I’m writing this Heretic post on my way back from an incredible ten days with Unreasonable at Sea. If there is a single thing I took away from working with some of the most incredible and inspiring entrepreneurs, interacting with a roster of truly spectacular mentors and experiencing the unique setting of Semester at Sea it must be empathy.
More than anything else the trip reinforced the importance of truly putting yourself into your customer’s shoes when you design a product or create a service. The only way to do this is to spend significant amounts of time with your customer. Observe, lean back and let her guide you through her life and interactions; be deeply empathetic — the amount of insight you gain through this process is staggering. It often uncovers completely new angles to your product, points to problems you didn’t even know existed and will make your offering truly helpful.
More often than not we start with a particular solution in our head; technologists routinely skip any form of customer empathy and build something which “works for them”. Which usually is not what the world wants nor needs.
Start with empathy, only then design the problem you want to solve, ideate, prototype and test. Repeat the cycle.