Where Science Meets Muse

Posts Tagged ‘empathy’

Empathic Empowerment Key to Transcending Innovation-Stifling Environments

Posted by Plish on November 23, 2017

Humans have a limited amount of bandwidth available for innovation.  Stress and creative thinking are intimately inversely related in our brains.  Increase stress levels and creative problem solving capability goes down.

People who live in high stress situations,  who face financial challenges daily, who are constantly bombarded by stimuli that evoke negative emotions, have a difficult time  thinking creatively.  This is because we expend brainpower when we have to cope with stress.

It’s also typically true that the best solutions to problems come from those people who are immersed in those problems.  The ‘insider’ is usually better able to come up with solutions than an ‘outsider’.  But there’s a catch.  Because of this innovation/stress relationship, if ‘insider’ people are overly stressed, they can’t come up with solutions to the problems that surround them.  So, the best solutions are prevented from materializing by the very environment that needs to be changed.

The first step then to  creatively and successfully solving problems in high stress environments is to help individuals deal with the stress.

A non-profit called EMPath is doing that by using brain science to enable people to deal with life’s pressures and take control of their lives — even if it’s one small step at a time.

When people are more in control, then stress levels go down.  Stress goes down, the brain energy bank doesn’t get depleted, and creative problem solving ability can go up.  The result is that people can now think of ways to improve their lives, their families and their neighborhoods.

During this Thanksgiving holiday, let’s make  a point of living our thankfulness by living with empathy, empowering others, lessening the burdens that people feel.

The result is more clarity, more peace, more potential unleashed to make the world a better place.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!


Posted in culture of innovation, idea generation, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving, Social Innovation, stress, The Human Person, Wellness, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Technology Driven Design or Customer Centered Innovation? – The Imodium Experience

Posted by Plish on April 6, 2016

Think back to your last experience with…


Yes, you read correctly.  Take a few moments and think about it.  Name at least five things that you feel when you have diarrhea.  It’s probably not hard because  those experiences are typically extremely visceral.

Urgency, cramping, sweat, embarrassment, loud, runny, running….  the list goes on.

Now, name five things that you typically need to deal with diarrhea.

Toilet paper, water, underwear, anti-diarrhea medication, an open toilet, Gatorade…

Nowhere in either of these two lists did you see scissors mentioned did you?

I can hear what you’re thinking, “Plish, why the heck would I think of fricking scissors??!?”

Check this out:

Yes, scissors!

So, what’s behind this packaging debacle?

Well, it’s surely not customer-centered needs.  While it is about stopping diarrhea, it’s not about improving people’s experiences with diarrhea.

At the core,  it’s about Technology.

I haven’t interviewed anyone at McNeil about the packaging.  But I’ve seen this phenomenon before.  You see, McNeil sees the contents of this package as its product.  It’s all about the drug, and packaging the drug was driven by technology.

The manufacturing facility has scores of cool, hi-tech packaging machines that can safely, securely,  deposit and seal loperamide (Imodium) caplets in their foil/paper  blister chambers.  These packets keep the white caplet inside safe from harm as thousands of boxes rattle around in a truck, and/or are thrown around at shipping docks.  Then, when the card of tablets is stuffed in a pocket or purse, the packaging needs to protect the precious, effective cargo.

Unfortunately, nowhere in this list is the customer experience.

The end result then is a hard to open package that includes (mindblowing) directions for using scissors in case the person opening it can’t tear the plastic.

What is interesting is that on the Imodium website you can read the following:

IMODIUM® A-D EZ Chews begin to dissolve quickly. And when you have diarrhea, fast relief can never come too soon. IMODIUM® A-D EZ Chews work fast, so you can get out of the bathroom and back to the things you love.

So, with the EZ Chews, they acknowledge the need for quick resolution, but curiously don’t figure this into the packaging experience in their other products.

How did they get here?

As I said before, this product was driven by technology.  While the drug was tested for efficacy,  and while the package keeps the drug safe,  the lesson here is that the product, Imodium, isn’t just a little pill*, it’s the pill and packaging – the whole experience of opening and taking the medication (which incidentally is done while people are in a, um, compromised state).

The takeaways?

  1. Look beyond the product and look at the experience.
  2. Don’t expect technology to automatically create a good experience.
  3. Think about the packaging! (Anyone out there thinking about battery packaging??) Oh, the presence of a certain packaging machine in your plant doesn’t mean that it’s a fit for every project.
  4. Streamline the process of opening the package while still keeping your package contents safe.
  5. Use some empathy! Understand what people are going through before, during, and after, touching your product.

The good news is that if you look at this list, especially number 5, there is clearly an opportunity for innovation in this space.

I’m looking forward to seeing the next generation of diarrhea packaging, but just hopefully it’s not as a user. 😉

*-Imodium is available in  other configurations, such as a liquid.





Posted in Case Studies, Customer Focus, Design, Experience, Healthcare, innovation | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Building Empathy on the Road to Innovation (and a Better World)

Posted by Plish on October 5, 2012

While the woman on the table braced herself for the extremely invasive transvaginal ultrasound, the technician tried to calm her:

“You know, when I was in school, they had us go through this exact same procedure so that we can understand what you’re feeling while you’re going through this.”

