Monday, May 22, 2017

Science Behind Empathy and Storytelling

Science Behind Empathy and Storytelling
By Tim Urmston, Founder and CEO, SEEK Company

Connecting Brands with people they serve through insights, story, ideas, and strategy—this is what supercharges a project.

Tim begins with a question. He shows a persona of a busy mom who needs more time according to the data.

Now, Tim changes the insight, but rooting the Mom inside a story. Shoulders are turned down, her tone is sharp, and she has a look of contempt.

This is a very different place from which to innovate. “It’s an emotional job, versus an intellectual exercise.” The mom in the scene has a child who requires insulin, a reminder to herself that she is broken, everything feels broken to her.

Her name is Emily. She doesn’t actually need more time, she needs something to improve the experience of giving insulin.

The story carries the weight of the empathy. The data alone doesn’t carry to weight of emotion and create to will to solve the problem.

Once a person told Tim this insight,” If I trust a person, my needs get met.” He adds “the same is true for a brand.”

There are two types of empathy: “Cognitive and Contagious.” When we cringe or sigh “we experience contagious empathy.”

Thinking verses feeling. Storytelling and the evolved brain.

Tim gives the group a brief tour of neurology and biology and their implications for empathy: Lizard brain, limbic brain, new brain, pre frontal cortex, and then the full body. Three nervous systems are outlines: head (central nervous system), heart (autonomic nervous system), and gut (enteric nervous system).

“If you are watching a story and you see someone sneak in someone’s house, you connect and feel the emotions.” Data about break-ins doesn’t motivate, but stories do. Data can persuade people but not inspire them to act. Stories inspire action.

Using stories to rewrite a brand story can make a meaningful difference in sales. Always used this method with its wildly successful Like a Girl campaign, which has more than 100 million hits on and rising market share.

“Emotions connect and create resonance,” claims Tim. We are hardwired for empathy and storytelling.

Good stories also unearth age-old tensions we all share. If an organization can penetrate the emotions underneath why people sue their products, they can harness the power of storytelling for advertising, marketing strategy, and new product development.

Evil may be the factors that block empathy. Inhabiting empathy may make us all better people. 

“You are in a pivotal position to change the products and services we use. Be storytellers. If you want to have a seat at the table, if you want to make a difference not only at your company but in the world then learn to create connection with strong storytelling,” he ends.

Michael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an insight, innovation, and strategy firm based in Memphis, TN, and the author of Going Electric. Visit

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Finding Treasure

The glue that holds everything together at conferences like these is an engaging, entertaining and inspirational emcee. We were fortunate to have Mike Maddock from MaddockDouglas in that role this year. He did a great job of setting up the speakers and connecting all the dots. He also provided great insights  

We know that the next big innovation in any respective industry will come from another industry. So we need to be willing and open to learning from, at times, the most unexpected of teachers. Yesterday, we learned from a former gang leader. Today we learned from a musician. 

Panos Panay is the founder and managing director of Berklee Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship. And yes, he's a musician. King Tone shared what we can learn about innovation from the street. Panos shared what business innovators can learn from musicians. This should be interesting. Panos even admitted that he questioned, how do you coach entrepreneurialism to creative people? He determined that the very instincts that make them creative are applicable to their career journeys. He defined the following head spaces that contribute to success in innovation.

First, learn how to listen. Design thinking calls it observing.

You must collaborate. Music naturally brings people together. The ability to bring different concepts together and synthesize them, creates something completely new. This is key to innovation.

Good sense of timing is important just as timing is critical in music.

Imitation is ok. Innovation can be influenced by what has been done before. It is critical to have a deep understanding of what preceded you.

Bringing two completely different things together creates something completely new and unique.

Great musicians have the ability to get up on stage and captivate an audience. Be captivating as you present your ideas and solutions.

Failure is an important part of the learning process. We don’t always know about all the failures but for every success there are oodles of failures. Don't give up. As professionals we are so paralyzed by the fear of getting it wrong. The successful ones keep going.

We shouldn’t think of innovation as a series of ands. Artists are always influenced by their surroundings. Think of it as a continuous process that never ends. Adapting, adjusting, making new. Always becoming.

I found a great deal of treasure at FEI.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Internal Disruption: How to Create a Culture for Innovation: from AARP

Internal Disruption: How to Create a Culture for Innovation
Terry Bradwell, Chief Innovation Officer, AARP
Anne Marie Kilgallon, Vice President, Innovation, AARP
We “have been a major transformation journey at AARP for three years,” says Bradwell, the Chief Innovation Officer. “We are living longer and it changes how we think about retirement, work, love, and everything about life.”

The place we needed to start was to look internally, in the mirror. “The average age of our employees is 37. We started out as an innovative organization, founded with a sense of mission by a retired school teacher. But as most companies build themselves, they get complacent. You forget about the magic that started you. Now, the goal is rediscover that magic.”

We focused on Principles, People, and the environment as the building blocks of a culture of innovation

We came up principles for innovation:
(1)  Fail fast and fail cheap.
(2)  Innovation can come from anywhere.
(3)  It starts with the customer and ends with the customer.
(4)  Test, learn, and pivot.
(5)  Innovation is not a part-time job, but rather just part of everyone’s job.
(6)  Innovation is just a lever of the strategy
(7)  Innovation is intrinsically linked to strategy

"Yes, the last two hit upon the same point; it's important," he jokes. We needed to make sure everyone has the toolsets and language to properly innovate.

“Servant Leadership is all about plugging into a grid and making sure everyone across the enterprise feels empowered,” says Bradwell.

At this point Anne Marie took the microphone, she claims her real role is one spreading of transformational change.

“We are 18 months top two years into this journey, so we are still toddlers,” she says.

AARP started with the simple question: why are we innovating?

They developed four objectives that aligned to strategy, “not only on paper, but in team assignments.”

“We use innovation to decide where we should focus, to help set strategy,” she adds. 

The second thing they did was to “foster a culture of innovation.” This objective gave a mandate to infuse the entire culture with innovation. “We started with leaders, then hit the bottom, and that is how we are getting the middle to move.” They trained the entire organization first, then began projects.

The third objective was to deepen member and consumer empathy throughout the journey.

The fourth was to unlock the creative potential of their talent. “Everyone loves innovation until bonus time,” Kilgallon said. Using the innovation methods on this issue, AARP discovered that people wanted recognition for doing innovation work well, rather than money.

They developed the i6 Innovation framework, a system of tools and shared behaviors. “We’ve now trained almost 80% of the large organization.”

“We knew we had two years to make a big win, so we showed a lot of little wins,” she adds. They built an innovation measurement dashboard.

People are the key to successful innovation. “We are just providing the tools and behaviors, so we train, a lot.” They have both an Everyday and Champions version of training.

For environment, we “built the Hatchery,” a space where people can come and innovate that feels really different, “Google told us it looks more like Google than Google.” She gives a thumbs up.

This space is “a commitment to disrupt aging from AARP.”

AARP communicates its innovation work widely internally. “We insist on collaboration, not a silo,” she adds. “that’s not infusing innovation into the culture.

We have “delivered 17 innovations, performed 170 employees, launched the Hatchery, and started working with start ups.”

Michael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an insight, innovation, and strategy firm based in Memphis, TN, and the author of Going Electric. Visit

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