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Paul McAvinchey
Co-founder of Product Collective
Asked a question last year

Why is empathy important in product discovery?

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Empathy is an essential practice to shift into a customer-centric mindset, tackling cognitive and assumption bias. It helps to facilitate focused development of more impactful solutions, and aids in decision making

Internally it should be used to externalizes knowledge about a specific audience in order to create a shared understanding of their needs, what they are thinking, feeling, seeing, hearing, and doing. 

With a detailed understanding of what you think you know about customers/users, you can then engage in external product discovery more effectively validate insights, identify gaps, and begin to fill them in. 

Dollar for dollar your product discovery efforts will be more valuable, leading to durable insights that will dramatically influence the value exchange between customers/users and the business, supporting prioritization of the product roadmap that is outcomes focused.  

Danie Karaplis
Product Leader | Treasurer, getWITit Cleveland Chapter

Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another's position.

Cognitive empathy: the capacity to understand another's perspective or mental state.

Why is empathy important? You can’t define a solution without understanding the problem, to understand the problem you must understand your users.  Leading with empathy will reduce the risk of a pivot, over-engineering, and feature fatigue in your product.  People, in general, want to be heard and understood. 

Empathy in Product Discovery: 

  • –Put your therapist hat on
  • –Ask a user to describe their day and pay attention to their pain points and their exciting points; encourage them to describe their feelings
  • –Ask non-leading non-product-specific questions
  • –Pay attention to parts of their job outside of technology that may indicate a need for a solution


100% agree with @Danie Karaplis 97

Expanding on the concept, empathy is a great tool to have in all aspects of your life! Below are a couple of resources that you might find helpful.

Never Split The Difference96 - This might seem like an odd recommendation as it's a negotiation oriented book. However, Chris Voss goes into great depth about tactical empathy and it's use in business.

Nearly anything by Brené Brown. Below is a short animated video that does a great job explaining the difference between empathy and sympathy!
Alan Albert
President, MarketFit

Great responses already in this thread. One more perspective worth adding:

Empathy is the ability to think and feel the way someone else does. It's different from sympathy or caring, which are more about how you think about someone else.

Empathy is important in product discovery because great product discovery is less about your product or feature -- which may not even exist yet -- and more about understanding your target customer. Great product discovery is about learning what's important to them, in a specific context that they care about. Empathy helps you gain insights into what they value most in that context, so that you can create products, features and experiences that your target customers will value.

Your ability to design products that your customers will truly value is directly proportional to your ability to think and feel about that what's valuable in that context in the same ways that they do. This is empathy. 

In order to gain empathy, you need to understand how others think, and be able to adopt their own values, mindset, preferences, feelings, etc. This means leaving your own biases and assumptions behind, no matter how much of a product expert you are. This kind of insight can only come from direct interaction -- empathy can't be gained by thinking about a problem, collecting survey data, or studying product analytics. 

Fortunately, empathy is a skill that can be learned. Like any skill, it benefits from good guidance or training and improves with practice. 

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