Empathy & Enthusiasm

Communication is now more complicated than ever. We no longer get to think about reaching our audiences using a couple of mediums.

Communication is now more complicated than ever. We no longer get to think about reaching our audiences using a couple of mediums.

Mixed mediums

We have to think about social media, websites, TV, radio and print. And because of that, nearly every project a client brings to the table is layered.

These projects require professionals of all kinds to understand their clients’ needs in detail, build trust, and then execute in a way that is multidisciplinary. For that reason, strategists, designers, writers and thinkers all benefit from not just being skilled in one area—or a few areas—but also being able to take on a variety of new and daunting tasks—and excel while doing so. To do all that, professionals and their teams must be both empathetic and enthusiastic. You can’t provide excellent client service or achieve a broad range of goals without these traits.

The argument for more empathy in the workplace isn’t emotional but evidence-based. A study from Harvard Business Review found that businesses that make empathy part of their day-to-day operations outperform their counterparts who don’t by 20 percent. These high performers are the organizations that dive deep, listen with the intent to understand—not reply—and in doing so, unlock the client’s full potential.

So how does an agency stay empathetic and enthusiastic? A team of T-shaped people. It’s an idea first posited by IDEO CEO Tim Brown in a 2010 interview with Chief Executive Magazine, in which he describes the combination of breadth and depth that makes a person T-shaped.

The vertical stroke

The vertical stroke of the “T” is a depth of skill that allows them to contribute to the creative process. The skill can be from any number of different fields: industrial design, architecture, social science, business or engineering.

The horizontal stroke

The horizontal stroke of the “T” is the disposition for collaboration across disciplines. It is composed of two things. First, empathy. It’s important because it allows people to imagine the problem from another perspective—to stand in somebody else’s shoes. Second, these professionals tend to get very enthusiastic about other people’s disciplines, to the point that they may actually start to practice them. T-shaped people have both depth and breadth in their skills.

Depth and breadth

Empathy and enthusiasm. Easier said than done—but not out of reach.

When organizations don’t achieve both breadth and depth, their teams are often composed of I-shaped people. Unlike T-shaped people, I-shaped people just have a vertical stroke—excellence in one area, adaptability in none. They have difficulty exercising the empathy required to collaborate with diverse teams or the enthusiasm required to support multiple elements of a demanding project. T-shaped people revel in these opportunities.

Courage and curiosity

That’s why all organizations need to be on the lookout for the Ts—people with the courage to take on the daunting, and the curiosity to discover the new. These Ts acknowledge the insight and input of others. They speak in we terms instead of me terms. They are excellent in some areas, and ready to learn in others. They are bold—not boring.

Creative agencies and teams, especially, should be on the lookout for the Ts constantly. They include designers who want to write better, writers who want to understand design, and strategists who want to solve problems in fields they know little about. The Ts matter to creative agencies because they build wholistic and cohesive brand experiences composed of engaging content, inspired design and thoughtful strategy. These are the agencies that develop campaigns that are more than witty copy, a clever logo or a single novel idea.

Every team, regardless of its field, needs the Ts, the capital Ts—the ones with the big, bold horizontal strokes. Teams need to find the members that round out their collective skillsets, are interested in a range of professional development, and are ready to remain relevant. It’s this breadth and depth that creates teams that can learn, listen and explore new ways of doing things that matter. It’s these teams who develop lasting relationships and build trust. So exercise the courage required to face the unknown. Demonstrate the curiosity necessary to make the unknown the familiar.

Be empathetic. Be enthusiastic. Be excellent.