Embrace Empathy

To discover human need, learn to plumb the depths.

Approximately 87% of an iceberg lies submerged below the water line. Understanding human emotions, beliefs and desires is much like exploring below the surface. Participants will learn the methods to gently dive into those depths to map the underlying mass, contours and faultlines.

Practice empathy not sympathy

https://www.youtube.com/embed/i0E8MwwPYio?version=3&rel=0&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en-US&autohide=2&wmode=transparentIf you’re fortunate enough to have a family doctor with great bedside manner, consider how she diagnoses an illness. Does she ask you what you think is the problem and take you at your word? Does she offer you a display of pills in different shapes, colors and sizes and ask which one you’d prefer? Does she weep with sympathetic pain? No. She separates her diagnosis from her feelings. She recognizes her expertise and Hypocratic obligation to diagnose dispassionately – with empathy, not sympathy. This is a vital distinction. Both terms derive from the Greek “pathos” or “feeling”. But a good doctor understands your pain. This differs from a loved one who shares your pain. Participants’ first lesson: remain objective. Diagnose like a clinician. Participants join a quick exercise in small groups. Each team has a patient. They privately read a card describing their symptoms and a private”belief” about the cause. Another team member acts as a scribe, recording the proceedings. Remaining team members act as a medical team to interview the patient to understand their pain and diagnose probable cause. Results are revealed and the scribes share the methods used to draw out lessons of effective analysis.

Discover unmet or under-served needs.

The doctor’s office takes the patient out of context. You learn more in the field. So the next activity helps participants to dive headlong into the market to study humans in pain, using ethnography expertise.


Let’s go on a safari!

Participants head out of the classroom to immerse themselves in a user environment. The goal is to allow them tostudy users the way Jared Diamond studied aborigines or Dian Fossey studied great apes. Half-day programs, given time constraints, would ideally be situated in a user-rich terrain. If logistics prohibit, as a proxy we divide the class into roles to play users and researchers. It’s artificial, but designed to mimic the needs and behaviors of your customers and their challenges. Participants practice the methods and debrief successes and failures. Full-day programs are designed to take to the field, to actively immerse the class in a relevant user environment. Ideally we would arrange to dive into the world of your real customers in their natural habitat. Otherwise, the local airport often serves as a surrogate site; like shopping malls or street tours, these arenas offer high people traffic in a low state of urgency. Participants are given a discovery mission appropriate to the venue to immerse, observe, record and conduct “intercept” field interviews. As an alternative, particularly useful for repeated programs within your company, Ampersand will produce field research videos to bring the customer experience into the classroom.

Find pain. Give it a name.

Using the right tools, and the right team with the right training, participants find that they often don’t have to look that hard. The truth is out there. Where there is angst or frustration, waste or cost, there is opportunity. At a deeper level, participants learn that users may not recognize accepted pain or frustrations as a “need”. To them it’s not a “problem” per se. It’s just the status quo. Use the Empathy Map to chart out your discoveries and truly understand the thoughts, beliefs and biases that drive observed behaviors. This, and the underlying psychology, lie at the heart of behavioral economics. Learn what it takes to “nudge” your customer in the right direction.&Empathy MapWaiting in a line to check into a hotel. Queuing up for an elevator. Loud talkers, squealing infants and hyperactive children in the adjacent airline seat. Lights too bright or too dim. Grocery aisles too narrow, carts too heavy, shelves too high or too low. We tolerate all kinds of unstated, accepted and unnecessary points of pain. Observed objectively, they steal time and frustrate, even cause real anguish that users simply believe they must tolerate.

Quiet please!
Excuse me.
Oh. My. God.
Going for the gold

Through a creative exercise, participants come to realize that all of these problems can be solved. Simply redefine them from a fact of life to a problem. Pinpoint the underlying pain and identify it by name. When we solve the accepted, we disrupt the status quo. Suddenly you have a preferred hotel (Wow, straight to my room? Thanks!), preferred airline (why yes, I would like noise-cancelling headphones), preferred grocery store (So easy, so breezy, so well lit, I love this place!). Discovering and solving unstated pain often yields the highest return on your innovation investment.



Save Focus Groups for later.

Another important lesson comes through in this workshop. Participants learn the dangers of using focus groups during the early Discovery phase. Focus Groups and other marketing tools have their place later, when you’re prompting reactions to prototypes, validating assumptions, or to solicit collaboration among experts. But when it comes to needs identification, human nature and poor design make focus groups a petrie dish for misdirection. Well-intended participants, plied with pizza, fall prey to Henry Ford’s quote about soliciting opinions. “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”



For more experienced user researchers, or by adding another module, participants explore the internal dimensions of needs analysis.

Supply follows demand.

In a noble effort to understand users, we too often ignore the other critical audiences— business partners and stakeholders essential to the solution. Participants learn to seek the sweet spot—the Venn diagram where customer demand and corporate supply intersect. Too many great solutions die not because they’re wrong for the customer, but because they’re wrong for the company.

venn - latent demand vs innovative supply

Desirable + Feasible + Viable

In the vernacular of the craft, you can’t have a solution that is only Desirable. It must also be technically Feasible and economically Viable. Fortunately the same tools of ethnography can be directed at these audiences. Participants will be provided with a case challenge and run a rapid prototyping exercise to mock up a solution. Discover feasibility by exploring the technologies available. Talk to R&D, find the discoveries that they’re excited about and learn the domains of their pain, past and present. Talk to finance and marketing. Learn the boundaries of viability (volumes, prices, COGS, channels) by learning about past “pain” of poor financial or operating decisions. Learn from your partners. Iterate your prototype. Now you’re ready for those focus groups.