Entrepreneurs think about people’s feelings and needs and keep those in mind when solving problems. We call this empathy. Empathy is the foundation of the entrepreneurial process and way of thinking that can be practiced and improved.
A young entrepreneur in action
“My friend is always getting into trouble at school. He walks around the classroom and talks to people without the teacher’s permission. When I ask him why, he tells me he’s just bored. I want to help him stay out of trouble.”Shawn, age 8, VentureLab Entrepreneurship Camper
Have you ever walked a mile in someone’s shoes to understand their feelings and needs? Shawn has. He empathized with his friend to understand his feelings and needs in order to identify the problem to be solved.
But Shawn didn’t stop there. He’s a young designer and entrepreneur, so he began to take action and develop a solution for his friend.
He ideated possible solutions, carried out market research to find similar products, developed and tested prototypes. He refined his prototype after several rounds of feedback. Each iteration brought him closer to making his dream of helping his friend stay out of trouble come to life.
The idea: Transformer Desk: A functional school desk and chair combo with features such as: Voice activated assistant, padded chair, extra storage under the chair. It then transforms into… an operating jet! The occupant can fly safely to and from school.
His business plan went on to outline how the Transformer Desk would be available in major retail stores both in the toy aisle AND the office furniture section, to capture the attention of his target market (the kids) & the paying customer (the adult). Brilliant!
According to CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), empathy is a form of social awareness within social emotional learning. (Check out a great video about it here!) CASEL says empathy is:
“The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures. The ability to understand social and ethical norms for behavior and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.”
There are several ways to empathize with others to understand their feelings and needs in order to identify a problem to solve.
- Role play: You can use your imagination and pretend to be someone else having an experience.
- Observe: People watch! Actively observe what someone is doing and saying.
- Interview: Ask people questions and get them to talk about their experiences.
But just like Shawn above, entrepreneurs don’t stop at empathy. They are opportunity seekers. They actively observe, identify, and act on circumstances where they can innovate or solve a problem.
(Find more activities to practice empathy here!)
The process an entrepreneur uses to innovate and create solutions for others is the design thinking process. We define design thinking as a process or approach to solving problems by understanding the user’s needs and developing ideas and insights to solve those needs.
Design thinking is a creative process centered on contact, observation and empathy with end-users with the goal of finding a solution tailored to people’s needs.
Empathy and the design thinking process will help you find solutions like an entrepreneur, whether you’re helping a friend in class, tackling a community problem, or creating a new invention to change the world!
Want more empathy and design thinking activities? Check out our full curriculum with differentiated lessons for grades 1-12!