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Creativity, Innovation, and Transformation as Side Effects of Empathizing

Creativity, Innovation, and Transformation as Side Effects of Empathizing

Innovation isn’t what we’re after. Neither is creativty nor transformation. What we’re after … is a meaningful and sustainable life. Creativity, innovation, and transformation… are all merely side effects, of our desires and abilities to empathize, and to connect. A long time ago, I had a close friend who was bipolar. I remember trying a lot of different things to try and help. One of the things I did was… to get advice from a local support group. There, I learned that the best thing I can do as a friend, is to empathize with her. They suggested that I listen to her closely, and respond back… with my understanding of how she is feeling and why. Then if my understanding is correct, she’ll feel understood, which should help her feel better. It sounds almost too simple to be true, but when you actually try it, you realize… that it’s a lot more difficult than you’d thought. The whole time I was trying to explain to her… why she was feeling the way she was, she just kept yelling, screaming and crying, telling me that I didn’t understand. This went on for at least half an hour. Since nothing I said worked, I just kept revising the story over and over again. But after a while, I ran out of ideas. And I couldn’t figure out what it was that I was missing. Then, I had a rude awakening. It occured to me, that something I had done, right before she got depresssed, may have had something to do… with her feeling the way she was feeling. So I told her that. And she concurred. In retrospect, everything I’ve been telling her… had been framed in such a way… that it was all her fault. As if I had nothing to do with it. I was assuming that she was a mental patient, and I was some kind of an englightened healer. It was no wonder I couldn’t empathize with her. But, what was really remarkable about this was that the story I ended up with was completely unexpected, yet completely obvious in hindsight. The story was so simple, obvious, and even logical, that I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t thought of it… in the first place. It was no wonder she was feeling the way she was. And she even thanked me in the end. This was surprising, because I didn’t know that… I could be thanked for trying to understand someone. This changed my understanding of what it means to understand. And also what it means to be a friend. And this is exactly what happens when you’re making something. Just think of the times when you had to work with… materials you’v never worked with before, or sat down to make something you’ve never made before. In the beginning you’re always starting… with your own biases and assumptions. And you’re probably using the same tools and methods you’ve used in the past. So soon enough everything feels pretty familiar, and you feel pretty good about the work you’re doing as well. But at some point, if you’re sufficiently self-aware, you’ll realize that you’re trying to fit… an old idea into a new context. And it’s not working. And this is where you have a choice. You can either ignore this feeling, and plow along. Or you can be honest about it. Sometimes you will ignore it. For good reasons. Life goes on. But other times, you choose to be honest. You acknowledge the feeling that you’re missing something… that your perspective alone is insufficient, that you need a new perspective, a new paradigm, a new way of thinking. And this… just like my conversation with my friend, is very difficult… and sometimes even painful. It takes humility and courage… to put aside your own biases and assumptions. Not everyone’s willing to let go of certainty and control… for the sake of learning something new. But it’s only if you’re willing… to listen to a different perspective, and manage to empathize… will you be surprised by a new way of thinking. And just like my conversation with my friend, when this happens, you’ll feel a sense of profound resonance, of coherence, and you’ll wonder why you hadn’t considered such a simple, obvious, and logical way of thinking before. When we empathize, we collapse the boundary between two different perspectives. This changes the way we understand the world. And it also changes the meaning we associate… with those two perspectives, because we see a new relationship between them. The fancy name for this, of course, is creativity. When I look around now, I see many of us are becoming infatuated… with creativity, innovation, and transformation. I’ve spent a decade in the field of design consulting and hi-tech R&D, so I understand why those ideas are valuable. But we’re missing the big picture, if we get too obsessed with these ideas. So as a first step of this project, I’d like to share with everyone a different understanding… of what it means to make something. Making is not only a process. It’s also an attitude. One that embodies trust, humility, courage, integrity, honesty, and dignity. I’d like for us to become aware of this, so we can start to apply the idea to everything we do. To make is to realize empathy. It is at the heart of what it means to be. It is a human right.

Reader Comments

  1. This is literally the best thing I've heard, like…. in a while. What you described of what transpired between your friend and you was beautiful and I wish SO MANY guys could realize the same things. Thank you for this. This is so desperately needed in the world.

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