Because of reliance on numeric quantification during the industrial and technology ages, many cultures hold science and numbers in high esteem. It’s “the truth about the way things are.” This implicit, complete trust in science bleeds out of institutions and into society at large. Marketing pitches and sales slogans are full of words like “proven” and “scientific” because those words instill trust. When you hear phrases like “evidence based,” “based on the calculations,” or “we did a scientific study,” they are meant to persuade or “prove” things are safe. “Data-driven” is the phrase that gives leaders confidence. The trouble is, the data are all numbers.
As a result, organizations go marching off in a direction they think will bring them success, when in fact their customers may not intend to go the same way. Without an understanding of customers’ reasoning and guiding principles, organizations expose themselves to more risk than they think.
Developing cognitive empathy about your customers fills in this missing picture. Ask anyone what empathy is, and part of the answer will include “walk in someone else’s shoes.” And it’s correct. But walking in someone’s shoes is how you apply empathy. To walk with any sort of truth, you need to develop empathy first. Developing empathy requires listening to many different people’s stories to understand how their thinking goes. There is a practical way to do this, and to draw reliable patterns from the words which can guide you and your group in decision-making, collaboration, and creativity.