Dev Patnaik is founder and chief executive of Jump Associates, a growth strategy firm. He is also the co-author of "Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy" (written with Peter Mortensen). Patnaik is a designer and strategic planner with experience in engineering, art design and business theory. He has worked with Fortune 500 firms and fledgling startups in the U.S., Asia, Europe and Australia. An assistant faculty member at Stanford University, Patnaik teaches design research methods to undergraduate and graduate students. He also speaks frequently at leading industry forums on product development, marketing and innovation.
Question: What can companies learn from the Obama administration?
Dev Patnaik: When I wrote the book [“Wired to Care”], I was primarily focused on the business situation because I was looking at how companies can grow and prosper. And it seemed that empathy was the biggest differentiator. But what I’ve been most surprised about is how much empathy has become a larger trend, something that is being focused on at the highest levels of government even.
Barack Obama has become our chief empathy officer for the country. It’s just been amazing to see. When he was at the Saddleback Ranch last year and Rick Warren asked him, “Why do you want to be president?” The number one reason he gave was because his grandmother had taught him the value of empathy and he felt that that needed to be brought back to government and to America.
And when he was asked to choose a Supreme Court nominee, Obama said that he was looking for someone who first and foremost had a sense of empathy--and this is a big deal.
People flipped out on both sides of the aisle. What does he mean by empathy? Is empathy a good thing? Is it a bad thing?
You hear people on the right saying that, “Oh, by empathy he means we want someone who’s a push over.” And, that’s the sign of what’s wrong with this country. It seems like empathy has gotten a bad rap over the past 50 years in America. We’ve confused it with being touchy, feely or soft minded.
What it really means is just the intuitive ability to connect with other people, and Barack gets that. I think he’s leading us to a different place.
It’s a sign of Obama’s ability to connect with people that we don’t call him President Obama. We call him Barack. The people I know refer to him by his first name like he’s one of us.
Conducted on: June 24, 2009.