Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Empathy by numbers?

A few years back, I invested in the heavy tome above: The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World of Crisis. I started reading the book with good intentions, and I did get a good way into this history of human civilization, the evolution of empathy and where we might be going. Can we achieve global empathy before we self-destruct and take the planet with us? An even more pertinent question today, perhaps, than when the book was published in 2010.

I'm ashamed to say that I got stuck, and stopped reading. I wasn't bored, nor was it too much for me. Blame it on my 21st century attention span if you like. Other things simply took over. It's not to say I won't take it up again someday, but for the moment the heavy tome remains on the shelf.

Since then, empathy has become a marketing buzz word. Even more so in the last year, when marketeers have become aware of their filter bubbles and we're seeing initiatives such as that of Ogilvy: Get Out There. Nothing wrong with going back to the roots of what market research and planning is all about, I suppose, but the article at least is phrased in some most non-empathetic terms. 'Planning in the wild' - suggesting that the people the planners are going to talk to would rather tear them limb from limb and gobble them up than give them their views. 'Real people' - as opposed to - what?

There is now an agency dedicated to 'transforming the world of business through empathy'. They are called The Empathy Business and are an evolution of an outfit known as Lady Geek, who championed women in IT and technology.

They define Corporate Empathy as follows:

We define corporate empathy, not compassion or sympathy, as the emotional impact a company has on its people -staff and customers- and society-the next generation.

And true to the new business tool requirement these days (as in Meaningfulness Index, Simplicity Index, Sustainability Index) they have an Empathy Index, based (I assume) on a model with the convenient but slightly cringeworthy acronym EMBRACE which lays out the aspects of Empathy.

This does make a lot of sense, but I do wonder whether empathy should be a pre-requisite for anyone working in communications rather than something that we have to discover and learn.

Surely the ability to stand in someone else's shoes and see the world - or just a brand - from their point of view is simply the starting point of what makes a good planner - or creative?

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