Entrepreneurs are constantly looking for new ways to innovate, whether it’s creating a new product or serving customers in some unique new way. But what steps can you take to innovate more consistently?
You can’t exactly force innovation. You also can’t force creativity.
But what you can do is cultivate mentalities, environmental conditions, and habits that help you think outside the box and innovate routinely. One of the greatest tools available to you in pursuit of innovation is empathy – as surprising as that might be.
So how can empathy help you become a better innovator? And how can you practice greater empathy?
Empathy and Customer Perspectives
Everything starts with your ability to empathize with your customers. When you understand, on an emotional level, how your customers think, feel, and behave, you’ll be in a much better position to design products and services that truly serve your customers.
Think of it in simple terms. Imagine you have an ice cream shop at the beach and you typically sell ice cream in bowls on hot days to beachgoers. You want to sell more ice cream and make your customers happier. You could approach this by coming up with a list of new products you can make given existing materials or by copying competitor strategies. But it’s much more effective to practice empathy.
How does a customer feel when they purchase ice cream from you? What problems are you already solving? What problems remain? Your customers might encounter subtle problems like not being able to find a trash can for the plastic bowl they were served, or not being able to eat the ice cream fast enough before it melts. Once you empathetically connect with your customers about these small problems, you can brainstorm effective ways to solve those problems.
Empathy and Teambuilding
Empathy is also valuable in teambuilding. No matter who you’re working with or in what capacity you’re working with them, being able to emotionally relate to other people makes you a much better and more respected collaborator. You’ll be able to identify when people are struggling and offer suggestions or environmental improvements that ameliorate the situation. You’ll be able to listen patiently when people vent to you and provide them with respect and support. You’ll also be able to understand each person’s strengths and weaknesses, so you can create a better environment in which everyone can thrive.
This is important for a variety of business outcomes, but innovation may be one of the most important. When you have a team of people who are emotionally supported and genuinely connected to each other, they’re going to be much more capable of coming up with game changing ideas and working together on new approaches.
Secondary Benefits of Empathy in Business
Empathy isn’t just about innovation, either. Practicing more empathy can help your business in a multitude of other ways, like:
- Sales and marketing. Being able to connect with your prospects and customers on an emotional level can make you a better salesperson and a better marketer. You’ll come up with more clever taglines and advertising copy, you’ll build better relationships with your customers, and you’ll be much more persuasive in those early sales meetings.
- Conflict resolution. Is there a problem with one of your suppliers or is a leader in your organization facing difficulties with their subordinates? Being empathetic will lead you to much faster conflict resolution. You can identify the main issues standing in the way of peaceful resolution and address them specifically.
- Respect and influence. If you practice empathy long enough, you’ll build a reputation worthy of respect and admiration. You’re going to have much more respect and influence both in your organization and outside of it.
How to Be More Empathetic
The question, then, is how do you be more empathetic?
These are some easy ways to start:
- Talk to more people and genuinely listen. Get to know more people and have more genuine conversations. When they talk about their thoughts or feelings, actively listen to them – and get a better feel for how they think.
- Journal to recognize your own emotional ebb and flow. Write in a journal and describe your own thoughts and feelings. It’s an easy way to glean more insights from your own mind.
- Put yourself in others’ shoes. Spend more time during the day thinking about how other people must feel. If a coworker is stuck in traffic or if they just got bad feedback from a client, how do you think they feel?
Practicing empathy is difficult if it doesn’t come naturally to you. But even if this concept is outside of your natural wheelhouse, it’s definitely worth practicing. Greater empathy will almost always lead you to better and more consistent innovation, greater productivity, and greater respect overall.