The year is 2005, and a movie is retelling a story already known to the public since the 1930s: the famous “King Kong.” You may not remember the plot details, but it is not difficult to recall the moment when the gorilla appears on top of the Empire State Building holding the delicate and helpless actress Naomi Watts.
The scene represents a milestone in the friendship between the animal seen by many as a “monster” and the “damsel.” At this moment, they exchange a look full of tenderness that melts the hearts of those watching the film. However, more than a classic, King Kong carries an important and not at all obsolete lesson. On the contrary, it is something fundamental in a changing society in the midst of a pandemic: the need to respect what is or who is different. In other words, to practice in all personal and professional relationships what is called empathy.
It may sound cliché, but experts maintain that there will be no evolution without empathy. This little word of only seven letters is one of the pillars of what is so desired by corporations: innovation.
And in this context, an interesting fact to be observed is revealed by the Google Trends’ tool. In 2020, Brazil ranked 7th (out of 31) among the countries that most searched for “Empathy” on Google.
According to the creative catalyst, designer, and visual artist, Artur Kjá, the explanation is that empathy is, in fact, one of the pillars of the innovation culture. It is directly linked to the agile philosophy, which is already a strategy adopted by many small, medium, and large companies. Empathy is also linked to the concept of Design Thinking.
Artur Kjá – Creative catalyst, Designer, and Visual artist
“Agile methods are about the human being. This culture aims for more efficiency, a more collaborative being, and, without empathy, there is no collaboration. Remote relationships, as they are today with the home office, need even more of this empathic look”, he says.
For him, empathy has to be a reality for people and is a necessity of this new culture for society to keep evolving.
“Empathy makes one understand the other’s pain, and innovation is about pain, about growing.”
And how to achieve this more empathetic culture within organizations?
For Kjá, it is necessary to invest in leadership through positive and propositive people. Also, he states that the current society still lives too much in the command-and-control universe, which takes away the ability to create new products and solutions.
“Innovation is linked to autonomy and alignment. And it is only by being genuinely empathetic that we can foster this new posture so that workflows are truer,” he adds.
The author of the book “Psychology of Innovation: what lies behind the ability to innovate” and founder of the Innovation Playground, Fernanda Furia, explains the context in which empathy is inserted within the culture of innovation.
“This focus emerged a few decades ago because companies realized that to develop successful products, they should go beyond what they were already doing: it was necessary to understand the daily life, the needs, and the point of view of the user, that is, of those who will use the products and services developed by the companies,” she says.
According to Fernanda, since then the human dimension of innovation started to be approached through the “Anthropology of Innovation” and the “Human-Centered Innovation“: “These are very rich approaches to understand people’s perspective who will have access to the results of innovation processes,” she says.
In her view, both Design Thinking and tools such as empathy maps, user journeys, and ethnographic research are essential resources to find the correct problems and developing the most appropriate solutions for people. And within this context, she believes that empathy can be considered, yes, a pillar for the development of innovations.
However, Fernanda points out that these approaches focus on understanding the users’ habits, needs, and pains.
On the other hand, Psychology of Innovation proposes a change in the positioning angle and, thus, analyzes the psychological dimension of people and teams that produce innovation.
Fernanda Furia – Founder of the Innovation Playground
“In this regard, empathy is still important, but it is part of a more complex set of psychological operations that influence the psychological ability to innovate,” she states.
The challenge for day-to-day organizations does not stop there. To promote this culture of innovation, it is not enough to be empathetic with the other. Fernanda Furia brings “self-empathy” into the debate. For the expert, those embarking on a journey to innovate need to develop what she calls “emotional awareness for innovation.”
“The awareness of oneself and one’s emotions, an affective understanding about one’s own suffering, a non-judgmental recognition of mistakes, and an exercise in humility to overcome limitations and move forward. Whoever embarks on a journey to innovate, whether it is to start a new business, create a product within a company, implement a different methodology in a school, or reinvent their own life, needs to develop this “emotional awareness for innovation.”
For Fernanda, self-empathy is a prerequisite for understanding the other more broadly, considering their particularities regardless of whether they have a direct relationship and affinity with you or not.
“Understanding the psychological gears experienced by people who innovate allows the development of an emotional agility for innovation,” highlights Fernanda.
But, after all, what is empathy? And how to practice self-empathy?
“Empathy is the possibility we have for dialogue, healthy relationships, feeling for the other, putting yourself in the other’s shoes, affective and cognitive processes allow for better communication and relationship building.”
Julio Freitas – CEO of Instituto Empatizar
The definition is from Julio de Freitas, who is in charge of the Instituto Empatizar, in Petrópolis. Julio is a Business Administration specialist and holds a Master’s degree in Education and Digital Technologies from the University of Lisbon.
The interest in specialization arose when he realized the significant development of digital technology in the last decades, but there was a bottleneck: “the ‘human person needed to be developed.”
And this is a skill that, according to him, is directly linked to innovation because listening to the other without judging increases the ability to create.
“Instead of imposing, listening, knowing how to listen to criticism. We need to be able to deal with each other better, with more acceptance of diversity. And this is also for our mental health. Human beings need relationships,” he says.
The Instituto Empatizar was created to offer online courses for teachers and managers on empathy and self-empathy. Julio said he understands the terms as fundamental in building successful teams.
“To carry out a project, we need to share feelings, visions, and purposes because empathy is the possibility that we have for dialogue, of healthy relationships, of feeling for the other, of putting ourselves in the other’s place. Affective and cognitive processes facilitate our communication and the ability to establish relationships,” he says.
The specialist also states that society, especially in Brazil, which is going through a period of great divisions, is at this moment searching for universal empathy. It is easy to be empathetic with peers, but not so easy to be empathetic with a group you do not belong. However, there are ways to deal with this difference.
“It’s a matter of developing and training: someone looks different, and before judging, I try to listen to that person, before I even want to answer, because that’s how dialogue is established,” he stressed.
Just as Fernanda Furia argues, Julio reinforces that it is not enough to be empathetic with the other person.
“Do we pay attention to ourselves? Can you look at your feelings?” she asks, leaving the exercise about self-patience that should serve as a daily reflection both in personal life and in everyday work life.