Practical Empathy

3-hour workshop with Indi Young • Saturday 2:00 pm

Because of reliance on numeric quantification during the industrial and technology ages, many cultures hold science and numbers in high esteem. It’s “the truth about the way things are.” This implicit, complete trust in science bleeds out of institutions and into society at large. Marketing pitches and sales slogans are full of words like “proven” and “scientific” because those words instill trust. When you hear phrases like “evidence based,” “based on the calculations,” or “we did a scientific study,” they are meant to persuade.

Organizations use natural science techniques and vocabulary to “prove” things are safe. The people who are leading these organizations are focused on protecting the organization. If someone within the organization comes up with a new direction, the boss needs proof that it isn’t too much of a risk. “Data-driven” is the phrase that gives leaders confidence. The trouble is, the data are all numbers. Concepts not expressible in numbers are ignored. As a result, organizations go marching off in a direction they think will bring them success, when in fact their customers may not intend to go the same way. Products, services, and policies may only support part of what people want to get done. Without an understanding of customers’ reasoning and guiding principles, organizations expose themselves to more risk than they think.

Developing cognitive empathy about your customers fills in this missing picture. Understanding the way different groups approach their own work clarifies the details and helps your organization aim to support people better. Instead of cycling around an idea, think-make-check style, make sure the larger universe that spawns the ideas is brimming with your deep understanding of people’s intents and motivations. Evolve this understanding constantly and you will fill in details that numbers can’t give you.

You’ll learn how to:

  • Practice listening that helps you simply absorb the other person’s thinking.
  • Recognize when you’ve made an assumption or experienced a reaction of your own while listening.
  • Summarize what you hear per person, then analyze results across all of the people interviewed.
  • Find patterns in answers to enable your organization to redirect resources to better goals.

During the workshop, you’ll have a chance to try out the material we are covering. There will be a couple of listening exercises, where you learn to empty your mind and dig deeper into the reasoning going on in another person’s mind. You’ll have a chance to summarize some of what you heard from the other person, and as a group we’ll look for patterns. Finally, if there’s time, we’ll choose one of the patterns and brainstorm some ways we can support that kind of thinking, using not only an app, but also interactions, writing, process, or policy.

About Indi Young

Indi is a trailblazer in user experience, exploring uncharted territories and advancing the discipline in areas not wholly discovered previously. In 2001, when most companies were closing their doors, Indi decided to open one by co-founding the world-class UX agency Adaptive Path, which continues to provide leadership for our field even today. She is an expert consultant in user experience, offering her experience in research, strategy, and redesign to organizations around the world.

After 5 fabulously productive years at Adaptive Path, Indi left to try something new once again. She authored Mental Models, a book on design strategy published by Rosenfeld Media in 2008. This year, look for her next masterpiece, titled Practical Empathy.

Indi has presented about empathy and user experience strategy at more than 35 conferences and local meetings. We’re so excited to add Fluxible to that list!