By Sharif Maghraby (Creative Coaching Maestro at Winnovate)
Ford. Mayer. Curie. Jobs. Musk. Zuckerberg.
Those names represent some of the most respected visionaries and innovators of the last century. Why? Because they all seemed to possess the uncanny ability and creative capacity to ‘fore-see’ an opportunity and ‘create’ a product or service that just exploded and became a runaway success.
Cars, Hollywood films, X-Rays, iPhones and FB have all become a normal part of our everyday lives.
But here is the million-dollar question:
“If Louis B. Mayer had asked us to dream a little harder - would we have imagined the glory of cinema and the glamour of Hollywood?”
“And, if Ford had asked us what we really wanted, would we have described the Model T?”
Flashback to 100 years ago around the turn of the century – when owning a car was regarded as an extravagant lifestyle choice that was reserved for the wealthy few.
Henry Ford (1863-1947) an American business magnate and the founder of the Ford Motor Company, was determined to make cars part of the everyday lives of middle class Americans. Although he did not invent the automobile or the assembly line, Ford developed and manufactured the Ford Model T, which sold for approximately $850 in 1908. It was the first powerful and reliable, mass-produced car that many middle-class Americans could afford. Ford also continued to innovate the assembly-line process for automobile manufacturing with modifications such as adding an automated conveyor belt and training each worker to perform a single task. In doing so, Ford converted the car into a practical every day object that would profoundly impact the landscape of our everyday lives.
Did Ford know about empathy? Did he practice human-centric design? Did he ask deep questions and create his Model T because it’s what his customers really wanted? Or did he just ‘know’ that it would be successful and fulfil a huge need in the market?
I’m sitting in a posh Dubai hotel board room in a heated conversation with a leading leadership coach, author and consultant.
“You think Jobs cared about empathy or user-centric design? I assure you Jobs just did whatever he wanted - and customers bought it anyway! And you really think Elon Musk spends time asking customers what they want? Or engages in this human-centric stuff… Of course not! He’s too busy for that… Musk just does things his way… just like Ford. Just like Zuckerberg. Good luck with that.”
His narrative was interesting because it resonated with a point that I had been thinking about recently. What if? Just what if? There’s some sort of super power that these (and other) visionaries possess that not only taps into what Jung would refer to as the collective unconscious (a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals) but also builds on and synthesizes it as well.
“The capacity to predict the collective empathy of a society or group and have the creative confidence to develop products and/or services that they will come to need, without them knowing it at the time.” Now that is a very cool superpower!
And what would this superpower be called?
Tel-empathy? Pre-empathy? Perhaps co-empathy?
Collins defines telepathy as “the direct communication of thoughts and feelings between people's minds, without the need to use speech, writing, or any other normal signals.”
So, if there was some form of invisible communication taking place between the minds of these visionaries and the society as a whole – can we refer to this as a form of ‘tel-empathy?’
Collins defines prediction as “if you make a prediction about something, you say what you think will happen.”
So, if there was a possibility that these geniuses could see into the future and glimpse a shared and common need and accordingly develop innovative solutions for those challenges - would that be a form of ‘pre-empathy?’
Collins defines collaboration as “the act of working together to produce a piece of work.”
What if these minds worked together silently and subconsciously to reach a common understanding of a desired product or service? What this ‘co-empathy’?
“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person's point of view and see things from that person's angle as well as from your own.” - Henry Ford
You see - Ford knew about and practiced empathy. Perhaps he didn’t use the same tools that we do today. Perhaps he didn’t have the advanced methods for big data analysis, or real-time visualization or ethnographic insights - but I know this:
He, and many other visionaries - possess a superpower that enabled them to tap into the group’s collective shared empathy and accordingly, develop innovative products that seemed to magically fulfil needs that we didn’t even know we had.
Tel-empathy? Pre-empathy? Or Co-empathy? Whatever it is – they sure had lots of it.