San Francisco, CA – If we have a favorite idea shop out there, it’s got to be Jump. They were founded in 1998 by Dev Patnaik – a guy with a pretty powerful idea about where good ideas come from: empathy. He believes that for organizations to prosper, they have to able to reach outside of their walls and really connect with other people.
Empathy is how companies develop a shared sense of what’s going on in the world, see new opportunities faster, and have that gut-level certainty about what to invest in.
His cases and examples are compelling. One of our favorites is about Microsoft, circa 1999, right around the time that Sony was readying the PlayStation 2 launch.
The PS2 was huge – it could power high-graphics gaming, play DVDs, import video, even connect to the internet. And it did it all without a single line of Microsoft code.
To maintain relevance in this critical market, Microsoft knew it had to compete – even though that competition would mean massive investment, a new discipline for the company and late entry.
To win despite these odds, they assembled an unusual team: Hardcore gamers charged with designing for other hardcore gamers.
This wouldn’t be a game system for kids. Instead it would serve up playable versions of action movies, testosterone-fueled entertainment and fun. When the Xbox launched, it was an overnight hit – in part because of its signature game, Halo, which quickly sold 5 million copies and became the top-selling title of its generation.
The launch shifted the momentum. Xbox became the must-have console for hardcore gamers. And when the Xbox 360 launched, it outsold its PS3 competitor, 2:1.
The team was successful, too. The hardcore gamers were quickly reassigned: build an iPod killer. The result was the Zune, a boxy brown MP3 player with a cumbersome interface. It sold 2 million units to the iPods 84 million. No surprise – it was quickly shelved.
The difference? The team described it this way: “The biggest challenge with Zune was trying to figure out who we were building it for. With Xbox, we knew those guys. Hell, we were those guys.”
Gut-level certainty born of empathy.
Jump recently brought that “get it” experience to the Standford School of Medicine. The school wanted to understand why so many academic doctors feel burned out.
The company videotaped doctors from the time they woke up, through the workday and until they and their families went to sleep.
The challenge they uncovered wasn’t just about work – it happened at the integration of work and life. People created systems of debits-and-credits that looked less like work-life balance and more like complete integration.
They heard stories like these:
One doctor bought a minivan while she was on maternity leave to take her friend’s children to sports or activities so that when she returned to work she’d be able to ask them for similar favors.
Another doctor – who was then 8-months pregnant – was signing up for extra shifts to clear her conscience for her upcoming time off with the baby.
The people were integrating work and life, but the employers were still using an old model (work from 9 – 5, or 8 – 7, and life after that).
Understanding the real lives of these doctors prompted Stanford to create new kinds of benefits – designed to make people more successful in their Whole Lives and reduce the kinds of distractions and tensions that can inhibit creativity.
Among other moves, Stanford is piloting a program to provide doctors with housecleaning and in-home dinner delivery.
“If you’re coming home at the end of the day exhausted and you have a pile of cleaning to do, it’s the kind of thing that leads rapidly to burnout, and burned-out physicians don’t give the best care,” Dr. Hannah Valantine, a cardiologist, professor and associate dean at the school said. “We’re trying to send a very strong message that the institution cares about you and about your life.”
Other companies are bringing benefits home, too – not just thinking about the ultimate experience they want to create, but about the environments of the people who deliver it:
- Genentech offers take-home dinners and helps employees find last-minute baby sitters when a child is too sick to go to school
- Evernote’s employees have their homes cleaned twice a month, free.
- Facebook gives new parents $4,000 in spending money
- Deloitte subsidizes personal trainers and nutritionists, and offers round-the-clock counseling service for help with issues like marital strife and infertility
Posted by: Leigh Householder