Empathy and the Arts: A New Model for Success

10/27/2017 11:01 am ET

The New Economy doesn’t reward manufacturing prowess or the global efficiencies of service provision ... only creativity and innovation of things large and small that make our world a better, safer, more economical place.

Given the pace of technology and the pervasive advance of artificial intelligence, there are many experiments to bring art and science together ... both to forge an interdisciplinary curriculum as well as create a sense of empathy in students and in business, among their employees. Importantly, more and more academics, design professionals and business executives are talking about empathy as a first step to creativity and innovation, the benchmarks of the so-called new economy.

Empathy they say — not apathy, not sympathy — is fast becoming the secret to corporate success, and to success in life’s many pathways.

Nancy Adler, Professor of International Management at McGill University and an expert on the general subject of health behaviors, empathy and the role of the arts, has said:

“As we enter the 21st century, leaders recognize that we cannot create financially successful companies and an equitable, peaceful, sustainable world by simply applying yesterday’s approaches to business. ...The very essence of 21st-century leadership increasingly demands the passionate creativity of artists.”

The best and perhaps most current example is on display at some of the best medical schools in the U.S. Last month for example, the New York Times, reported that a student-run theater company at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, performed its production of a “Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine riff on classic children’s fairy tales” ... “The arts and humanities initiative at Harvard Medical School includes a collaboration with American Repertory Theater. Yale School of Medicine requires a course in which students observe paintings.”

At Columbia, Dr. Lisa Mellman, the senior associate dean of student affairs at the made clear that “It enhances empathy and understanding and emotional intelligence of our students, and it translates into enhanced understanding for patients from other backgrounds and cultures.”

At other universities, the connections are not as obvious but the outcome just the same. The D School at Stanford for example, teaches Design Thinking – which according to IDEO who helped create the D School, “ is a process for creative problem solving... utilizing elements from the designer's toolkit like empathy and experimentation to arrive at innovative solutions.”

The D School at Stanford teaches empathy in part:

  • To identify someone to design for
  • To discover the emotions that guide behaviors
  • To uncover needs that people have which they may or may not be aware of
  • To guide our innovation efforts

Wired Magazine said : empathy is “a revolutionary force for change ... social co-operation and mutual aid will be key forces from product marketing methods to informing policy and peace initiatives.”

Forbes Magazine may have said it best: “One of the hallmarks of a successful business is its ability to harness creativity to constantly push into new territory. Without growth and innovation, businesses stagnate and eventually fade away. Those with staying power, however, have mastered an intangible, often overlooked factor that allows them to focus on the future with clarity: empathy. While that may surprise many, I am certain that the ability to connect with and relate to others—empathy in its purest form—is the force that moves businesses forward.”
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