How Empathy Helps Bridge Generational Differences

CURT NICKISCH: Welcome to the HBR IdeaCast from Harvard Business Review. I’m Curt Nickisch.

People don’t always understand each other or work the same ways. They communicate differently, they have different work habits, they prioritize different things, they have different ideas of what constitutes a job well done, or even what the purpose of a job is in the first place. These kinds of culture and value clashes have been in the workplace forever. But for a long time, they were often suppressed by organizations that forced a one size fits all culture. But with the growing realization that these differences can fuel business growth, not just slow it down through friction, they were emerging more and more, and all that demands a different type of leader.

One clear way in which these clashes are playing out in the workplace comes along the generational divide. Managers who grew up in a more rigid work environment are now leading millennials and others who did not. Today’s author says that empathy is one of the most important tools managers can have to better understand other generations in the workplace.

Mimi Nicklin is an ad agency executive and the author of the book “Softening the Edge: Empathy: How Humanity’s Oldest Leadership Trait is Changing the World.”s Mimi, thanks for joining us.

MIMI NICKLIN: Thank you so much for having me.

CURT NICKISCH: So we’re going to talk about generational gaps. I want to place you in a generation. What generation are you?

MIMI NICKLIN: I am firmly in the middle of the millennial generation.

CURT NICKISCH: Growing up, what was your picture of work and what the workplace was like?

MIMI NICKLIN: I think I’m one of those rare people that always knew that I wanted to work in advertising, and there aren’t many of us. Most people fall into advertising. I had quite a clear plan from a young age.

CURT NICKISCH: And your dad was in advertising, right? He was a big wig.

MIMI NICKLIN: Yeah, he was definitely, if you have ever watched Mad Men, he very much lived that era of advertising. So I think I grew up, well, I think I grew up thinking it was going to be really fun, which of course sometimes it is, but certainly I don’t think I had any idea how cutthroat advertising could be. And of course you only learn with experience how creative people respond to the creative industries and the type of emotional intelligence, but also emotional context that comes with creating creative product, whether you’re in advertising or you’re an artist. There’s a lot of heart and soul that goes into creative delivery of work.

CURT NICKISCH: Did you see faults in how leaders ran those organizations? I mean, I just wonder if you chafed at leadership of some of the firms that you were at.

MIMI NICKLIN: I don’t think I ever did at the time. I think now the more I study empathy, the more I study emotional intelligence in the workplace and its impact on mental health and emotional wellness, I think now I can look back on things, and perhaps pick a little bit more fault and with some of the things that went on from a leadership point of view at the time.

But I think when you’re very young and particularly in those days, you just accepted it as it were. I think now, more and more, employees are having a voice and a really analyzing and picking apart how leaders lead. As I said, I think at the time I just accepted it at face value, to be honest.

CURT NICKISCH: I mean, you’re hinting there at this generation gap a little bit. It seems like nowadays you can’t even search the word millennial, which is a truly global generational shift or Gen Z without getting all kinds of articles of the things that young people are demanding at work. What’s your read then on what’s really going on?

MIMI NICKLIN: I think that the millennials tend to get quite a bad rap about what they’re demanding at work, but of course they also do a phenomenal amount of innovation and creative thinking and delivery of change. I mean, ironically, it was the millennials that coined the term work-life balance that gave us that, that gave us that new perspective that probably we shouldn’t be working 24/7.

CURT NICKISCH: Did they? I mean, that seems like that’s a term that’s been around for a while.

MIMI NICKLIN: Yeah. It is a term that’s been around for a while, but if you think the millennials now go up to people in their early forties when they were in their early twenties, we’re talking around about 20 years ago. So they definitely were a huge part of that shift. The generation before them were much more willing to see work as a way of life. It was this generation that started to change that and say, “Hang on a minute, there’s got to be more to life than just work.”

CURT NICKISCH: So as a leader, how do you get past the assumptions about millennials, that they’re snowflakes or just want to do whatever they want?

MIMI NICKLIN: I think the answer really lies in just making sure that you understand where some of that commentary or feedback or thinking is coming from. And the reality is, life is never going to be the same for every generation because their context isn’t the same, the mediums they’ve grown up with, the environment they’ve grown up with. So really to me, it is very much about understanding. Just because the millennials, for example, and soon to be their younger counterparts, have a different way of doing the things that we did, does that make them wrong and us right, or that older generation right? Probably not. It’s just how the world is changing. And there’s always a middle ground, if you can understand the context from which that feedback is coming.

CURT NICKISCH: I want to dig in to this idea then of empathy, but maybe let’s start with your definition of it.

MIMI NICKLIN: Absolutely. Empathy for me is about perspective taking, seeing the world through the eyes of someone else, seeing their context. As I mentioned earlier, understanding where they’re coming from, why are they saying that? Why are they saying it in that tone? Why are they responding in that way? So it’s about perspective taking. And I think in the corporate world, it’s very much your dataset. It is your data to enabling better decision-making within your organization or even your sales teams, your innovation pipeline. Empathy is fundamentally your ability to see the world as somebody else does.

CURT NICKISCH: When it comes to your own workers, and leaders embracing empathy to understand them. What is the argument for that, rather than expecting workers to adapt to the organizational culture that’s been around maybe for decades?

