Our industry has been fascinated with the conceptualization of ‘The Big Idea’ and we celebrate the success of it with an abundance of award shows. However, with the euphoria of celebration, many of us take for granted the skills or traits that are needed to bring these ideas to life and flawlessly execute them.
As mentioned in this blog post by Cliff Medney, while everybody tries to codify the creative process, the best ideas are usually borne from the people with the right set of emotional or functional competencies.
And one of the critical skills one can possess is empathy.
Empathy is an (if not the most) important trait in creativity
Whether we are aware or not, empathy plays an essential role in what we do. From the ideation process, to the selling of the idea, to working with a team to make it happen, to designing the right user experience for the audience. It is ingrained in our day-to-day work.
In fact, I would go so far to say that empathy fuels our ideas. While statistical data is valuable, the key nuggets of information buried in the data, is best translated by the ability to relate with the target audience through empathy.
Human insights usually come from us being able to empathise with the particular audience, by being able to listen to them, and truly understanding their base desires, thus allowing us to come out with insights driven by empathy.
In an industry where creative egos thrive and creativity is the most desired asset, an unassuming trait like empathy does feel a little out of place. But if you look at the best work that is garnering attention and bringing in results, the recent titanium winner Nike Fuel for example, proves that an idea does not need to be just smart, clever or witty to win something. It just needs to start from a human insight, which is usually borne out of empathy for the audience.
Empathy is the human trait behind T-shaped people
In XM, we’ve always believed in the right balance of creativity & technology to create the best solutions for our clients. As we start to look at the people we want to bring in to join our family, we always look out for T-shaped individuals. Individuals who are pretty strong in one discipline yet have a good understanding of a breadth of other disciplines to be able to collaborate well with others.
Tim Brown, IDEO CEO describes it pretty well here.
“T-shaped people have two kinds of characteristics, hence the use of the letter “T” to describe them. The vertical stroke of the “T” is a depth of skill that allows them to contribute to the creative process..”
“..That can be from any number of different fields: an industrial designer, an architect, a social scientist, a business specialist or a mechanical engineer. The horizontal stroke of the “T” is the disposition for collaboration across disciplines. It is composed of two things. First, empathy. It’s important because it allows people to imagine the problem from another perspective- to stand in somebody else’s shoes. Second, they tend to get very enthusiastic about other people’s disciplines, to the point that they may actually start to practice them. T-shaped people have both depth and breadth in their skills.”
If you noticed, empathy is seen as the dominant trait found in T-shaped individuals and rightly so. We feel that for us to be able to create work that resonates and has an impact with our audience, we need to hire people who possess empathy.
Hiring people with empathy
As the creative lead in XM, I’m constantly on the lookout for creatives that has it in them. It’s definitely not easy being able to spot such individuals, but these are a couple of example of hints I look out for during conversations or interviews.
- Do they just talk about themselves and their own domain the whole time? If so, can we get them to talk more about how they work or collaborate with their team mates?
- Do they express curiosity and ask about how the other departments works within the agency?
- Do they usually starts most sentences with ‘I did this…’ or ‘We did this…’ more often?
This is not an exhaustive list obviously but you get the drift. At the end of the day, I feel that empathy deserves a little more recognition in our industry, simply because it drives so much of what we do. And it’s time we openly acknowledge and embrace it.