Like Digital Cameras? Thank Sony’s Organizational Empathy

I read an interesting article by Sony’s former VP of Brand and Strategy in Fast Company called How Sony Learned That Product Features Don’t Matter. The article discuses how Sony adjusted its digital camera design based on a rich understanding of how consumers were interacting with them. Here are some excerpts from the article:

People would snap informal pictures in the middle of the action and share them with people right on the spot using the instant display on the back of the camera. Picture-taking and picture-sharing added to the fun and action of the occasion in the moment. They wouldn’t be the best quality pictures–oftentimes people would take several pictures of the same shot–but now that they were “free” and disposable, getting the perfect picture was no longer as important. Sometimes images would then be saved, printed, and displayed, but many would remain in the camera forgotten after the moment passed.

This kind of behavior had not been anticipated by our product designers. They had assumed, as most of us had, that digital cameras represented a new, more convenient method of gratifying old, reliable emotional needs–to preserve memories of special occasions by putting images in photo albums and hanging them on walls. Many of our efforts had been focused on helping people take high-quality pictures and on transferring image files from camera to computer for printing and storage.

All the improvements you saw in Sony’s digital cameras during the decade of the 2000s–larger, brighter instant displays, easy gallery-style browsing, wireless instant sharing options, and ever smaller camera sizes–were spurred by these kinds of empathic insights into how people felt about cameras and about photographs.

My take: Sony was able to evolve its digital cameras based on the company’s ability to master the three characteristics of organizational empathy: Perceive-Reflect-Adjust.

  • Perceive: Customers used their new digital phones in a different way than Sony originally anticipated.
  • Reflect: Sony sent employees to go watch customers as they used their phones to discover what they actually wanted from the device. They discovered that users actually wanted to look at the pictures immediately and often took many, lower-quality pictures of the same picture.
  • Adjust: Sony made larger, brighter instant displays, easy gallery-style browsing, wireless instant sharing option, and smaller camera sizes to fit this customer need.

The bottom line: Find ways to Amplify Empathy in your organization!

Written by 

I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about leading-edge XM topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

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