Strategy Requires Empathy

As strange as it may sound, success in competition from war to business to your personal life, isn't based on conflict but in empathy. Strategy starts with imagining how others think and feel. We can never know how others think and feel. We can only imagine how we would feel in their position. This, of course, requires seeing things from their position and not just from our own. Nothing can be done unless we first make this leap into the unknown.

The Needs of Others

People mistakenly think that good strategy is insensitive to the needs of others. The opposite is true. All effective strategy is based on empathy. We define everyone's mission or goals as the core of their postions and that everyone is unique and different than our own. Without a sense of those goals, understand relative positions is impossible.

A strategist must be capable of imagining the hopes, dreams, desires, and fears of others. A chess player only has to foresee an opponent's moves. A strategist has to leverage the desires of others to create a subjective position that will win friends, supporters, and allies and frighten all potential opponents.

It is even more odd that empathy and sympathy start with selfishness. We can only imagine the needs of others because we are aware of our own needs. We only know how to, "Love our neighbor as ourselves." The gift of empathy is a purely human attribute. It doesn't come from our senses. It comes from our self-awareness. Most animals have keener senses than we do, but their strategies are limited to flight or fight because they lack depth of the self-awareness needed for true empathy. They cannot imagine the range and variety of desires that we humans can. Good strategy begins with our ability to imagine the range and variety of desires in others that allows us to accomplish our goals.

The Cost of Conflict

Criminals also lack the imagination of empathy. They see what others have and simply want to take it. This leads to conflict and the unavoidable costs of conflict. Criminals pay these costs their entire lives simply because they lack a good sense of empathy. Part of the reason Sun Tzu's work is taught in reform systems is that, despite its warlike name, it makes people rethink the costs of conflict in their lives. As Sun Tzu taught, the costs of conflict are too great.

Success has never and will never come from conflict. Negotiations never work with criminals or tyrants because they cannot imagine any possibilities beyond the zero-sum game.They only can imagine their success based on the failure of others. Of course, this most usually results in the failure of all.

Empathy and Creativity

Success depends on creativity. Creativity depends on empathy. Empathy is work. It takes work to see the openings created by the needs of others. The fears and desires within a single human heart are complex. Multiply these unknowns times the population of the world and you have a sense of how much opportunity there is in the world.

By working to see each others' point of views, we develop a better sense of our own position and the opportunities around us. Without that empathy, we do not have the raw materials we need to create position that attract others and win their support.