MIMI NICKLIN: I think it’s a really interesting question, Curt. The reality is that having an empathetic culture and an empathetic approach from the leadership team doesn’t mean that that overrides culture or behaviors or beliefs that have been in place, often for many decades. What empathy in a leadership or in a leader or from a leadership point of view really asks of us, is to understand, to ask opinions, to listen to those people that are working within that culture.

Now, of course there are some organizations which are going to really struggle to adapt to any level of empathetic culture, particularly any organization that has a very autocratic system, a very vertical system. They’re going to have to work much harder to make that shift into a listening culture. But as we touched on earlier, those millennials out there are not going to be patient, I think, for much longer.

CURT NICKISCH: And so on the flip side of things, what do you say to those younger workers? I know that when I was younger, it was easy to criticize bosses or colleagues for doing something that I thought was not a good long-term decision for the business.

With time, you learn that when people move into management, for better or for worse, they’re just driven by different incentives. And it’s more understandable why leaders make the decisions that they do. For somebody who’s a younger worker listening to this, what’s your advice to them when they come up against these differences?

MIMI NICKLIN: Look, I think if you are in an organization where there really is no intention or inclination to have an empathetic approach to business, to team working, to communication, that’s a decision eventually you’re going to have to make, because it’s unlikely in, as I said, in some organizations, that shift is unlikely to happen very quickly or anytime soon.

Having said that, empathy is a very natural human skill set. It’s a skill we’re all born with. And therefore, what that means is that if you are currently in a middle management role, soon to be a senior role, you can set a lot of that pace for that change. Because in the people around you, with your clients and your teams, if you empathize with people, they will naturally begin to empathize back.

CURT NICKISCH: The title of your book calls this humanity’s oldest leadership trait, explain that?

MIMI NICKLIN: From an evolutionary point of view, as human beings, we know that we work better together. And that’s really what the role of empathy is. It’s both to protect our success as a group and as individuals. There’s a story that I read while I was doing the research for my book, and it was about a class of students in the United States, I can’t remember the university. The lecturer was talking about empathy, and one of the students asked her and said, “Well, how do you know that people were empathizing all those years ago?” And she said, “Because of healed femur bones.” And the students said, “What do you mean, because of healed femur bones?”

And this teacher, this lecturer went on to explain that the femur bone in the human body takes an extremely long time to heal, really, I think six or eight weeks. So she said that when they found bodies skeletons, I should say, that showed that there had been a broken femur, but that it had healed, and that person had recovered from that, they knew that people were working for mutual coexistence, for mutual success. Because in order for that person to have survived, the people around him or her would have had to rally together to keep him alive, because he wouldn’t have been able to hunt or fend for himself or any of those things whilst that bone was being healed. And they attribute that to some of the very earliest signs of empathy as a natural ability that we’ve always known.

But in any environment where you see really solid teamwork, amongst people that have worked together for mutual gain, without a doubt, empathy’s at work.

CURT NICKISCH: You work in Dubai now, you’ve worked many different places around the world. How do you see empathy playing out differently in different places?

MIMI NICKLIN: I love that question, Curt. And it’s one that interestingly, having not been asked that question at all, probably, for the last six months that suddenly people are asking me relatively frequently. So the conversation is changing. There is no data yet that unifies us geographically from an empathy audit point of view. But what I can tell you from my own experience in all of these countries I’ve lived in and around the world, studying human behavior as it were, is that the difference between collectivist societies, so many parts of Asia, Africa and some parts of the Middle East as well, versus the more individualistic societies, so the United States, the UK, Europe, Canada, what we would probably call them more developed countries. You definitely can see a differentiation between the collectivist and individualistic societies.


Those collectivist societies certainly do show much more natural empathy, much more natural understanding of each other. They’re far more comfortable with it. And of course, in some of our very developed cities now, we see up to 40% of people in those cities living alone. And when you spend the majority of your life on your own, living alone, commuting to work, doing your job, and going home alone again, and perhaps hiding behind your laptop or your phone, on social media the rest of the time, it’s quite easy to almost forget how to use this skill.

CURT NICKISCH: And you mentioned the pandemic earlier, how has COVID affected this?

MIMI NICKLIN: I think like everything else human on our planet today, I mean, it’s impacted it in so many different ways. Maybe I’ll start with just simply the awareness and reality of empathy, which is that there’s definitely been a huge increase in the understanding of what empathy is, and why we perhaps might need it and need more of it.

In terms of us using it as a behavior trait, I think it’s probably taken one step forward and sometimes three steps back. I think in the heart of the first lockdown, we saw very high amounts of empathy, lots of real understanding and connectivity between neighborhoods that perhaps hadn’t done that for many years. But human beings don’t like change very much and they tend to default back to habitual behavior relatively quickly. And I think we’ve also seen the slightly negative side of that where people have now starting to get back into old routines, and perhaps just going back into that very individualistic path.

What we know is there are two great enemies to empathy. One of them is high stress and the other is low time. So when we’re in environments where there’s very high stress and very low time, which of course is much of our corporate lives, we see empathy suffer.

CURT NICKISCH: Yeah. I want to talk about how you try to build that into your team or your organization, just as an individual leader. How do you build in the time for empathy? How do you build in the listening? What have you encountered that works? What are some of your success stories? What do you like to see when you’re in an organization?

