A recent 60 Minutes Report featured David Kelley, co-founder of IDEO. David and his company were instrumental in designing many of Apple’s early products. In that segment, the reporter asked Kelley what unique qualities or characteristics IDEO brought to a design project. Without a moment’s pause, he replied “Empathy.”

Merriam Webster defines “Empathy” as:

1: the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it

2: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and to vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this

This is not to be confused with Sympathy, which Merriam Webster defines as:

a: an affinity, association, or relationship between persons or things wherein whatever affects one similarly affects the other
b: mutual or parallel susceptibility or a condition brought about by it
c: unity or harmony in action or effect <every part is in complete sympathy with the scheme as a whole — Edwin Benson>

a: inclination to think or feel alike: emotional or intellectual accord <in sympathy with their goals>
b: feeling of loyalty: tendency to favor or support <republican sympathies>

a: the act or capacity of entering into or sharing the feelings or interests of another
b: the feeling or mental state brought about by such sensitivity <have sympathy for the poor>

Kelley’s point on empathy struck a chord. How many times have you picked up a device, poured yourself into a rental car, or walked through a building and thought to yourself “what were they thinking?”

Empathy is a key ingredient of great leadership. Empathy is a key ingredient of a great interview. Empathy is a key ingredient of a successful critical thinking & problem solving process.

The ability to empathize, to slip into another’s shoes and walk, allows for a deeper and better understanding of what they think, and why. It opens your mind to how they feel, and why. With that sense, it is easier to lead, motivate, and sell. With that knowledge, you have objective data. Not in the conventional sense, but objective just the same.

Empathy is a learned skill. It begins with a total focus of listening to what is being said. To how it is said. Making inquiries towards a finer point. The less we project our own biases at that moment, the more empathy we have. And the better able we are to really understand the other person. To get out of our own skin, and into theirs.

Apple is one of the great business stories of our time. Steve Jobs a true visionary. He changed the world. A man he chose to design his seminal products, and whom he considered his friend, is a man worth listening to.