To Be Sustainable Organizations Must Balance Empathy and Power

I’m feeling pretty deep today and so I am going to kickstart today’s article with a quote from the wonderful speech maker and powerful figure Martin Luther King Jnr. That’s right ladies and gents, ExperienceCurve just got a whole lot more interesting. You’ll be pleased to learn that the quote is also very relevant to what I want to discuss today, and that is the fine balance which companies must find between power, and that little thing we call empathy.

“Power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political, and economic change … And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites – polar opposites – so that love is identified with the resignation of power, and power with the denial of love. Now we’ve got to get this thing right. What [we need to realise is] that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anaemic … It is precisely this collision of immoral power with powerless morality which constitutes the major crisis of our time.”

I love the way Dr. King ends that, immoral power versus powerless morality, so succinct, and believe it or not, we can most certainly apply that logic to business in the future. 

We have spoken a great deal on here about the importance of designing for mobile people rather than just for mobile, we have discussed the idea that experience is the product above all else and we have also gone into the culture behind business and what that means for designers and business execs. All of this is tied in with empathy, learning how to understand the customer base and it doesn’t matter whether that is a mobile business, a software developer or even a car manufacturer, we must do more to use the power which we have to increase and inspire empathy.

I’d say there are way more businesses out there who have more on the power side of things than empathy, usually those with more empathy than power are the ones who get swallowed up pretty quickly by the market. There are very occasional occurrences whereby a business can have an abundance of empathy which later leads to power but in most of these cases, that empathy and that connection with their client base is what gives them the power in their industry.

The key to any successful business is balancing that power and empathy in order to be a player on the big stage whilst remembering what exactly their customers are looking for and which behaviors should be focused on.

Remember the title of this piece, we are talking here about how businesses can become sustainable, how they can survive long enough to find their success, without this fine balance that the great Dr. King talked about, we will not see businesses lasting anywhere near as long as they might like.

Here are some more references which delve into this subject, completed by people far smarter than myself.