MIMI NICKLIN: I think it’s really interesting that you mentioned there, how do you make the time to embed empathy into your organization? I think that’s interesting because of two things. Number one, you’re absolutely accurate that in order to increase empathy, you do have to increase the time you commit to it. Because of course, in order to understand people, you have to be curious, and in order to be curious, you have to ask questions, and that takes time. And I think many leaders are habitually short on time, and don’t often make the time to ask questions and hear the answers.

CURT NICKISCH: Is that more fun, just to make judgments about people and jump to conclusions? I mean, it’s just so much more fun and easier.

MIMI NICKLIN: Oh, perhaps. Perhaps for some, that’s exactly what it is. I think for others, I think I used the word habitual, I think it’s just a pattern. And interestingly, there’s data out there that shows that as we go up the power hierarchy, so as people get more senior in organizations, we also see empathy dropping. Interesting that the more people get used to the sound of their own voice, of being the key decision maker in a room or in an organization, we actually see them become less good at empathizing with others. So you do have to make a bit more time.

On the other hand, really, in order to create a more empathetic organization, you’re just one tiny step away from doing it, and that’s simply the decision to do so. Because of the way that our brains are made up, the neuro-plasticity of our brains, simply by making the decision to activate your empathy, to use that muscle, as it were, more often, you will do so, because that’s how the brain works. You send the instruction, as we said earlier, it’s a skill set you have, it’s simply a matter of choosing to use it. And of course, like any skill, the more you choose to use it, the easier that becomes. Making the time to really ask people, “Why are you doing that?” “How did you come to that conclusion?” “What was it that led you to that?” These are the types of questions that open people up to giving you insight.

And if you recall, at the beginning, I was talking about empathy being your dataset. So I would say, one of the key steps to becoming a more empathetic organization is simply to be far more curious about your teams, about their decisions, about your clients and their decisions. But of course, listening to the answers is absolutely integral, and being authentic in that is also really important as people, as humans, we’re incredibly good at sniffing out a fake.

CURT NICKISCH: Yeah. I learned that as a reporter, that there is really no question you cannot ask as long as the person you’re asking believes that you care about them. Tell me about a time when you asked a question, maybe of somebody from a younger generation, that really unlocked a realization for you.

MIMI NICKLIN: I have a lot of very young, so definitely Generation Zs in my team. They’re 21 years old, so they’re really at the beginning of their careers. And I was talking about internships with my team and what we should do and how we might improve our internship program, obviously with empathy at the heart. How can we create programs that really work for the people that want to do them as well as obviously the business and what we need to get out of them?

And I asked this young man, he was very new in my team. In fact, he barely spoke any English at the time. And I asked him, “What would have all your friends done?” “Of all your friends,” and they’ve all recently graduated, “How are they choosing their internships, and what are they looking for in internships?” And he looked at me and he said, “Well, none of them are doing internships.” And I said, “Well, why not?” And he got a bit nervous and I said, “No, it’s okay, speak your mind.” And he said, “Well, because they don’t think you can teach them anything.” I said, “Oh, well that’s nice.”

But we went on to discuss that, and what he meant was that his friends, they don’t think that we know how to adapt to them. They don’t think that we understand what they want, and that for many of them, they just think they need to be entrepreneurs, that they think they have to do it themselves. I mean, I’m sure there’s a little bit of overconfidence in there as well, that they can do it all on their own, better than we can. But at the same time, there was, to your point, a real insight in there for me, which was that we’re doing this all wrong. If we are not inspiring the next generation of talent to want to come into our organizations, and to trust us that we’re able to empathize with them, we’re able to understand their reality and help them grow, and help them start their careers, then we’re really losing before we even begin.

CURT NICKISCH: Is there a company out there or a product that you’ve seen where you just thought to yourself, “Wow. That company really nailed empathy on the head there.”

MIMI NICKLIN: I think there is a few, for sure. I think Airbnb comes to mind and I know there was lots of discussion around their behavior during the pandemic and things they did right, and perhaps things that they did or could have done slightly differently. But when I followed Airbnb in the last few years, I think both from a employee point of view, and of course, I only know what I read in the media, but they seem to be a very understanding organization that really puts their people and their careers and their goals first, and fundamentally that’s helping them with that culture, and I think there’s many young people who do want to work with them because of it.

But equally, when you look at their marketing and their advertising, they do show an extremely clear understanding of the product they’ve created, or the service that they’ve created, a really strong sense of empathy for both the people that are traveling and the people that have homes that they’re renting out.

So yeah, off the top of my head, I think they’re a brand that seems to show really strong empathy. And actually, now that I’m talking, not specifically as the whole brand, but as a piece of marketing, the new Amazon Christmas campaign, which has a ballerina in it. And it’s all about this young ballerina whose show gets canceled and it’s to the soundtrack The Show Must Go On. Beautiful, beautiful piece of film. So I recommend everybody looks at it. That one, for me, just shows the most phenomenal empathy for the human reality right now. There’s nothing stereotypical or surface level in there. It is the most fantastic storytelling, that shows that certainly in this instance, in this particular ad, the brand had deep empathy for what our people are going through and how they’re ending their years, after the year that has been 2020.

CURT NICKISCH: What’s the one thing you want listeners to walk away remembering when it comes to empathy and understanding other generations? What’s the thing that people get wrong that you’d like to correct here?

