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An ambitious book of stories, dialogues, projects, and reflections revolving around the question of what it means to make something.
An ambitious book of stories, dialogues, projects, and reflections revolving around the question of what it means to make something.
An ambitious book of stories, dialogues, projects, and reflections revolving around the question of what it means to make something.
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364 backers pledged $34,780 to help bring this project to life.

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Conflicts in small companies

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Hi everyone!

It's been a long time since our last update. To be honest, part of me felt unsure exactly how to continue our conversation now that the book is out and the tour is over. Questions like "Do people care to know more about the project?" or "Am I just filling their inbox up with unnecessary junk?" ran through my mind. It was only recently that I came to the realization that most people who don't care would have unsubscribed from the update by now. :)

So on to the update!

1) Insight 1: Most of our conflicts stem from misunderstandings, and that misunderstanding is only obvious in hindsight.

More than merely updating you on what's going on with realizing empathy, let me share two insights I have acquired after the tour. Here's the first one.

It seems that companies that start off really small (i.e. 2 people) experience struggles as they grow. *DUH* right? On the surface, this is probably not so earth-shattering. We all intellectually know that organizations experience growing pains. But after the tour, for different reasons, I've been able to take on the role of a consultant immersed inside different small organizations (i.e. 30 people max) for at least a couple months at a time. These organizations were all started off by 2 people, and have since grown larger in size. As they grew in size things started to change. People got busier, and new employees came on, and without explicit management of their culture, the climate had become significantly different from what it used to be. But! From the founders' perspective they thought everything was the same. This seems to be a fairly common pattern.

So in this context, I've had the privilege and luxury of observing and hearing the intimate details of the kinds of struggles the people inside these organizations were having. But what surprised me most was less the kinds of things they struggled with, and more the contrast in the stories told by different people coming from different perspectives.

What's become quite clear to me is that, regardless of the gender or status difference inside organizations (I'm talking about both male and female in C-levels aged 60+ years well as a brand new employee in their 20s), the people I've met were all trying their best to:

a) not get hurt, 
b) not hurt others, 
c) do not do things that they perceive as a waste of their time and energy,
d) do things they believe is "right."

But when these simple constraints are put in a complex web of relationships, we get all sorts of happenings that we (or at least I) could never have fully anticipated. In some instances I saw this leading to gossiping, blaming, and accusing. In other instances, I saw this leading to repressing, disengaging, and grudging. In one instance, I also got to observe how quickly someone developed a prejudice against another person based purely on gossip and no direct interaction or understanding of that person. In another instance, I also got to observe how someone who was perceived as a bully eventually became bullied by other people in the company, so much so that he left the company out of fear of further repercussions.

Fortunately, I was also able to help resolve some of these tensions by facilitating various forms of empathic conversations. And in basically all of the cases, it turned out that at the heart of the tension was a misunderstanding. Nothing more nothing less. What exactly was misunderstood was only obvious in hindsight, but they were misunderstandings nonetheless. Some of the "a-ha" moments for the people involved were truly inspirational for me. For example, I got to see some employees connect with a senior exec on a human-to-human level when the exec told the story of how she has come to realize that the source of many misunderstandings was her unwillingness to show her weakness. I sincerely cherish these moments of courage, because I think they speak volumes to the human condition which lies at the heart of all these organizations. At the same time, I won't claim that the end result of the resolution was always a happy ending, because they weren't. For example, in more than one instance, people left the organization (on good terms), because they realized that they were not a good match for the company. Up until the misunderstanding was resolved, s/he thought s/he was being ill-treated, but it turns out their expectation was significantly misaligned with what the organization was willing to offer. 

2) Insight 2: Designers need more empathy for their clients.

Prior to the journey I'm on now, I've worked as a design consultant to fortune 500 companies. And after spending nearly a decade in that industry, I was fairly jaded. In numerous occasions, companies were spending millions of dollars on consultants, yet many of the designs we delivered either never saw the light of day, or came out butchered. I don't think I'm alone in thinking that designers not only measure their success based on their designs, but also the impact their designs have on the world. In this case, I was more than satisfied (in fact, often ecstatic) with the designs, but the impact was fairly abysmal.

After spending a year and a half learning about the kinds of unnoticed or repressed conflicts present inside organizations, I've come to realize that design consulting has to be done differently. How differently? I don't know, but it has to allow for far greater empathy for the clients. That's right. Clients. Not just users. Clients as well. I hope we have already learned how important it is to have empathy for users. I also hope that I don't have to say again how important it is for us to have empathy for the materials we work with. But, for whatever reason, we've been neglecting empathy for clients. By clients, I don't mean just one person. I mean the entire organisation that our client belongs to. If you ask me when's the last time I spent as much time doing ethnographic research into the lives of my clients and their environments as I have done with my users, I would have to say that it is only within the past year and a half. And this is profoundly changing the way I think about design, and life in general.

One domain I've ventured into is that of structured coaching. For example, in one of the projects I'm working on I've had to implement a new employee training program. It's something I'm continuously developing based on feedback and results. Typically speaking, this kind of project is a major luxury, and only possible because my client's company is too small to have an HR dept. So I'm taking this opportunity to make the most of it. 

