I'm in Pittsburgh at the 2010 GEO National Conference, "Unleashing Philanthropy's Potential: Smarter Grantmaking for Better Results." You can find on going and detailed coverage at Sean Stannard-Stockton's Tactical Philanthropy Blog
Today's lunch keynote was delivered by Dev Patnaik, CEO and Founder of Jump Associates and author of "Wired To Care." His talk was described as:
Standing In Their Shoes: How Widespread Empathy Leads to Better Decisions
Increased empathy and understanding can help close the distance between grantmakers and grantees, strengthen program quality, and maximize bottom-line results. When grantmaking staff see the world through other people's eyes, they forge deeper community connections, identify new opportunities to advance their missions and gain teh courage to take risks.
Patnaik was an energetic, fast talking, but inspiring speaker! I think my big takeaway tweet (and the one that got retweeted most often on Twitter) was that if you are not connected with your community - you can not have empathy or make good decisions.
The GEO conference had a sign language interpreter and was interesting to me is how the interpreter's sign for empathy changed during his talk.
Before he started, the sign language interpreter used the above symbol for empathy - which translates to sympathy. As Dev gave his speech, the sign for the word empathy changed to this:
So, with a simple visual - you can see that what he is talking about is not pity or sympathy, but coming together.
He talked about the concept of empathy on an individual level: the ability to reach outside of ourselves and walk in someone else's shoes. In other words, to get where they're coming from--to feel what they feel. He describes widespread empathy as getting every single person in an organization to have a gut-level intuition for the people who they serve--the people who really matter. He described why this important in a business context, "When your organization develops a shared and intuitive vibe for what's going on in the world, you're able to see new opportunities faster than your competitors, long before the rest of us read about it in The Wall Street Journal. You have the courage of your convictions to take a risk on something new. And you have the passion to stick with it, even if it doesn't turn out right the first time."
He shared a empath-meter that rated different companies for high, medium, or low empathy. He told many stories about different corporations and how empathy has made the successful. He explained the neuroscience of empathy in a humorous and entertaining way. He talked about how empathy is felt in the limbic part of brain. He explained the difference between dogs and iguanas and their ability to feel empathy. (Dogs have an under developed limbic brain and thus feel empathetic all the time, while iguanas don't feel empathy because they bump into each other.)
There was some discussion as to whether measuring results makes us less empathetic and the conclusion - at least from the audience - was that you need both. He also warned that simply asking stakeholders what they want is not empathy that it requires real engagement.
During his keynote, there was an active back channel with people in the room and of course, those from my network who responded to my tweets. I asked folks on Twitter how any of this translated to social media. Garlin, one of the speakers for the Social Media session after the keynote, equated listening with empathy.
How can we use this concept of empathy to improve our social media strategy and execution?