MIMI NICKLIN: I think it’s less about correcting and more hopefully about just inspiring or encouraging people to really consider the phrase that we’re all far more alike than we are different. I think for me, that is the one thing that really drives so much of why we have an empathy deficit, this deficit that President Obama actually coined back in 2006. So if I had to say one thing, it would be that, to really consider the fact that we’re just humans, all of us. It doesn’t matter what language, context, culture that you’ve grown up in or been surrounded by. At the end of the day, we all want to be seen and heard, and we all do better when we’re seen and heard.

CURT NICKISCH: Well Mimi, thanks so much for joining the show and helping us understand understanding a bit more. It’s been great to have you.

MIMI NICKLIN: Thank you so much for having me. I have absolutely relished the opportunity to talk about it, and I had a fantastic conversation. So thank you very much.

CURT NICKISCH: That’s Mimi Nicklin. She’s an ad agency executive and the author of the book Softening the Edge: Empathy: How Humanity’s Oldest Leadership Trait is Changing the World.

This episode was produced by Mary Dooe. We get technical help from Rob Eckhardt. Adam Buchholz is our audio product manager. Thanks for listening to the HBR IdeaCast. I’m Curt Nickisch.

Thank you for stopping by to visit My Local Pages and seeing this news article about the latest World Business News items named “How Empathy Helps Bridge Generational Differences”. This news update is shared by My Local Pages as part of our local news services.

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Ontario’s Ford adds empathy to populist image, takes on ‘Premier Dad’ role during pandemic

Doug Ford wants people to hold on just a little longer. Ontario’s populist premier speaks softly into the camera at a recent news conference, his tone subdued, almost pleading.

He says he knows people have “COVID fatigue,” but there is a vaccine. The economy will recover. The province will bounce back.

“We just have to hang in there,” Ford said. “There’s going to be some bumps in the road over the next little while.”

The empathetic tone has become part of Ford’s rhetorical repertoire in 2020, a year in which the unabashed political street fighter has attempted to transform into the province’s consoling father figure.

Ford started the year in much the same way he has governed since leading the Progressive Conservatives to a decisive electoral victory in 2018: constantly engaged in battle.

He was dogged by controversy over rebranded, and subsequently defective, licence plates. He was feuding with the province’s teachers’ unions during tense contract talks. And he vowed to launch his 2022 re-election campaign this year.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed everything.

Do I still think that political street fighter is in there? Absolutely…. But he’s learned to temper it.– Amanda Galbraith

“He became ‘Premier Dad’ to everybody and he found that empathy,” said Amanda Galbraith, a principal at public relations firm Navigator and former communications director for Toronto Mayor John Tory,

“Do I still think that political street fighter is in there? Absolutely…. But he’s learned to temper it.”

Ford’s near-daily news conferences since March, which only recently became less frequent, delivered a sense of accountability during an uncertain time, Galbraith said.

“It really is a huge departure from the past, and I think it’s really borne fruit for him,” she said.

John Milloy, a political scientist at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., and a former provincial Liberal cabinet minister, said the pandemic humanized Ford.

“He was everyone’s right-wing uncle, and then all of a sudden … we’ve seen that he cares a lot about what’s happening in the province and he’s even showing a bit of his vulnerability at times, his frustration at times,” he said.

Province in the throes of a second wave

One political observer said, however, that what the public has seen of Ford is a natural extension of his populist persona.

“[Ford] had to act and seize the moment, and I don’t think you should take that away from him, but it probably didn’t require a lot of growth,” said Peter Graefe, an associate political science professor at McMaster University in Hamilton.

As the pandemic wears on, with the province in the throes of a second wave, the shine may be coming off for Ford.

Ford’s government has faced heavy criticism over rising deaths in long-term care homes from COVID-19 despite the premier’s pledge to build an ‘iron ring’ around nursing homes. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Earlier this past fall, the premier’s back-to-school plan created controversy with some parents and teachers’ unions who demanded the province spend more money to shrink classes and hire more staff.

Ford’s government has also faced heavy criticism over rising deaths in long-term care homes from COVID-19, despite the premier’s pledge to build an “iron ring” around nursing homes.

And with a second provincewide lockdown beginning on Boxing Day, small business owners and some municipal politicians are angry at the government.

Cristine de Clercy, an assistant political science professor at Western University, in London, Ont., said 2020 has shown Ford to be a “very astute manager of the moment,” but that moment could be about to shift again.

“There is a lot of potential for this train to go right off the tracks,” she said. “The premier is on a tightrope, really from here on in through the next election.”

Headed into the new year, Milloy said Ford is vulnerable in a number of ways.

Controversial changes

The government must address the perception that it cannot clearly communicate its own pandemic restrictions, he said.

Ford’s government also hasn’t been able to tamp down the sort of partisan fights that plagued it earlier in its term, Milloy added.

In recent weeks, controversial changes the government made to conservation authorities have made headlines. Ontario also passed a bill that could grant university status to a Christian college run by a controversial Ford supporter. Both have drawn criticism from opposition politicians and other critics.

“There’s a lot more that you can relate to [with Ford], but there is part of his agenda which I think still concerns people,” Milloy said.

The pandemic may also prevent the premier from fulfilling some key campaign promises he made when he took power in 2018.

Ford has acknowledged that record spending to fight the pandemic means a pledge to balance the budget by 2023-24 is out the window.

That also draws into question the government’s ability to pay for a cut to middle-class income taxes by 20 per cent. The tax cut was to cost the government $2.26 billion a year starting in the third year of its mandate — 2021.

