What's The Big Idea: Michael Ventura: Applied Empathy - The New Language of Leadership

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“Empathy is a bridge across a chasm of difference.”

Today’s guest: Michael Ventura

His big idea: Empathy is one of the most powerful tools for modern leadership.

Michael Ventura is the CEO and founder of Sub Rosa, a strategy and design firm that has worked with some of the world's largest and most important brands: from Johnson & Johnson, Pantone, and Adobe to the TED Conference, Delta Airlines and The Daily Show. 

While he wears many hats in his professional life, Michael can boil all his roles down to one task - helping people and corporations overcome their most vexing challenges in personal development and understanding the obstacles when connecting with other people. 

Michael has served as a board member and adviser to a variety of organizations, including Behance, the Burning Man Project, Cooper-Hewitt, and the U.N.'s Tribal Link Foundation. He is also a visiting lecturer at institutions such as Princeton University and the United States Military Academy at West Point. 

In addition to these pursuits, Michael leads a thriving indigenous medicine practice, where he helps patients address illness and injury of all types on the road to better well-being. Applied Empathy, his first book, was published by Simon & Schuster in May 2018.

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Key insights Shared:

  • How empathy isn’t about being “nice,” it’s about understanding someone's needs and seeing their perspective. 

  • Cultivating empathy is the key to unlocking our greatest potential. 

  • We over index on our strengths and we underestimate our ability with weaknesses.

  • One can’t have whole empathy for themselves, but we can get from 50% visibility to 75%.

  • To understand our roles better, ask: “what do you rely on me for? What am I good at? What do you think I do well?” 

  • Bias of the golden rule; You think about how you want to be treated which isn't always what the other person needs. 

  • The Platinum Rule of Empathy: Do unto others as they would do unto themselves. 

  • You can’t guess with empathy, you have to ask about what someone needs.

  • When life feels plagued by complexity, try zooming all the way out. What does your life look like from up there? 

  • With anxiety, If you’re stuck in an internal dialog, you’re probably not working from intuition. Get quite first, listen to the intuitions voice. 

  • Empathy’s magic only comes true when you put in the work.

    • Applied empathy is how you embody these ways of understanding and manifesting those changes. 

  • How Michael used his empathy system to change mammography for GE without changing the machines; Focus on the patient experience and pick apart the pain points.

  • Teaching empathy at West Point, Michael learned how empathy can be valued and applied even in spaces where he expected the most resistance. 

  • The paradox of self work - you’re not at an apex, you’re at an apex to date. It's where you’ve made it so far in your personal growth. 

  • When meeting someone new, some of Michael’s favorite questions are:

    • What makes you happy? Are you doing that enough? What's the most common emotion you feel? What do you know about your pain? where does it come from?

to learn more about Michael and HIS work: