Using Empathy as a Framework for Success

My dog, MarcoOver in the web world, the fun comprised of Information Architecture, User Experience, Content Strategy, and a few other titles, there has been an increasing focus on empathy. There is even the Dare conference dedicated to the people skills, aka feelings, that is needed by all of us techies.

There have been discussions about empathy being the missing ingredient for successful projects. Others have pointed out that while empathy is important, more education and leadership needs to be added to the mix as well. I even talked about it when I encouraged Content Professionals to Be the Business and spend more time understanding what people actually do during the day.

Of course, like everything in the world, proper balance is the key to success. Empathy is the framework in which we need to deliver our advice, solutions, and products. It isn’t the deliverable, but it adds depth to how we present the deliverable.

Start with Empathy

Let’s face it. When you start a project, your first concerns are making sure the scope is well understood and that everyone has a positive attitude about the project.

The second thing that needs to be done is to start to build empathy for the client. I have been in a lot of requirement meetings where we document the step-by-step requirements in exquisite detail. There is usually some effort to understand the problem that is being solved, but little effort is made to understand what people think and feel about the current and proposed solution.

To fully address a problem, we need to understand the pain of the people who use the systems every day. Where does it hurt? What is great? What do they dread? In a perfect world, how would it work? What is the reason for everything that is done? What one feature would make the whole project worthwhile?

How often do we take time to just watch people work? Why not take a day to watch people do their job and witness their frustrations and successes as they happen? Take those findings and use them to give the requirements an added dimension.

When you do these things, you gain perspective and you can start to advocate for the client in the final product.

Using that Empathy

Now that there is an understanding of what the client needs and feels, empathy can be used. Deliverables can be created in the context of what matters to the people. Sure, the documents need to be full of the same facts and figures, but the descriptions can include more about the why, not just what.

My old dog MollyDesign meetings, leverage what you have learned to describe how the design will truly help them. Listen to the feedback. Listen to the why of the feedback, not just the what. Evolve your understanding.

In presentations and demos, it will become simple to relate the challenges that people are facing to the solution and describe how it will address their most important issues. Educating people on how the solution will work is important, but with a little empathy, you can help them care that it works.

If you really pour yourself into the project, you will care.

The goal is that not only will the client have a solution that meets the stated goals, but everyone will feel like it was built with them in mind. People will become invested in the solution and put forth the extra effort needed to make it a success. They not only see how the solution can help the business but how it can help them.

Big Picture

The big picture is the same as it has always been, solve the problem. The difference? We need to make sure that we frame the solution in such a way that it resonates with people. They have feel you understand them and are helping then, not simply selling them something shiny that will shortly be sitting on the shelf.

That means understanding what people are dealing with every day and using that understanding to craft the right solution. Mapping the solution to the challenges and clearly explaining how every detail is designed to address their needs is critical.

Empathy isn’t the solution to everything. Like everything else, it is a tool. It is one that is just often overlooked or misused.

Go out, do what you normally do, but insert some empathy into the process. See what happens.

2001: An Enterprise Odyssey

The Discovery from 2001When I was at the AIIM Conference this year, Thornton May, gave a frenetic keynote address. While I am never quite sure what the key point Thornton is trying to make during his talks, he always makes everyone in the audience think, which is a very good thing.

During his keynote this year, Thornton used the following exercise to get the audience thinking about the future.

Choose movie, show, or work of literature which comes closest to capturing the essence of the external environment facing your enterprise today.

There were a lot of answers, some good, some mired in the past, but it was a very thought provoking discussion. My choice, if you haven’t figured it out by now, was 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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GenXer’s Rant for Independence

The Manhattan ProjectI am part of Generation X. My parents were born in 1946, the quintessential Baby Boomers. All my life I have heard about the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers and all they accomplished. Together they built the society we live in today.

And what a society it is.

My early years were defined by the Cold War. I was never sheltered from the truth. I knew that if there was a war that my proximity to a navy base was a blessing. It would be over quick. The threat of nuclear war was just background noise, a fact of life, a dark cloud that you learned to ignore.

What was scary to us was the use of resources. The country was going deeper and deeper into debt. Everyone knew that this meant economic hardships down the road. Forget counting on the government to help you in retirement like it would help our parents and grandparents. Social Security would be empty.

The oil crisis of the ‘70s made everyone realize that oil was not going to last forever. Three Mile Island and Chernobyl made us realize the risk of our nuclear future. As the environment was impacted, we worried about acid rain, polluted oceans, the shrinking Amazon, and growing Sahara. Debate global warming all you want, but do we need to keep putting poisons into the air every day?

When Columbia exploded, our hopes and dreams of escaping into space died.

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A Release Note For Legacy Systems

I’ve often said that older systems haven’t innovated as much as they should have the past decade. Sure, the systems change and evolve, but have they really improved? Here is a quick look at what just about every release made in the last 10 years could have looked like.

imageAnnouncing SuperOld CMS 8.5!

We are proud to announce our newest version of SuperOld CMS. Right off, you will be impressed with the bigger version number which means more goodness for you.

For this release we listened to you and heard your concerns. In version 7.5 we placed our new critical features in a menu that our customers said was too hard to find. Now that you have had three years to learn exactly how to use those features, we have moved them to a more intuitive location. You won’t believe how easy it is to use now once you break three years of ingrained behavior!

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Content Management Step One, Capture that Information

A Cinnabon treatThere were a lot of disagreements on my view that Box or Dropbox will be a leader in Content Management in five years. Some were willing to concede that in the Small and Medium Business (SMB) market it might be the case but not in larger Enterprises. To anyone relying on that argument, I suggest refreshing yourself on how disruptive technologies attack a market.

I want to take a moment to explain why one of them WILL be a player in the market. It all comes down to one simple point, they capture content.

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Box v Dropbox v Everyone

While I was at Alfresco, I made a point of ignoring the competition. I always believe that if you can’t win without saying something negative, don’t bother. On the flip side, I didn’t want to draw extra attention to the competition.

Don’t have any of those issues now.

Even though I was quiet, new things still happened. Recently both Box and Dropbox have been making some announcements. While I am not going to go into the details, plenty of people have done that already, I’m going to talk about why any of it matters.

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