Design thinking calls on product people to put themselves in their customer’s shoes. To empathize with them. Saleema Vellani agrees, but adds that empathy is borne out of self-awareness and that understanding others requires us first to understand ourselves.
In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul welcome Saleema Vellani, author of the soon-to-be-released Innovation Starts with I. Saleema explains how practicing empathy, more specifically compassionate empathy, requires a shift in mindset that helps us truly connect with our product’s users in deeper, more meaningful ways.
“Compassionate empathy is becoming increasingly important,” Saleema says. “It’s not about just understanding a person, what they’re feeling. It’s actually feeling moved to help them.” To understand that connection, she adds, is to be the catalyst for innovation.
Listen in to catch Saleema’s easy-to-implement practical tips for product managers and their teams. What you’ll hear:
[01:59] The future of our product space. AI, machine learning, and automation is creating a lot of job displacement. But with it is coming exciting new product roles and opportunities.
[02:12] The “Augmented Age.” The human skills (e.g., emotional intelligence, empathy, critical thinking, cultural intelligence, technology, and data science.)
[03:39] 3 types of Empathy. Emotional empathy, cognitive empathy, and compassionate empathy.
[03:46] Innovation Starts with I. Practicing empathy starts with first understanding oneself.
[03:55] Design thinking guides us understand our customers, to put ourselves in their shoes.
[04:00] Associative thinking helps us first understand who we are and then connect seemingly unrelated things.
[04:50] Be a “dot connector.” Applying associative thinking to move from self-awareness to compassionate empathy to innovation.
[05:02] Can empathy be learned?
[06:03] Empathy and innovation. Empathy is the engine behind innovation.
[07:12] The “sweet spot” of innovation lies at the intersection of feasibility, viability, and desirability.
[09:11] Product radical listening. The key to a more holistic understanding of the problem.
[09:50] Groupthink. Creativity’s kryptonite.
[10:44] Product people, heal thyself. Starting with I requires an openness to learning about yourself.
[11:52] Product thinking. A newer concept in which product managers need to become product coaches, and more organizations must become product-led.
[12:15] Product thinking, part deux. It’s not just about the products; it starts from understanding yourself.
[13:50] Inclusion as the catalyst for innovation. Inclusion requires learning as much as possible about different stakeholders using tools like empathy mapping, journey mapping, and user experience mapping.
[15:22] Innovation. The process of taking all the things that are already out there and reassembling them in a new way.
[15:49] A “recovering perfectionist.” Wanting to be perfect is counterproductive.
[16:25] Outcomes > outputs. Perfectionists think about outputs. Problem solvers think about outcomes and how they make us feel.
[17:17] GSD (get stuff done). Better to implement something that’s not perfect than have a bunch of half projects hanging waiting for perfection.
[17:56] Compassionate empathy. The kind of empathy that actually moves us to help. It’s solution focused.
[19:59] Tips for product managers. Create psychological safety; let failure be OK. Practice inclusion. Be outcome focused. So many more!
[20:53] The job of product managers is to give value. Giving value starts with using empathy to understand yourself and your customer.
[21:44] Be an intrapreneur in an organization. Help others by giving them autonomy and flexibility, understanding what will make them happy in their work.
[23:50] The difference between listening and making a person feel heard.
[25:06] Understand the problem before jumping to hypotheses. When we take the time to understand the problem, we often learn that the real problem is very different than we initially thought.
[25:14] Innovation is putting together existing things in new ways that create value.
Saleema’s Recommended Reading
Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman.
Innovation Starts with I, by Saleema Vellani.
Saleema is the co-founder of Innovazing, a strategy consulting firm that helps organizations develop business growth and innovation strategies centered in design thinking and agile processes. She is also an Adjunct Professor of Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship at Johns Hopkins University and an advisor to several startups and mission-driven organizations.
Saleema holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Development from McGill University and a Master’s degree in International Economics and International Relations from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.
She is fluent in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Italian and has lived in Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, Italy, and the U.S. Born and raised in Canada, she is proud of her multi-cultural upbringing as a Toronto native with East African and Indian roots.