Where would a person start when it comes to innovation?  What would be the launching point of such an endeavor?  Just about everyone wants to make changes in one’s life, whether it be at home with relationships or physical circumstances or at work with challenges that are personnel or related to productivity.

How do we initiate innovation?

According to design thinking, the starting point is empathy. This will need some digging for definition, because empathy is a complicated, complex human endeavor. How do we handle this term when it comes to innovation?

Lets begin with the question of why do we want to innovate?  This is truly a priority …  The ‘why’ of anything is its purpose. What is the purpose of innovating?  Everyone has a purpose or meaning for one’s personal behavior or endeavor. The list of reasons why one might choose to do something could be long. But there should be an overriding reason for anything and everything we choose to do.

When it comes to innovation, even though there are many possible choices, the primary purpose ought to be for people. It’s called ‘customer service’ in the corporate world and at home it ought to still be ‘customer service’ for one’s family. I want to change things for the people or persons I serve or live with to make their lives more enjoyable. Innovation is basically a ‘customer service’ of shared changes that improve others lives.

There is no doubt, especially in the corporate world, that we want to make money. However, if financial gain is one’s primary purpose or why or reason for innovation, one’s endeavor for money will fail somewhere along the line. We innovate for people, first and foremost.

This is the overarching message of Simon Sinek in all his writings and presentations. This core thesis in his philosophy is that leadership is a choice to help others. (“They put their own interests aside to protect us or to pull us into the future.”)  For him, leadership is the willful choice to be responsible for those in the leader’s charge; it’s the leadership of parenting a family for whom I am responsible for their wellbeing – a free choice to be responsible for and to those in one’s charge.

Returning to empathy, in design thinking, this is the starting point to any project – to get into the mind of the customer to understand not only the customer’s wants but also his needs. It’s one thing to hear the wants of a customer, but it is another reality to understand the needs behind the wants. Empathy is the in-depth listening process of understanding the real purpose of a person’s wants or requests.

This same insight is what drives innovation. What is the core purpose of innovation? When based on empathy, the core purpose of innovation is the person’s needs, expressed in wants, but understood in the reality of needs that are fulfilled through innovation. How can we truly make the other person’s life more valued? Empathy opens the door for the innovator to discover the purpose of launching an innovation for the target person of the innovation.

In the process of innovation we start with people.