Of frames and feelings – why empathy is the difference maker

I recently stumbled into a quarrel in the comment section below a provocative but uncontroversial LinkedIn post. It was as unnecessary as it was predictable. (I’d tell you to read it for yourself but the comment in question has since been deleted.)

It was an iteration of a popular debate in marketing strategy: how valuable are frameworks? In this version of the argument the two contenders pitted against each other: frameworks vs. empathy. What is more important – the framework or the filler?

I’ll pick empathy over frameworks every time. Here’s why.

Frameworks vs. Empathy

I’m not questioning the value of frameworks. I’m using them every single day and I’ve authored a few myself over the last decade. Frameworks are a good tool to structure thinking and get towards a solution. But: they are never the solution. If we all use the same frameworks, they can’t be the solution because we’d all come to the same solutions. And same same has never made a difference. It is ineffective (and boring as fuck.)

The real difference between average strategy and good strategy therefore isn’t the framework used. It’s the person using the framework. The difference is in the human element in the relationship between the tool and the tooling. This is where empathy beats the equation. As long as we create strategies that aim to compel humans to act, the more empathy flows into a framework, the more valuable the potential solution. It’s empathy that makes a framework sing. Otherwise it’ll remain flat and uninspiring.

Empathy vs. Machines

Empathy wins for another reason.

The over-reliance on frameworks is another step towards replacement by machines. The more you put your thinking in a box, the more replicable it becomes. Congratulations, you just stripped it of its humanity and its emotional relevance. Once it can be copied it becomes irrelevant, generic. As AI encroaches on the sacred land of creativity, it will become more important than ever to remind ourselves of the qualities of work that makes a difference: our ability to feel our own and each other’s struggle and desire.


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