Milloy said there is likely growing frustration in Ford’s cabinet as necessary pandemic responses crowd out previously planned measures.

“Everything is COVID, COVID, COVID, and after a while, if you’re a minister with a big to-do list, that must get really frustrating,” he said.

Graefe said Ford will soon face the challenge of reconciling the need to spend on the pandemic with his promise to get the province’s finances in shape.

“I think the challenge is figuring out what the [Progressive] Conservative party’s offer for Ontarians is in under two years’ time,” he said.

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Why I invert the camera controls in video games: Empathy

Science is finally studying the beautiful minds of inverted gamers. Dr. Jennifer Corbett is the co-head of Brunel University’s Visual Perception and Attention Lab in London, and she’s planning to study people who invert the Y or X axis when controlling a camera in a video game, according to a report from The Guardian. Her team wants to understand why some people want the camera to look up when they press down on a joystick.

But I already know why I do this — it’s about how I empathize with the characters and world in a game.

OK — it’s not exactly true to say that Corbett and her researchers want to understand “why people invert their controls.” Instead, the study is more about determining how different people process visual information. And learning more about this topic can have far-reaching consequences.

“Understanding these sorts of individual differences can help us better predict where to place important information and where to double-check for easily missed information in everything from VR gaming to safety-critical tasks like detecting weapons in baggage scans or tumors in X-rays,” Corbett told The Guardian.

But I want to get into the why because I think it’s something that we gloss over when we argue about inverted controls. People often explain why it makes sense to them, but we don’t get into the underlying philosophy that makes us choose inverted in the first place.

And for me, this comes down to this idea of understanding the connection between myself and the onscreen action.

When you play Super Mario 64, you’re actually controlling two characters

When Nintendo launched Super Mario 64 in 1996, the game inverted the camera controls for both the Y axis and X axis. That might sound wild now, but Nintendo’s reasoning made sense to me then — and it’s the biggest reason I’m still inverted today. The reality of a third-person 3D game is that you are controlling two different characters at once. And Super Mario 64 visualizes that with Mario, the main character, and Lakitu, the floating cloud creature who serves as Mario’s camera person.

If you think about the camera as controlling a separate cameraperson, inverted controls make a lot more sense. You press up to levitate the camera higher, which will aim the perspective down by keeping the subject at the center of the frame. To look left, you need to strafe Lakitu around Mario to the right.

Inverted X has faded over the years, but that’s because most games don’t use Mario 64’s free camera. A game like 2018’s God of War attaches the viewfinder right to Kratos’s back. You’re not really supposed to think about the camera at all. Instead, when you want to look left or right, you need to move Kratos physically left or right to do so. But even in this situation inverted Y still makes the most sense. If you want to look up, Kratos isn’t going to begin hovering. Instead, you need to tilt the camera back (by pulling down on the stick) to shift the perspective toward the sky.

First-person shooters are similar. I invert Y on a controller because pulling down on the stick matches up with tilting the character’s neck back to look up. But I don’t invert X because pushing right is about rotating the character’s entire body to the right.

Inverting is about considering our connections to games

But the above is just a quick list of explanations for why inverting the camera makes sense to me in certain circumstances. Other people will have other metaphors that work for them. But however you visualize it, the point is that inverted players are thinking about the mechanisms and levers that move a character through a world. We are considering why certain actions have a certain effect.

To me, this comes down to empathy. I am not the character on the screen or the camera. But I am controlling them, and I want to be thoughtful about how I am interacting with them. And this creates a more direct connection to these in-game objects. So when I am controlling them, I’m not sending them commands. Instead, we are linked together and acting as one unit.

I suspect that people who use direct-style controls don’t think about it as much. When they want to look up, they just want the screen to move up. So they hit the up button to tell the screen to do that.

And while I can’t play games that way, I’m not judging those who do. You actually are holding a controller to interact with a video image on a screen. As an inverted-control player, I need to build that link with the onscreen action because the cameraperson, the character, and me are all in this together.

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E-Nation 2020: Building nations in a post-Covid world requires tech, government, education, and empathy

  • Bureaucracy has adapted to the new normal, accelerating change
  • A global mindset, empathy important for startups and SMEs going forward 

The Covid-19 pandemic may be far from over, but a question we undoubtedly need to ask is this: what’s next? How do we move forward towards building a high-income, high-technology nation without knowing what’s going to happen tomorrow, whether it’s the unforgiving march of technology or a recession that will be hard to overcome?

Malaysian Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) Khairy Jamaluddin understands the challenge. Speaking in an online panel titled “Reflect, Reset and Reform – Thriving in the New World” at the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC)’s E-Nation conference, Khairy notes the extremely difficult challenges in policy-making when the future is so hard to predict.

“Before [the pandemic], there was a trajectory you can anticipate and forecast. Now that’s just gone out of the window,” he says. Yet silver linings exist.

“This crisis presents us with the chance to make changes we should’ve done a long time ago – an opportunity to really accelerate the changes that the government has put off, in term of structural changes to the economy, to corporates, in terms of digitalisation, automation and robotics.”

Malaysia is an example. According to Khairy, the country has moved to make long-term, mission-oriented changes, especially in looking beyond their dependence on cheap, low-level labour in driving manufacturing and the agriculture sector.

