08/16/2010 12:08 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Our Heroes' Journey

The hero's journey, a timeless storytelling narrative championed by Joseph Campbell in academic circles, has become a fundamental part of the thinking at our firm because it helps the entire team of designers and engineers better comprehend and align the emotional path consumers take while interacting with products, experiences or other aspects of design into our innovation approach.

Stepping back and thinking more holistically about our world today outside the product/consumer lens made me realize that while consumers certainly are heroes in many ways, especially when their dollar votes favorably for your product, store, or service, the truth is they are not the true heroes. Our true heroes are the soldiers, sailors and airmen who too often go unsung, especially these days amid the lingering 'overseas contingency operations.' This observation really rang home to me recently while being re-routed through DFW airport after missing my initial flight. I was thrilled to be surrounded by so many young men and women in uniform, and very pleased while overhearing a conversation on an escalator when a stranger reached out and thanked one of the soldiers for his contributions to the country. The soldier was visibly very touched, as were several of the scene's observers; however, I found it extremely distressing to see that many people continued to treat this soldier and the others as if they were invisible.

What I overheard next was a complete shock -- the soldier went on to explain that when he arrived stateside after completing his tour of duty, instead of receiving the hero's welcome as deserved, he and others too often received disdain and even profanity directed their way. Now, I'm not a proponent of war, or conflict resolution by violence, but haven't we learned the difference between a controversial policy decision we don't support, and the men and women simply following orders to implement the decisions of their commanders? Why must our veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan suffer many of the same prejudices, animosity and vitriol encountered by Vietnam vets returning home more than 30 years ago?

As business people, if we can understand and empathize with our consumers, surely we can do the same for those in uniform -- to recognize and provide them a much needed and deserved feeling of affirmation, respect and gratitude. So, the next time you see a soldier, please simply talk to them and show your admiration and thanks for putting our well being above their own, for all their sacrifice and for that of their families, and for the sense of honor their sense of duty inspires throughout America. While it may be awkward in some respects to initiate such a conversation, I know in doing so you'll have the most rewarding experience of your entire week.