Here’s How Empathy Makes Real Breakthroughs. Really!

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Synopsis

Designing with empathy doesn’t make a product that is a mere technological breakthrough, but one that people will love and that makes the difference.

You may have heard of Sleep Apnea or know of someone who has it. It's a serious problem, but what you might not know is that the primary treatment for those disorder goes ignored by an alarming percentage of sufferers for a very simple reason, comfort. Not onyl is the treatment uncomfortable, but it's equally as ugly, but one smart guy figured out a way to get patients the treatment they need using a time tested skill: empathy.

Sleep apnea suffers have effective ways to control their condition, but the biggest problem is that the patient is required to use a mask known as a CPAP. A CPAP device looks something like a tie-fighter pilot’s mask and because of the awkward design and discomfort associated with the device, studies show that anywhere from 46 to 83% of patients, refuse to wear it at all. Obviously, not wearing the device makes the condition even worse, but patients likely feel the discomfort of the device is greater than the discomfort of their condition.

Yes, Doctors plead with patients and explain how critical it is to wear their CPAP mask, but obviously it's not working. People are notoriously hard to motivate, even when it's about their own health. It may be ridicilous that comfort and fashion have such a choke hold on sleep apnea suffers, but historically speaking, it's not that uncommon. Many years ago, people would choose limited vision over eye glasses for similar reasons.

If there was is an opportunity for innovation, this is it. And Stephen Marsh is the guy that figured it out. He has engineered a totally new approach to delivering the help sleep apnea sufferers need, but he did so with no cords, no wires and no masks. It’s called Airing. Like any innovation however, what interests me isn’t the breakthrough or how a less bulky device actually works better, but how he discovered it. 

“As someone with a family member who suffers from sleep apnea (my brother), I understand the potential serious health impacts of this condition. As a result of recent research, I realized that current pumps possess several deficiencies which severely limit their effectiveness and saw an opportunity to apply a new design to these pumps that could be used in a variety of ways.” said Marsh.

Marsh’s breakthrough came out of empathy for his brother, not simply looking at a market and realizing potential for revenue. This distinction is a big one many miss. When focusing on potential revenue, we are product focused, not people focused. When we are product focused we tend to focus on specs of a product, that while amazing or impressive, may not actually be valued or cherished by consumers.

When we focus (and stay focused) on the person however,  we are more likely to provide a true solution they will love, and when we create products people love, the money comes later. 

Justin Brady likes to write, speak and work with loving leaders on how to organically cultivate creativity in their organization. Find him on Twitter @justinbrady. This piece and others like it can be found on his blog.

Tags: innovation, justin brady

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