Every year, more than 20 million babies are born prematurely and at risk of dying. Of those premature births that do result in death, 98 percent occur in the developing world in large part because the infants cannot be kept warm.

Stanford’s design institute, known as the d.school, features a curriculum that teaches empathy as fundamental to great design. In 2007, a group of d.school students took on a formidable challenge: design a solution to neonatal hypothermia that costs less than one percent of a state-of-the-art incubator. Listen to how their design process began with developing an incredibly empathic point of view (POV):


The students began by listening to learn the purposes, worries, and circumstances of the parents in developing regions. This empathetic research led to crucial criteria: any solution needed to be locally available, nonelectrical, portable, sterile, and reusable. During the discovery process, parents, midwives, and doctors at local clinics felt understood and respected, and they in turn became creative co-conspirators.

Conversant Embrace

The result was an extraordinary, elegant solution that looks much like a tiny sleeping bag. Using waterproof materials like those in high-tech camping gear, the students made a hooded wrap to fully enclose the baby. An insulated sleeve in the back of the hooded wrap holds a wax-like material that can be heated in water and hold the resulting temperature for four hours. Close to one hundred fifty thousand babies have benefited from the solution, a product known as Embrace.

This story serves to illustrate what we’ve learned from our work with four hundred organizations in more than one hundred countries:

  • People long to be understood. When you appreciate purposes, worries, and circumstances, people feel known.
  • People long to be valued. When you learn from others, they feel valuable and legitimatized.
  • Connecting with those deep longings unlocks contribution and causes vitality to soar.

Conversant Embrace kirthiThe Economist honored the Embrace cofounders as winners of the 2013 Innovation award for social and economic innovation. Such is the power of honoring the innately human desire to be heard and valuable. True innovation begins not with assumptions and opinions; instead, it begins with deep, empathetic research that creates communities of contribution.

Imagine what putting this type of innovative empathy to work in your organization could achieve. What amazing things could happen?