“It’s a chance for us to make big investments in robotics and automation, and also looking out for SMEs, where many have resisted investing in digitisation,” Khairy continues. “This is no longer an option; it’s what you have to do to survive.”


The role of education

Khairy was joined by panellists Fleur Pellerin, the founder of Korelya Capital and former France Minister for SMEs, Innovation Digital Economy; Ed Vaisey, former UK Minster of Culture, Communications and Creative Industries; and moderator Richard Quest, International Anchor for CNN. The conversation? How tech, education and business can converge to drive a nation, especially in such rapidly-evolving times.

Pellerin acknowledges the tough spot governments are in now, where they allocated money into helping corporates survive – the short-term priority, as she puts it. The long-term strategic choices governments should make, she feels, isn’t to help big corporations adjust to trends like digitalisation, but rather prepare the next generation. This requires long-term decisions on education.

Education itself is facing its own crossroads during the pandemic. Indonesia’s Minister of Education and Culture, Nadiem Anwar, who began the panel with a pre-recorded message as he wasn’t able to attend the online session, talked about the challenges of adapting to online learning.

“There are infrastructural and adoption challenges here (in Indonesia) … it takes many years to adapt to a new way of learning, but because of the pandemic, we are forced to do so in a much shorter time,” he notes. “But there are a few trends that could be quite positive in the medium to long-term that we haven’t seen before the pandemic.”

What’s unprecedented here, Nadiem, who is better known as the founder of Gojek, says, is the level of tech adoption that is being experimented with in all education levels across the world. “Because students, teachers and parents are experimenting with multiple platforms, I believe this is going to be the beginning of innovation that will enhance the education system in Indonesia and beyond,” he says.

He describes this as a “renaissance for education technology”, and stresses that it’s not just in the realm of remote learning, but on tools that will enhance the capabilities of teachers, parents and students to co-learn and collaborate. “This is the beginning of a very interesting time for education tech which will have a permanent – and positive – impact on education.”

What’s clear from the pandemic, however, is that the next generation will need adaptability in their skillset. For Nadiem, the education system will have to support these key competencies, and do so not just with technology but with more collaborative, project-based learning.

“And refocusing to the love of learning needs to be the core concept of the education system,” he says. “Training the next generation in not just an academic setting, but real-world obstacles and real-world challenges.”


The role of government

But what of bureaucracy and governance? Ed Vaisey says that there is now a massive opportunity for digital government. “It’s long overdue to make your interaction with government as seamless as with an e-commerce provider. If a government is thinking long-term, this is potentially a low-hanging fruit.”

Khairy notes that bureaucracy itself has adapted to the “new normal”, in that what usually takes time to execute, the Malaysian government has discovered could be done quickly. In the upcoming Budget announcement, Khairy says that they are trying to strike a balance between giving health services the required resources to tackle the pandemic, but at the same time think of the future.

“If you don’t do that – to seize the moment and make structural changes that has resisted change, that will be squandering the opportunity,” he says. “It’s not just about lives, but also long-term livelihoods.”

Khairy points to the National Technology and Innovation Sandbox (NTIS) as an example – a way to suspend regulations for innovation to happen in a safe environment. “This is a benefit that has come out of the crisis,” he notes.

There may not be a one-size-fits-all solution here, though Pellerin says that a significant aspect to consider is for policy makers to work with the people who will be impacted by said policies.

“If you try to find the potential collateral damage on the design of a policy, then this helps limit the damaging potential of regulation,” she says. “Having workshops, working groups where you assemble lawyers, companies, startups: it makes your policies much stronger and more efficient.”

She does admit, however, that this is time-consuming, and thus difficult to implement.

E-Nation 2020: Building nations in a post-Covid world requires tech, government, education, and empathy

The Big Tech concern

Vaisey, on the other hand, says that it’s important to ensure that humanity aspects are not left behind in nation-building. This includes representation across the board. “If you’re not employing people in different backgrounds, you’re only telling one story, and that will spill over into humanity and ethics.”

He points towards how artificial intelligence and facial recognition, if not developed with proper representation, can lead to discrimination and misidentification. “If you’re not looking at diversity in your company, you’re perpetuating the problem that tech is being made by a certain demography, which is then going to spill over into what is currently a theme in tech – the faceless algorithm that makes this cold decisions,” he ruminates.

This leads to concerns surrounding Big Tech – especially on how they have the power to affect smaller tech players from across the world. Pellerin says that are two ways to approach this: defensively, and aggressively.

“The defensive side would be regulations,” she says, but acknowledges the way in which big tech antitrust regulations have not been successful, even in Europe.

The aggressive method, she says, is to foster the tech ecosystem – that is, to help startups in small countries to become regional, and then global. Pellerin’s fund (Korelya Capital) is attempting to establish bridges between Europe and Asia (outside of China) to find synergy in terms of capital, business synergy, development and market access, which helps startups grow stronger against tech giants.

Khairy brings up the difficulty in handling this from the perspective of a middle-sized, middle-income country like Malaysia. “We have to position ourselves as an open economy,” he says. “And we have to ensure our startups can fill the void where they can, to work together with big tech companies.”

This void can be filled with the development of personalised, localised services. “There is an element of nationalism when it comes to using tech. People naturally want to use tech companies that are home-grown,” he says.

At the same time, Khairy states the importance of not being afraid of taking on regulatory issues as well in facing big tech. He says that big tech companies gained and utilise a lot of data from other countries – data which are being monetised, yet these big tech companies do not pay taxes to the countries the data is gleamed from. 

