The Single Biggest Reason Why Empathy Matters For Innovation

The foundation of innovation is curiosity and empathy

Most companies fail because they miss the future. It may seem simplistic to put it that way, but it’s true. There are many reasons why, the most common one is because they fail to meet the unmet, unarticulated needs of customers; this is attributed to ignorance and lack of care for customers.

Let me elaborate…

Customer discovery never ends

Mexican companies are notorious for maintaining the status quo for as long as possible, only changing until they have to. A few days ago I was talking with a mexican marketing agency head about how mexican businesses are somewhat at odds with digitization. They’re not necessarily against it, it’s just that they tend to embrace it until they have to; thus they’re laggards.

It is a fact that all technologies change the game, still people and businesses resist new technologies because they’re afraid of losing what they have. The problem is their customers do not get the benefits of digital because the company that has their business doesn’t invest and commits to creating a better future for them; rather they avoid the future.

On top of that, companies stop doing customer discovery with their existing customers. For example, as a business manager you’re driven by some metrics and surveys that give you some idea as to how well you’re connecting with customers. But, your customers will not ask you to change dramatically. They might tell and show you that they’re ok with how you serve them, if anything they’ll request incremental improvements to keep things as they are.

And most established companies are ok with that because they operate by the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality and assume they know their customers, so they stop observing, asking; they stop caring. They treat customers as just another number that keeps profits alive, focusing more on lock-in than on discovering what new unmet needs they might have; which is the path to innovation.

As I’ve said before, customer discovery never ends. It means you never stop exploring them for unmet and unarticulated needs. When companies stop discovering they make the disastrous mistake of forgetting that their customers will leave them if a “better” option comes along; they always do.

The foundation of innovation is curiosity and empathy

As a business leader, you have to understand that you are your own worst enemy when you assume that things will stay the same forever and ever; they don’t. The only constant is change, and you either drive disruption or you’re outpaced by it.

With that said, the single biggest reason why empathy matters for innovation is this:

Innovation is a better future delivered. This future, therefore, is different than what came before. So any business that is committed to innovation is in the business to meet the unmet, unarticulated needs of customers; that’s what innovation is about. And there’s no way you’re going to do a great job at it without having empathy and curiosity.

Empathy matters because humans are a wicked problem, they don’t stand still, their needs and wants are not consistent from moment to moment.

There’s a reason why the best innovators are empathetic and problem-finders: You can’t come up with new ideas unless you observe the world with fresh, empathetic eyes.

Companies that don’t miss the future put a premium on living in their customers shoes. They have to because customers don’t know what they’ll want in the future, they only know what they’ve got right now. So if you ask them about what they need you get variations of the things that they already know about.


Companies miss the future when they assume their customers will never change and develop new needs. I see people as an ocean, one that you don’t know how deep it is until you explore it. So go out and explore, don’t let yourself get anchored on a known shore; you’ll miss the future if you do.

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