Through the program, I've thus far been able to help a new employee establish a far more intimate and dynamic relationship with the other people in a significantly shorter amount of time than how much it would have taken otherwise. I've also been able to help a new employee become significantly more aware of how it is she can acquire insights in everyday interactions, and translate that to light-weight innovations for use within the company. I've also been able to help a new employee think more reflectively as opposed to resorting to blaming, judging, and criticizing. 

While the direct link between structured coaching and design may be blurry to some, the experience I had in art school tells me that people are more likely to be productive when there is greater empathy in the various relationships they have, whether it is with their materials or with other people. Not only that, but the chance of insight and innovation goes up in those relationships when they are given the space to reflect. And finally, through this process they are also able to realize empathy with themselves, which brings about a greater sense of identity and subjective well-being. So my hope is that if design is simply a means to better lives, structured coaching is bound to have a significant relationship to design.

Thank you all once again

Alright, I think that's enough for one update. It's been such a long time, and because I've learned so many things in the meantime I'm probably feeling over-zealous. Thank you for listening. :) 

I still remember the intense feeling of gratitude and excitement that came with the kickstarter project. That was in large part in debt to your support. I also remember the intense feeling of uncertainty, shame, and guilt that came with asking people to support the project in monetary ways. As difficult as that was, I'm partially convinced that without having felt at least some amount of that uncertainty, shame, and guilt I would not have been sufficiently transformed through the process. So I thank the process in general and to all those who partook in it. 

Thanks once again everyone!

Stay beautiful!!

Seung Chan Lim
Project Director / Realizing Empathy
Founder & Principal Meta-Designer / Forks & Bridges

I Want to Hear Your story

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National Indie Excellence Award in Best New Non-Fiction

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Everyone,

I am very _very_ surprised and honored to receive the award for best new non-fiction ( http://bit.ly/1mRGLUV ) by the National Indie Excellence Book Awards.

I just wanted to take this time to thank you all once again. I wanted to especially thank those who helped me write the first draft of Realizing Empathy: Anson Ann, An-Lon Chen, David Watson, Jeff Wong, and Joonkoo Park. 

Not many people know the background on how the first draft of the book got written. I never "intended" to write a book. I felt very confused and lonely in art school, and writing my thoughts down was one of the ways I did self-therapy. I also needed some peer validation. Why? Because I kept asking myself if I'm just plain ol' crazy, and very few people in school understood what the hell I was talking about. So I sought out to find a group that _did_ understand me, and guess where I found them? On Facebook! By posting my thoughts on facebook as notes, I found a small group of people who consistently commented on what I wrote and took interest. They came from all walks of life. Animation, computer science, music, neruo-science, divinity studies, etc... Their comments helped me start to empathize with my own thoughts and feelings. Through conversations with them I came to realize that what I was experiencing in art school was not specific to art school, there was something broader hidden under the hood. After a while the core group of 5 people I mentioned above took the conversation off of facebook and onto a private blog (R.I.P Posterous). There, the conversation took a whole another level of depth and meaning. Without their support this book would never have been.

If you ever thought writing, or making art in general, has to be a lonely process, I'll tell you right now that it does not. Yes, it does come through a singular focus and determination, but having a support group, in my mind, is crucial. In fact, I'm willing to bet that when you lift the veil on people who claim they've "done it alone," there has been various forms of support group that helped them get where they got.

Thank you Anson, An-Lon, David, Jeff, and Joonkoo! Thank you Leslie Bauman Fisher and Todd Sattersten my dear editors. And thank you my dear Kickstarter backers. You all rock!!!


with gratitude,

Seung Chan Lim
Director / Project "Realizing Empathy"

2nd TEDx Talk

Hi everyone!

I was fortunate enough to be invited for my 2nd TEDx talk. This time the subject was "Go Further." Here's what I shared with the audience.

Thanks once again to all you backers who have and continue to support me on this journey. Thank you so much!

Seung Chan Lim
Director / Project "Realizing Empathy"
http://realizingempathy.com/

TEDx Talk at Wellesley College

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Dear backers,

I just received a video recording of the talk I gave at TEDxWellesleyCollege. I wanted to take this opportunity to both share the video with you, and also to thank you all once again for your support. 

As I prepared for the talk back in February, it dawned on me that It's been almost 2 years since I launched this kickstarter project! In the beginning the project was nothing more than me wondering if these seemingly random events I experienced in art school would be meaningful and valuable to others. Having toured with the book, I've met a great number of people who say it is. But what truly fascinates me is what it means to them, and why they value it. Because they're not what I expected them to be. And for this reason, this project has been a never-ending gift that keeps on giving me joy, learning, and fulfillment. And you folks are directly responsible for giving me this opportunity. So I thank you all once again.

There's a never-vanishing sense of uncertainty and insecurity every time I present the work in front of an audience. I've presented the work more than 30 times in various versions, yet the feeling persists. I don't know if it'll ever go away. This was especially the case for the following talk, because my throat wasn't very well that day, and it was a whole new version meant to fit the 18 minute time limit I was given. I hope you find it meaningful.

Here's the video:

Stay beautiful,

Seung Chan Lim
Director / Project "Realizing Empathy"
http://realizingempathy.com/