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Can Businesses Have Empathy?

Can Businesses Have Empathy?



That was the question last Thursday night duringArlington County Economic Development'spanel.Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina says empathy can be trained and should be a part of business because a business' job is to produce sustainable value, which requires it to understand its customers, employees, community, and its impact in the world at large. Carly also says tech can help businesses understand their customers better by studying habits. Amplifier Ventures managing director and panel moderator Jonathan Aberman asked Carly whether her late friend Steve Jobs had empathy. She never saw thevolatilepersonality some say he had and says he was incrediblyemphaticof his customers because he wanted them to have beautiful products.


GMU's new president Angel Cabrera says the only people incapable of empathy are people with schizophrenia, narcissism, and psychopathy. Business schools should start incorporating it in the curriculum. Empathy can come in handy when figuring out why something in the business has failed, Angel adds. If people can find the discipline to "shut up and listen," they'll learn from employees why something failed: "Empathy is looking at the world through someone else's eyes." (Sounds a lot like market research.)

empathy-julie rogers

Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation president Julie Rogers says empathy is the cornerstone of what it means to be human and is a motivating force in society. The best way to build community is to grow empathy. But it has to be modeled, mirrored, and cultivated. But she worries that society's empathy is not deep enough; so many people are living below the poverty line, even in one of the wealthiest areas of the country.

empathy-bill drayton

Two-thirds of people's motivation is wanting to help, but the economic system is designed badly, saysAshoka Innovators for the Public CEO Bill Drayton. Society needs to transition out of a system of rules and enforcement. Another problem is the wide income gaps, and the bottom of those income gaps is falling away because people aren't getting trained for in-demand jobs. He says society can set out to increase empathy just like it set out to increase literacy.


Do you think businesses and organizations can have empathy for customers, employees, and the world around them? Send comments and story ideas to Bisnow's Tania Anderson.