“I think there has to be a big conversation at a multi-lateral level on the monetisation that is taking place among big tech companies, and how they are getting away with it,” he suggests.


On talent, and SMEs

Talent is another aspect that gets affected by big tech. Khairy forlornly admits that Malaysia has not branded itself well enough in order to attract and retain talent. “We have to do a lot more,” he says. Incentives can only go so far – marketing, then, is the next step. 

Pellerin posits that it’s about how the nation’s startup ecosystem is perceived. In France, the impression given is that the ecosystem is vibrant and full of opportunities. “The younger generation are attracted by salaries, yes, but also the environment – the ability to join interesting businesses. Lifestyle is important. It’s a whole package of things.”

It’s a competition against big tech, which has the money to spend to hire specialists from around the world. Vaisey notes that the UK has taken a different approach, wherein the nation courts the big tech as anchor tenants for the ecosystem, which grounds the talent within the country. But he acknowledges the importance of charm and marketing – and that the government will have to put in the effort.

What should SMEs do at the face of such challenges? Pellerin says that having a global mindset is key. Scaling and going global may be a later stage concern, but a global mindset allows the business to be agile.

And agility is a major differentiator today. As Vaisey puts it, passion and ambition are not enough – companies that weren’t able to switch from one model to another fail fast, something Pellerin concurs.

Khairy agrees, and adds that business models should also have an important aspect: empathy and compassion. He notes that the pandemic affects people very differently, and that tech companies that understands their plights and concerns gives the public more reason to support them.

“Tech companies that speak to this frustration that people are feeling, that brings services that are priced reasonably – that allows people to crowdfund, or P2P models that gives capital to underfunded businesses… these give people a lot more reasons to support your business,” he says.

“Don’t underestimate the value of compassion and empathy in business models going forward. If the pandemic has done anything, it’s to make us more empathetic to one another.”

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North Dakota’s GOP governor grew emotional discussing the partisan divide over face masks, asking residents to ‘dial up your empathy’

    • North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican, appeared to hold back tears when urging his citizens to show “empathy” and wear a face covering when in public.
    • “If someone is wearing a mask, they’re not doing it to represent what political party they’re in or what candidates they support,” he said.
    • President Trump has repeatedly been photographed in public settings without a mask and has said he does not want the media to see him wearing one.
    • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum on Friday got emotional when urging his residents to wear a face mask and avoid turning the act into a political battle.

“I would really love to see in North Dakota that we could just skip this thing that other parts of the nation are going through where they’re creating a divide – either it’s ideological or political or something – around mask versus no mask,” Burgum, a Republican, said at a press conference Friday.

Burgum called the political debate over whether to wear a facial covering in public a “senseless dividing line,” and he said he was asking his citizens “to try to dial up [their] empathy and understanding.”

Masks are not presently required in North Dakota. There has been heated debate as all 50 states have begun to relax stay-at-home orders over whether facial coverings – and particularly their requirement in some areas – are necessary particularly among people who believe the COVID-19 pandemic is exaggerated or believe mandated masks are a violation of civil liberties, as The Associated Press reported.

During a Friday visit to a Ford manufacturing facility in Michigan, the president was photographed without a mask, though he said he wore one during a tour of the facility but took it off because he did not want the media to see him wearing it.Trump similarly said he wore a mask “backstage” during a tour of a Honeywell factory on May 6. Vice President Mike Pence was also photographed without a mask when he visited the Mayo Clinic at the end of April.

The president reportedly fears wearing a face mask will harm his chances at reelection and make him look ridiculous.

It hasn’t just been White House leaders stroking divisions surrounding the facial coverings. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson earlier this month defended his decision to go mask-free when visiting a thrift store for veterans in Joplin, Missouri. He said he didn’t believe it was the “government’s place” to determine whether residents should wear a face mask in public and it was up to the individual.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said last month that Ohioans would be required to wear face masks in reopened businesses, though – after protest – he said it was just a recommendation and that his mandate went “too far.” The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommended in April that facial coverings be worn in public, though US leaders had earlier said masks should only be worn by medical professionals or people who test positive for COVID-19.

“If someone is wearing a mask they’re not doing it to represent what political party they’re in or what candidates they support. They might be doing it because they have got a 5-year-old child who’s going through cancer treatments,” Burgum said, as his voice began to shake and he took a brief pause.

“They might have vulnerable adults who currently have COVID and are fighting,” he added. “So again I would love to see our state as part of being ‘North Dakota Smart‘ also be North Dakota kind, North Dakota empathetic.”

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Losing Empathy After Traumatic Brain Injury

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can occur at any time and can have a profound impact on the lives of those affected. While protected by the skull, the human brain is highly susceptible to physical trauma. In some cases, a severe injury can lead to changes in the affected person’s behavior and relationships.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 2.8 million Americans suffer a traumatic brain injury each year and approximately 56,000 people die. The most common causes of TBIs are falls, automobile accidents, and sports-related injuries.

Brain trauma can lead to a host of potential issues, including:

  • Mood swings 
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Angry outbursts and increased irritability
  • Decreased empathy

The last item — a decrease in empathy — is one of the most difficult issues to understand for the friends and family members of the affected person. Fortunately, there are things that can be done to regain empathy.

What Is Empathy?

