[Design Leadership Course] W2: Empathize

The first step in design thinking is empathizing, which is putting oneself in someone’s shoes. It sounds easy-breezy but it’s actually not as simple as it seems because I can never be you. The doctor in the article New York Times below also confesses that he had never been able to fully understand his patients, what they want, and why they want until he himself got diagnosed with cancer.

There are three barriers when empathizing: failure to activate, miscalibrated adjustment, and inaccurate adjustment. (Markman, Klein, and Suhr, 2009) First, the mental process of perspective thinking should be activated which requires efforts and hard thinking. Second, people tend to reflect others’ behavior based on their own self and make judgments. This process happens so automatically and immediately that it is almost impossible to control. Third, if people are inclined to overcome the egocentrism mentioned as a second barrier and adopt stored knowledge, it might lead to more biased and stereotyped conclusions.

Even though this is the case, there are many ways to enhance our empathy. Here are the activities we did during the class this week as a means of empathizing. The topic was to ‘reimagine the business school’. Each activity has a minimum level of guideline which means that there are no limitations in terms of structure or frame. In addition, this is a process of expanding and empowering individuals’ rough ideas, thus these do not have to be MECE (Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive) yet; can be redundant or repetitive.

1. Stakeholder Map


2. Stakeholder Journey Map


3. Rose, Bud, and Thorn

(* Rose (in red): positive, bud (in green): opportunities, thorn (in blue): negative)


I was surprised by how different each team’s work can be even though the frames we have used were identical. I have been always trained to process my thoughts logically and in an order so that everyone whom I share my thoughts with can understand easily. However, I was afraid after this week’s class that this process of logical thinking might have hampered the amplification of my ideas by screening them which I categorize as irrelevant according to my logic even before completing brainstorming. And I felt that this is the reason that the design thinking process has been created; to help out generating ideas and organizing them to draw out meaningful insights which might possibly lead to our new product development ideas.

Design Leadership by Sharon Kim

Johns Hopkins Carey Business School


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