The woman smiled slightly, relaxed, and thought to herself, “At least this won’t be as bad as it could be…”

And it wasn’t…

Empathy goes a long way towards impacting how we behave with others, how we design products and services for others.  Sometimes, as with the ultrasound technician, a shared experience forms the empathic response.  However, we can likewise gain empathy by observing how others respond to certain situations – by reading people: looking at their faces, listening to their voices, watching how they fidget or stand still.

While responding to others’ expressions is somewhat ‘automatic’, the accuracy of our empathic responses can actually be improved.

Researchers at Emory University have developed a meditation protocol (Cognitively-Based Compassion Training, or CBCT) that trains people to be more effective in reading what others are feeling.

Study Co-author, Lobsang Tenzin Negi, director of the Emory-Tibet Partnership, had this to say:

“CBCT aims to condition one’s mind to recognize how we are all inter-dependent, and that everybody desires to be happy and free from suffering at a deep level.”

Build empathy and build a better world.

Sounds like mandatory training, not just for innovators, but for all humans…


Posted in Behavioral Science, Case Studies, cognitive studies, culture of innovation, Customer Focus, Design, Emotions, innovation, Innovation Tools, meditation, Research, Science, The Human Person, Wellness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Want to Keep Your Empathic Edge For Innovation? Keep Your Blood Pressure in Check

Posted by Plish on November 13, 2011

We all know the effects of high blood pressure: increased heart disease, kidney disease,  stroke.  Now there is one more thing to add to the mix: Emotional Apathy.

Research shows that increased blood pressure is associated with the deadened ability to pick up on emotional cues.  Without the ability to pick up on emotional cues, tension and pain points camouflage into the background.  When everything becomes vanilla, finding the insight that foments the next great thing becomes all the more difficult.

So how do you keep your empathic edge?

Research shows there are effective approaches (outside of drugs) that are  pretty easy for anyone to implement.  Remember the Blood Pressure Control MEME:

Minimize exposure to first and second-hand smoke

Exercise regularly


Eat healthy

Humans are wonderful innovation machines, but like any machine, they need to be maintained.  Keep an eye on your blood pressure and your ability to see emotions in others will stay sharp – as will your ability to be innovative.

Posted in Behavioral Science, cognitive studies, Customer Focus, Design, Emotions, Health Concerns, innovation, meditation, problem solving, Research, Service Design, Society, stress, The Human Person, Wellness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Contemplative Way of Design

Posted by Plish on June 4, 2011

“(Emerson wrote,)’We animate what we can, and only see what we animate.’ Contemplative beholding of art – indeed of anything – can lead to the animation of whatever is before us. New eyes, “the right eyes,” suddenly open, waking us up, and consequently awakening everything around us. ” – Physicist Arthur Zajonc in Psychology Today

Don’t just observe a situation – contemplate it.



Widen the gaze

See the relationships


Understand (With more than the mind)


Posted in Authenticity, creativity, Design, Experience, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, Spirituality, The Human Person, The Senses | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Finding the Voice of the Customer

Posted by Plish on January 8, 2011

Humans are attuned to hearing other people’s voices.  Or rather, we have a tendency to hear and zero in on those things that pique our interest.  A unique, high-pitched voice squeaking about an experience with a company’s product catches our attention only if it’s in a language we can understand and only if it’s a product we care about.  If we speak English and the voice is German (well, we think it’s German because obviously, if we can’t speak it,  we’re guessing which language it is, right?) we tune the person out and relegate it to background noise.  If it’s not a product we care about, again, the conversation becomes background noise and we turn our attention to something else.  

This is only natural. We all have limited bandwidth of time and energy.  If  voices don’t somehow resonate with us, we turn our attention to those that are interesting or useful to what we are trying to accomplish.

But, businesses cannot afford to be deaf to any unique voices…

To make sure your company is effective at hearing the Voice Of the Customer (VOC), answer these simple questions with brutal honesty:

What language is your customer speaking?

Is the company fluent in this language?

Language here means more than just the same spoken words using the same alphabet and grammatical rules.  (Actually, really meaningful VOC can be obtained even when there is a disparity between the languages spoken.) Language here means the deeper  foundational dispositions of the customer.  It’s more than words.  It’s about actions, motivations and emotions.   It’s about getting past the customer’s vocal cords and getting into their hearts and heads. 

Customers can only be understood when there is empathy with them. 

Unfortunately, many VOC projects start all too easily with the premise that there is a common language between the company and the customer – it’s English (or French, German, Ukrainian, etc.), the language that the focus groups and questionnaires are done in.  Projects starting in this manner often end up with the VOC output sounding vaguely familiar.  Unfortunately, few will ask if the reason something sounds familiar is because it is an echo of the study sponsor’s voice.

Meaningful innovations seldom come from these types of VOC studies.  They instead come from those studies that truly understand the deeper language of the customer.  Products coming from these types of VOC studies, ultimately  leave customers speechless with delight.

That silence is the most powerful, vocal endorsement of all.

Posted in culture of innovation, Customer Focus, Design, Emotions, innovation, Innovation Tools, Market Assessment, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Beginnings of Design/Innovation

Posted by Plish on October 3, 2009

beginnings of design001a michaelplishka2009

I made the above sketch while listening to  a panel discussion with David Armano, Dan Saffer, Jon Kolko and Ben Jacobson at the IIT Design Research Conference

What are your thoughts on this representation of the beginnings of design/innovation?

How could it be improved?

Posted in Authenticity, creativity, Design, innovation, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, Sketching, The Human Person, The Senses | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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