The Medical Dictionary defines empathy as:

Intellectual and emotional awareness and understanding of another person’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

Empathy may sometimes be confused with sympathy. Where empathy is the understanding of emotions, sympathy is the sharing of another person’s emotions and experiences.

Most researchers agree there are three kinds of empathy:

    1. Cognitive empathy: knowing how another person feels which is linked to recognition of facial expressions.
    2. Emotional empathy: experiencing a similar emotion to another person, e.g. feeling sadness when you see another person crying.
    3. Compassionate empathy: responding to others’ emotions by offering help when it’s needed.

One trait that may be connected to a loss of empathy is called alexithymia. This is when a person has difficulty identifying their own emotions or distinguishing them from physical sensations. While some people are born with alexithymia, researchers have identified this trait in patients who have experienced TBIs.

Why Do Traumatic Brain Injuries Sometimes Cause a Loss of Empathy?

Not every traumatic brain injury leads to a loss of empathy, so let’s talk about why some do. There are two key parts of the brain that regulate emotional responses. If either or both are damaged, the injured person’s ability to be empathetic may be affected.

The right supramarginal gyrus is responsible for helping us overcome egocentric bias – an emotional selfishness – before we make decisions. Another way to look at it is that the right supramarginal gyrus helps us to consider the emotions of others before we decide how to behave.

The orbitofrontal cortex is responsible for how we react to other people’s emotions, specifically how we recognize facial expressions and tone. If this part of the brain is damaged, it can be difficult to correctly identify emotions in other people and therefore impair empathetic responses.

A loss of empathy may be temporary or permanent. In many cases, empathy will return over time. However, it may be necessary to work with the patient to restore empathetic responses.

How to Regain Empathy After a Traumatic Brain Injury

While a loss of empathy can be upsetting to both the patient and their friends and family, there are things the patient can do to restore empathy and improve their relationships.

It is important to understand that a patient may not regain all three kinds of empathy. For example, a severe TBI to the orbitofrontal cortex might permanently alter one’s ability to recognize the facial expressions identified with strong emotions. However, it is often possible to restore compassionate empathy at the very least, which allows people to act with empathy even if they don’t feel it in the same way they did before the TBI occurred.

Here are some the things to help TBI patients regain empathy:

  1. Providers and clinicians treating patients with TBIs should evaluate them for empathetic responses, including their ability to identify emotions and to feel similar emotions. Evaluation is an essential tool for identifying the extent of empathetic impairment.
  2. Patient education can help people who have experienced TBIs understand how their brains may have changed.
  3. Clinicians can discuss with patients how to respond compassionately to their loved ones even if their emotional responses have changed because of the TBI.
  4. Finally, it can help the patient to ask their friends and family to be more specific about the way they are feeling to help them appropriately respond empathetically. For example, a patient with a TBI may not be able to recognize a sad expression but can still respond accurately if someone says, “I feel sad.”

With proper education and assistance, a patient who has experienced a loss of empathy can still respond empathetically and have healthy, happy relationships after a traumatic brain injury.

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How Hyatt’s CEO is leading with empathy through COVID-19 and a corporate reckoning with racism

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Hyatt Hotels CEO Mark Hoplamazian likes to lead with empathy for his workers and his customers. But on Aug. 11 episode of “Leadership Next,” the Fortune podcast about the changing role of business leadership, host Alan Murray asks, “How do you lead with empathy when your business is falling apart?” 

The company’s bookings were down 94% year over year in April, Hoplamazian said, and the business environment was unrecognizable. So to lead his company through the pandemic the right way, he said his leadership team had to take a step back to get acclimated to the new and ever-changing coronavirus business landscape. 

“It’s been the most challenging time in our industry in the history of the industry,” he said. 

The company laid off around 1,300 people at the corporate level, amounting to 35% of staff. And at the hotel level, which usually keeps 130,000 people on payroll, the layoffs, furloughs, and work leaves are still unfolding as government assistance dwindles and demand builds back up slowly. 

These layoffs took a serious toll on Hoplamazian, who called it “the most difficult and challenging time that I’ve ever experienced as a person.” 

To deliver these decisions with as much empathy as possible, he and his leadership team made decisions promptly to avoid uncertainty and set up a care fund to enhance the financial safety net laid off employees would be getting from the government. The company also created a platform on which people could keep in touch with and support those that no longer have access to company email. 

On top of the coronavirus pandemic, Hoplamazian has also been focusing on the corporate reckoning with systemic racism spurred by George Floyd’s death and the resulting protests across the world. Around the 19:45 mark, he and Murray discuss Hyatt’s response and the personal effect the push for equity and inclusion has had on him.

Hoplamazian said he believes that the vulnerability that COVID-19 has created allowed the movement for equity and inclusion to prosper in a way that will have long-term effects on the business world and society at large. 

“My own personal journey in this has been now—and I’m embarrassed to say this—to really understand, probably for the first time, how deep systemic racism is and also how much of an ecosystem it requires in order to rectify,” Hoplamazian said. “I think we’re seeing the whole forest now, not just the individual trees of representation or minority content in our supply chain, but seeing how this extends to our communities. And that to me is the major difference.”

To hear Hoplamazian’s views on mask requirements at his hotels, executive compensation, why testing is so important for the hospitality industry, and how the pandemic will change travel for good, listen to the full episode. 

More must-read careers coverage from Fortune:

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