A couple weeks back, I wrote a bit about empathy. We live in a powerful moment in Time. Like never before, people put their ideas and emotions out for everyone to see. It should be easier than ever to understand each other, but there’s still a disconnect. Instead of seeing the humanity in each other, we selfishly lash out – often violently – at others.
In the first part of this series, I wrote about breaking the offline/online binary barrier. It’s all one. To separate the two limits how we listen to each other. Bringing them together enables us to listen to our audience and be better story architects.
Part two examined theater companies that equally listened to their own hearts and audience to create an entire theater movement, Geek Theater. I discussed part two with some theater artists, and a debate rose over the term, Geek Theater. Is it a movement, or just another way of branding?
Brands aren’t always movements. But most movements are brands. That’s because, like a movement, brand is an action. Over the 20th Century, advertising and marketing co-opted the term brand to mean many things, and they shifted away from the visceral physical action of what a brand does. It moves people. Traditionally, companies try to move an audience to buy a product. The strongest brands become a way of life for its audience. This can spark a movement. To foster that movement, you must have empathy.
Last night, as I worked on this final part about listening and empathy, I noticed Lina Srivastava (@lksriv) respond to Marissa Feinberg (@marissafeinberg) at the Twitter hashtag #futuresocent about a statement made by one of the speakers, Bill Drayton (@Ashoka), at a talk, The Future of Social Entrepreneurship. Lina questioned whether empathy was a skill. Pam McAllister (@PamMcAllister) responded, and this was their exchange:
Empathy is difficult to discuss because it has many connotations and often feels intangible. My friend, Nick Bixby, commented on the first part of this series. He related a story about a filmmaker who wanted to hire him to execute the social media for a project. Nick tried to explain to the filmmaker social media isn’t something you tack on as an after thought. It’s like a garden. You must constantly tend to it. I responded to Nick by suggesting everything is a garden – creation, marketing, development – and each part must be tended with care.
Empathy is like a garden, too. It must be tended. It’s not a skill you learn, like Power Point. It is akin to meditation. You must practice it daily to see a shift in dynamic. It is in our brains, and our brains are malleable. We can change how we think. If we listen to others closely and frequently, we can understand their perspectives. That won’t just make us better creators. It will make us better human beings.
There are people who have studied empathy much more than I. To top off this series, I’d like to return to The Futures of Entertainment 6 and share their expert thoughts. This talk is quite a bit longer than the one I shared in part one, but there is a reason for that.
It’s about listening and empathy, two topics that require deep examination.
I hope you’ll listen closely to the entirety. It may actually shift how you see other people.
If you have a clearer picture of others, you can give them what they want before they ask for it. If you give them what they want before they ask, you create a movement. And if you create a movement, you can change the world.
The panel features Lara Lee, (@laracatalyst), Chief Innovation and Operating Officer, Continuum; Grant McCracken (@Grant27), author, Culturematic, Chief Culture Officer; Carol Sanford (@carolsanford), author, The Responsible Business; Emily Yellin (@EYellin), author, Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us. The moderator is Sam Ford (@Sam_Ford), Director of Digital Strategy, Peppercomm.
This series is the tip of the iceberg. I’ll return to these themes in my fiction and on the blog. I’d like to continue cultivating my own empathy by listening to you. Share in the comments below. What are your thoughts on empathy, listening and movement creation?