even Tony Stark. Just like these great visionaries and innovators, you were created to solve problems, consider alternatives, and explore opportunities. The biggest challenge comes not in crafting an idea, but converting that idea into reality. This transition from idea to action is called innovation. 

Innovation is your ability to give your ideas their wings. 

 

Most people are great at thinking of ideas, but terrible at implementation.  Nine times out of ten the reason people fail at implementation of their ideas is attributable to DOUBT.  We don’t doubt ourselves instinctively, but instead we are taught by life experiences to doubt. We are taught to doubt ourselves, our colleagues, our leaders - the list goes on. Because our life experiences can be terrible, traumatic, and depressing, we avoid any opportunity to be “shot down," not understanding that   getting shot down is really just a form of feedback. 

In my experience, feedback is often misunderstood by people. Many people see feedback as a scary, threatening experience. While feedback can be as scary as any horror movie, dark basement, or dark alley, it doesn't have to be.  Feedback can be mistaken as a negative experience only because we were not trained to see feedback in the proper light - the light of champions

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

-Ken Blanchard

Having the ability to accept and really consider feedback is a commonality of all great innovators.  In fact, it is also a commonality of great salespeople, teachers, business operators, parents, children, students, politicians (you get the idea).  Stanford University teaches a method of gathering feedback that I believe to be absolutely critical to success in any entrepreneurial endeavor - Empathy

Empathy is the process of really getting to know your customer before you innovate. 

You get to know your customer so that when you finally innovate you stand a great chance of getting things right.  In fact, great innovators ask for feedback or "empathize with the customer" throughout the entire business life cycle.  Pay close attention here - great innovators do not just empathize during the idea generation phase, but all the way to the end of the business.  In addition, this method for vetting an idea is often more palatable for the innovator because they have not invested their entire soul in the project before getting feedback. "Now Mark, are you suggesting that somehow this empathy thing is good for both the customer AND the business?" Yes, my friends, that is exactly what I am suggesting.  It is the person and the organization that stops getting feedback (empathizing) that finds themselves on the losing side of the field when the clock runs out.  

 

Okay Mark, I will bite. you want me to empathize with my customer. but how?

Next time you have a great idea and want to implement it, I recommend following these three simple rules:

1) Don’t get caught up in your idea.  Get caught up in the process of building your idea into something great through feedback and iteration. 

2) Don’t take feedback personally.  It is just one person’s opinion and that person may trigger an idea that changes your life.  Be open to the comments of others, even if the person sounds crazy.  Some of the best ideas come on the fringe of society (on the edge of the curve). 

3) Allow your idea to die if it needs to die.  Your first idea is never your best idea.  Sometimes the idea has to die to make room for that one idea that can change the world. 

 

To be free of the suffocation of doubt, you must willingly embrace feedback. To embrace feedback means that you seek it out, knowing that your idea is not perfect. In order to prepare yourself to gather feedback without being distracted by your hurt feelings, I suggest telling yourself 20 times the following:

 "this is not perfect."

Once you have repeated that statement over and over again, you are ready to openly, joyfully, and effectively get feedback which will lead to the very best product, service, or idea you've ever created. 

 

Because no one else thinks like you, you are exceptional in the way you think.  As a unique person, you must gather information from others to hone your idea, product, or service.  It is within the comfort of risk and in the company of many that your idea will take its wings.  As the old Chinese proverb says:

“Not the cry, but the flight of a wild duck, leads the flock to fly and follow.”

...So, fly.