For almost as long as I’ve been working, I (Nancy) have been active in the diversity and inclusion space. In college, my interest in socio-cultural diversity and systems led me to launch a multi-ethnic/cultural organization whose mission was to encourage communication, understanding and camaraderie among the various cultural organizations on campus. Since then I’ve served professionally as a diversity and campus specialist at an advertising/creative recruitment agency and worked on numerous projects at White Book Agency to raise awareness around issues impacting underrepresented groups.
When working in the D&I space, people often talk about empathy which Merriam-Webster defines as: “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also: the capacity for this.” And a quick Google search pulls up a definition of: “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”
Seems simple enough, but there’s a challenge for many to be empathetic. Which is evident in the times that we’re living ~ from the MeToo and Time’s Up movements to basic disconnection between individuals. (Have you seen the news?)
What does this have to do with business? Well, when people can’t (and don’t) connect ~ to your message, to your brand, to your product or service, to one another…good luck making sales.
Brands have to connect with people. And its people who are behind the brands.
While lack of empathy and relating exists, what I’ve also found is that there is also a lack of imagination. And that’s an equally necessary skill for connection. Imagination is defined as:
the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses.
the ability of the mind to be creative or resourceful.
the part of the mind that imagines things.
Also, “the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality.”
In grade school, many of us were told: “Use your imagination!” Many of us didn’t have to be told. And that’s true among active, imaginative children today. That’s actually why so many people enjoy the presence of children – their vivid imaginations. Same thing exists with many creatives as well.
When it comes to problem-solving and connecting though, I’ve found that many adults have forgotten what it’s like to imagine. Lack of imagination is difficult to grasp (or uh, imagine) in creative industries ranging from art to fashion to graphic design, but I’m not talking about applying it to the art, but to people. Whether it be good or bad – some people have limited their purview to their current experiences. They sometimes don’t even remember their own history, and they can’t imagine anything different than where they are. They have lost the ability to activate their imaginations and “experience with an open-heart” how someone may feel. The ability to put themselves into a situation that may not be like theirs (especially one that may be negative) and “imagine” the challenges. Without that imagination and quest for empathy, it’s difficult to come up with solid solutions.
I began this post discussing diversity and inclusion because when it comes to D&I, I often challenge people to imagine themselves in situations. Where they want to see themselves and where they want to go. And sometimes where they don’t want to go in an effort to try to get closer to understanding another person or situation. What I know helps with imagination is being open to a wide range of experiences and options around you. Having diversity in your life exposes you to new ways of learning, growing and thinking. All of this is great for thriving businesses.
So I ask you – how is your imagination? How is your imagination beyond your own scope? Can you imagine and see the challenges your customers may be having? What does that look like? How does that feel? Can you sense their insecurities and needs? Can you imagine what it might feel like in their shoes? Can you imagine yourself or your brand being the solution and answer to their challenges? Can you imagine having conversations to better understand?
If you’re having difficulty doing this, don’t hesitate to contact us. And be prepared to color outside of any lines. Ride on magic carpets and rainbow dragons. And experience a full-range of emotions, like an actor who not only does comedies but also sappy romances.
To Your Imagination!