It's different than the kind of empathy of people who are natural empaths. Most people with an MBTI feelings preference have a pretty strong sense of empathy. It's often a sympathetic empathy, it seems to me -- a Kleenex tissue of empathy, a warm hug of empathy, sometimes a down jacket. A lovely thing to have around, it's warm and protective and frankly pretty useful in a great many situations.
A good researcher needs the other thing.
Which is why, no doubt about it, the people who have truly world class empathy of this analytical kind are a bit strange. I have talked to a few. They acknowledge that they have lost, to an extent, the ability to interact with the world in the way others do, unaware of themselves interacting. The watcher is always watching, just a little bit.
Now I don't claim to be one of these world class empaths. But I'm always studying, taking my earth-mover out for drives and practicing manoeuvres. I'm taking the night classes, as it were.
There are times it feels like dangerous work.
For example, yesterday, I was doing a little exercise called "illumination" that Synectics has. I took home an insight about our consumer, and created a little talk to bring it to life. Having thought about it for several hours, (on top of the days of work already into the project), I gave my five minute talk to our creative team in the voice of our consumer. It was intended to be amusing but informative. And suddenly the real person I'd been envisioning crashed right through. I felt the weight of all her worries, all her hopes, all her dreams, just for an instant, the reality of her life. It was like something on an old Star Trek episode. Almost overwhelming.
How much easier to think of consumers as cardboard cutouts.
I've learned, for the most part, to avoid detailed stories about detainees in some godforsaken place. I want to bear witness, but I also know that I will take in a little too much. And I can't extract those experiences from memory as easily as they go in.
Which is why I'm kind of not thinking too hard about what people are going through right now with this financial crisis. The ocean of human experience is over the seawall, and the storm is still raging. Dreams are being battered, people are hanging on to broken things just for the sake of hanging on to something.
These are difficult times. We haven't even really seen the extent of the difficulty. But it's also a time of new dreams, new heroic ideas, and that is an exciting thing to witness.
One thing is certain. There will be diving.