Empathy – a new Reality for Innovative Breakthroughs

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In this post, Kanika Sood talks about customer-centric Empathy as a driver of innovation. Leading up to the Degree Show, she shares her perspective of the Noveau Flâneur as an Innovation Manager.

As budding innovators of today, we are expected to extend our skills and innovative strategic assets to unlock growth opportunities. In this process of exploration we are creating something new, embracing change or exploiting the gap of unmet needs. In either of these situations, we as innovators challenge the conventional wisdom to build a system that drives continuous flow of ideas. In this extraordinary journey, I put myself in the bracket of “The Nouveau Flâneur” for this simple yet significant reason – I believe that the best practices come from the most unlikely routes taken, for which one has to wander in the midst of unknown, break the predictable rules, liberate from imperfections and discover our own magical road of creative imagination.

In the quest for innovation, my research focused on finding the unarticulated customer needs in the context of businesses and brands. In current times, the rate of change is exponential, and customers never know what they want until an intuitive approach such as ‘Empathy’ is initiated. What do I mean by Customer-centric Empathy? It is the ability to put customers first, and above all recognise their needs through their eyes. Many of us would ponder over the thought that Empathy is a fluffy charisma around emotions and feelings, but it is much more than that. If looked from a perceptual lens, this may seem an obvious and well-known area, but if observed from an innovation perspective, it may be the next business tactic to map present and future customer needs.

I believe Empathy and Innovation go hand in hand; the beauty of Empathy is that it starts with the curiosity of finding the unknown by seeing the future in the present, which coincides with the process of Innovation. One of the four lenses of Innovation as mentioned by Rowan Gibson (2015) in his book, ‘The four lenses of Innovation’ talks about how “Innovators learn to live inside the customer’s skin. They put themselves in the customer’s shoes and are able to feel their ‘pain points’, identifying unmet or unvoiced needs others have overlooked or ignored. Then they design solutions from the customer backward”. This reverse engineered approach is termed as Customer-centric Empathy.

In light of the future Empathy Era, my research has identified two key opportunities for businesses to unleash their innovative calibre:

  • Uncovering unmet needs call for companies and their innovation teams to develop deep empathy. “Design Thinking” is also fundamentally built on this principle. From an innovation manager’s point of view, this approach looks towards great opportunities ahead in the contribution of customer insight beyond R & D, collaborating with them by providing an environment of open innovation.
  • Looking from the perspective of Innovation Management, it projects an opportunity for the future job roles where empathy might have a separate designation to keep up with the ever-changing customer demands for an effective customer experience.

In the business framework, innovation is not just about product, design, or functional aspects – it is also about the customer journey and the whole experience surrounding it. Empathy helps in building this whimsical journey, and if innovators like myself begin developing our own visionary pathways as one of the characteristics of the Nouveau Flâneur, the world would truly benefit from more creativity and innovation. Along with this, in the race to the future, organisations should not underestimate the empathic approach for potential game-changing developments.

To learn more about the Nouveau Flâneur and Kanika’s research, stay tuned for the upcoming MAIM 2015 Degree Show, taking place at Central Saint Martins in the week starting on the 23rd of June.

*Gibson, R. (2015) The Four Lenses of Innovation: A Power Tool for Creative Thinking. United States: Wiley.