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Applied Empathy - Book Brief

I'm glad you're here. In this Book Brief, we are diving into a great tool to elevate your strategic thinking - Applied Empathy by Michael Ventura.


What do you think of when you read the word "empathy?" A common explanation is an understanding of another's perspective, or "walking a mile in another's shoes." Empathy has become an important and lately often-discussed skill that leaders, in particular, need to be sure they master. What if we expand that thinking and apply empathy to developing talent solutions, or really, tackling any business challenge?


Empathy as a Practical Business Tool

That's the heart of the empathy that Michael Ventura offers in Applied Empathy: The New Language of Leadership. It's empathy as a practical, strategic business tool that considers how to develop and deliver a product or service that creates value for customers, employees, partners, stakeholders - potentially all parts of your vertical, and it's useful whether you are working in talent development, marketing, product development, sales, you name it. If you haven't had the opportunity to read Applied Empathy, now is a great time.

Applied Empathy Book Brief; patio table with laptop book against backdrop of a beach
A day with blue water and steady waves makes for excellent thinking time.

In March's newsletter, I shared how applied empathy is a new go-to resource for me to manage the research worm hole that I tend to dive into when I'm working in a new area. It's become a valuable resource in my toolkit. As you can see, it made it's way to the beach with me so that I could work through one of the exercises to hone my thinking on Simply Strategic Talent Solutions.


If you're new to Book Briefs, please note that they offer talent development-specific application from business, leadership and sundry books. I don’t provide a review or synopsis. What you'll get are a few key points that you can apply to your talent development work. Let's dive in, shall we?


There are plenty of points in Applied Empathy that I found relevant for our work in talent development. In this Book Brief, we'll talk about two ways that Michael encourages us to apply empathy.


Applying Empathy Strategically - the Empathy Venn & Empathic Opportunity

The first concept that I'd like to discuss is applying empathy at an organizational level with a handy tool called the Empathy Venn (p 176). It's a way to practically apply empathy to a situation to gain perspective before jumping in to solutions.


The way I'm thinking about it is to refresh an Empathy Venn for an organization once in a while before jumping in to build a solution. Once I got the hang of it, it didn't take long to review an existing EV to refresh context or add a new angle.

For an Empathy Venn Diagram, consider three perspectives:

  1. Company - products, culture, leadership, brand What makes your company tick? Who is your organization?

  2. Consumer - end-users, customers, external stakeholders, shareholders, candidates Who are your various audiences?

  3. Context - competition, societal happenings, technical trends, external forces What's the ecosystem in which the company operates?


Applied Empathy Venn Diagram; book, laptop, diagram next to filled glass and seashells
The 3 Cs join me on vacay

Don't get lost in the wormhole of these 3 Cs - focus on a handful of the key points in each circle. The idea is to hone in on company setting and consumers, while also keeping the big picture of environment, or context, in view. Now take a step back and look at the notes you've made. Is there anything that resonates between the three areas? This is the Empathic Opportunity (p 176-180).



Aligning Empathy Internally & Externally to Your Organization

I spent time mapping out a venn with onboarding in mind. Once I had a few connection points that resonated as important to our culture and business model, I moved to internal and external alignment.

Applied Empathy book with notes

Internal alignment focuses on internal processes, culture, teams and products, assessing what would need to shift to build a stellar onboarding experience, for example (p 184-187).

External alignment focuses on how you want the solution to "show up," including conversations, behaviors, relationships and memories to create (p 188-192). It was a helpful exercise to think through each of these "buckets" before moving to possible solutions. It set guiding principles, so that as we build an onboarding program, we're considering how to leverage the connection points identified in the EV.

There's a helpful exercise on the Three Cs that is a step-by-step guide through each activity (p 194-201). It took some practice to get the hang of seeing the connections and applying them to internal and external alignment. It was particularly useful in building a new way of thinking before launching into ideas that might be good, but don't reinforce the connections we need to settle new hires firmly into the organization. It's a framework that I will continue to practice as we introduce new talent concepts.


Empathy on a Personal Level - The Whole Self

The Empathy Venn and Empathic Opportunity is a strategic way to apply empathy at an organizational level. Let's take a look at applying empathy on a personal level. Part of the journey that Michael shares in developing applied empathy was the articulation of a personal philosophy. He shares what he calls The Whole Self: "seven distinct facets of self. When they are working together, aligned and empowered, we understand ourselves fully. When they are in discord, imbalanced and confused, we cannot become the leaders, creators, or partners we want to be" (p 69).


The Whole Self begins with our Physical self, moving through Emotional, Inspired, Community, Intellectual, Mindful and last, our Aspirational self. What I took away from this concept in the book is the need to be personally centered and intentionally self-aware. Thinking objectively about a situation is a lot easier when you're also empathetic to yourself. Michael offers seven 5-minute contemplations as an exercise that were also a part of the Applied Empathy class. The exercises were simple and offered insights at a personal level that were both challenging and affirming. I highly recommend (p 87-96).

As a wrap, I hope you'll consider using applied empathy as a tool in your talent development kit. I also encourage you to pick up a copy of Applied Empathy to check out the concepts and exercises for yourself. I'm interested in what resonates most with you. Leave a comment below or join me on my Facebook page - let's compare notes.



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