A Lesson in Empathy

March 13, 2013 — 10 Comments

My friend Delos “Toby” Cosgrove is a fellow blogger for LinkedIn. He and his wonderful organization, the Cleveland Clinic, deserve a massive shout-out for their recent video entitled “Empathy.” I challenge you to watch it without a few tears forming.

Empathy is at the heart of design. Without the understanding of what others see, feel, and experience, design is a pointless task. When communicated as it is in this video, empathy can be truly inspirational. What the Cleveland Clinic movie reveals is the true scale and complexity of the challenge of understanding a complex social situation in order to design a system that supports many and various needs.

Think of this movie as a design brief. How would you design a hospital or health care system that helps and supports each of the people and their circumstances that you see here? How would you change the space, the roles that staff play, the type and manner in which patients receive information, the support systems around patients and staff?

How do you go about being inspired by empathy?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

Tim Brown


10 responses to A Lesson in Empathy

  1. joseph m pakkala March 18, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    my words cannot express the feelings that this video drives … such empathy, the essence of truly being human…..

  2. Empathy is a good place to start. However, if encouraging empathy is simply a tactical approach to improving patient care, then it is misleading.

    Part of the problem with our healthcare system is a design one.
    The system as it current exists obstructs the ability of healthcare organizations function as human communities.

    There is also a moral or spiritual problem as well. To encourage empathy is to encourage engagement with people at a level that is stating I am taking responsibility for my relationship with you. I’ve yet to see that empathy is understood as a relational responsibility. I find advocates for empathy, while justified in calling for its practice, do not seem to understand that it requires a social and organization context that allows for human community to flourish.

    Calls for empathy will eventually ring hollow if the systems of healthcare do not allow for individuals within the system to take responsibility for the relationships that form within that system. Without the freedom to take initiative to do the right thing for the patient or a staff person, then the transformative power of being empathetic will fail.

  3. Breanna Goodrow March 19, 2013 at 10:04 am

    Tim Brown,
    Making a video to promote an awareness and need for empathy is awesome, very awesome – why aren’t there more!? – but my feeling about this one was that it was not entirely successful. The video is surprisingly long and the music too dreary to incite any other emotion than sadness. Perhaps it is the lack of empathy and warmth of a hospital environment juxtaposed with the inherent need for empathy, that makes this video hit home and stir emotions in so many people. Culturally we enjoy positivity, we all strive for happiness- why not communicate the happiness and love derived from being an empathetic person?

    I believe the message of compassion, of empathy, is a strong one, but how to best communicate the message is a design brief in itself. In life, I find this message best delivered by example. Imagine if this virtue was upheld and promoted from within major corporations around the globe…

    To someone who does regularly practices empathy, the design brief becomes: how do you inspire lasting empathy, how can empathy become a core cultural value, and how can economy and empathy truly meld with each other?

  4. A simple yet deeply profound video. Thank you for sharing Tim! Have passed it onto the folks at Aravind. I often think of something you said during one of our conversations, “The highest form of design begins with empathy.” So true.

  5. I’ll admit it, I shed a tear or two. I think is a great – a simple video showing what people are thinking and feeling. As a designer, I am striving to understand what others say, do, think and feel. Thinking and feeling are hard and often have to be inferred.

    This sort of empathy gives great insight into what the real problems – a problem that is so compelling you can’t help but come up with lots of wild ideas as to how to solve the problem.

    Thanks again for sharing Tim.

  6. @Ed…the point of empathy (as part of the design process) is to spur others onto creating better solutions than what exists today.

  7. Empathy is at the core of innovation and creativity and this article demonstrates that fact beautifully. I believe that the common mindset for innovation is usually to focus on brainstorming and big-picture, visionary thinking. Rather, your work demonstrates that it is a more clearcut and concrete approach to gaining information from an empathy perspective on what a person’s challenges really are. Well put.

    I just posted a Linked In article and cited this piece – thank you. I would love your feedback. https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140827143519-20711129-1-big-ingredient-to-being-a-highly-creative-organization-be-social

    Mark E. Miller
    VP Marketing
    Emergenetics International

  8. such a lovely post.
    thanks to you.

  9. I believe that the common mindset for innovation is usually to focus on brainstorming and big-picture, visionary thinking.

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