Saturday, 22 November 2014


Here’s how Alexander Solzhenitsyn described empathy:

If you want to change the world who do you begin with - yourself or others? I believe if we begin with ourselves and do the things we need to do and become the best person we can be we must have a better chance of changing the world for the better.”

The more we study this subject of people and their behaviour and ourselves and our own behaviour, the more we realise we aren’t irrational we’re just rather inconsistent. For instance we might speculate quite dramatically about how someone potentially might behave towards us and we might get cross about their hypothetical potential unreasonableness and end up having a fight in our minds with them.

I’ll never speak to him again. Bastard!!

But hang on….you’ve just made this all up. Get back to reality. Step into his shoes. Assume good nature might prevail…what then?

Sam Richards is a brilliant speaker and academic. His “radical experiment in empathy” on TED asks his American audience to imagine how they’d feel if the Chinese invaded the USA on a “peacekeeping mission” but with the generally understood motive of protecting their coal interests. And then switches to making the audience empathise with the Iraqis - yes even the terrorists. It’s compelling. It also shows empathy isn’t always comfortable. Sam asks us to “swap one tiny world for another tiny world” and quotes Dostoyevsky…“Nothing is easier than to denounce the evil doer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him”. If this doesn’t help you want to learn how to empathise then nothing will.

Unlike other psychological areas like creativity, empathy is an area of psychology that is being widely and excitingly explored. An example is the remarkable Brené Brown who’s an academic exploring how people connect with each other. She suggests we’re neurobiologically programmed for human connection and identifies that in this quest for authentic connection people really learn to empathise. Essential to it, though, is an acceptance that life is a bit messy (she confesses, as someone who likes order, she herself finds this disconcerting) and that admitting to and accepting our own vulnerability is essential to good

If you think about that it flies in the face of years of alpha males practising “don’t show fear” and Harvard Business School and others teaching the necessity of displaying confidence. Brené says that in her studies what matters most is not people asking “what’s in it for me?” but the increasing cohort asking a much more important question -  “what’s in it for us?” If she’s right, and I think she is, the implication of this for management is significant.

Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.

Michael Jordan

Given more people are asking “what’s in it for people like us?” not “what’s in it for me?” this means we’ve got to think more about groups not individuals. Because it’s the group not the individual who’s winning the climb up that greasy pole now.

How to solve problems and make brilliant decisions. (Business Thinking Skills that really work) published by Pearson

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