Empathy as Translation of Souls

You will never be the expert of someone else’s experience. – Mike Young

At its very essence, design thinking is “human-centered problem solving.” It is caring enough and being curious enough so that our compassion motivates us to refuse to quit until we’ve uncovered the root of an issue and discovered possible solutions to apply. It is collaborative, as we must resist the urge to solve for someone versus solving with someone.

So what’s the key to doing this work to care and to be curious and to exercise our compassion and to collaborate in designer-user partnership?


During MVIFI’s fuse17 event, in June of 2017, spoken-word poet Mike Young shared a powerful MoVe talk, calling empathy the “translation of souls.” For my soul to talk to your soul, given our different experiences and perspectives, we need something of a translator in order for our souls to genuinely understand one another.

This translator is empathy.

Beyond that mind-blowing revelation, Mike also shared a number of pro tips for how to “do empathy.” His talk is a truly beautiful mash up of spoken-word poetry and personal analogy from his work as a coffee barista. May his pro tips inform your work, but maybe even more importantly, may his opening poem “Illuminate” further inspire you to do work that matters! As designers, you do illuminate new possibilities.

At MVIFI, we believe that innovators depend on associative thinking. In that vein, as we were prepping this blog post with Mike’s tremendous lessons on empathy, we were made aware of an August 21, 2017 blog post from Tom Vander Ark on EdWeek. In “Equipping Young Leaders to Take on the 32 Most Important Issues of Our Time,” Tom provided a concise, compelling list of world issues that can steer the work that we call “school” in these transformative times. In fact, in the latter sections of the post, one can find some seriously awesome suggested frameworks and exemplars for these issues to be the very content of our new curriculum in schools.

Imagine if we combined these potential “curricula” with the developing disposition and skills of empathy. We might just find the translation for our souls across the planet as we work to design a better world.

For more MoVe talks from fuse17 and other MVIFI Hosts events, check out mvifi.org/movetalks.

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