When I decided to take a leap and start my own firm, Open Rivers, I knew that the principles that guided the business had to reflect my values as well as what I had learned over the past few decades. Several values stood out to me - honesty, transparency, diversity of thought and experience, embracing change, positivity and the ability to see beyond the immediate or the past. But one affected me personally and deeply - the role of compassion and empathy in both our professional and personal lives.
I have been lucky. The past ten years have been a rich mosaic of experiences, many that I would not have imagined in my wildest dreams. I have learned and seen much but compassion and empathy were front and center in many aspects of life. These concepts do not often lead strategy conversations. On the contrary, people scoff, fidget, and dismiss when these appear. However, it is clear that incorporating these elements leads to more engaged and innovative dialogue that ultimately leads to better solutions. These solutions tend to be more sustainable, readily adopted, and provide greater impact.
I reflected on this further when asked to give the commencement speech for my alma mater, the College of Food and Ag at UMN. I was honored but not sure what the audience would want to hear from me. I thought back to the days when I received my PhD, ten years ago, from that same institution. What did I want to hear at that time? I wanted to know what mattered, what awaited me. I wanted to be inspired and compelled to drive forward with passion and energy.
So, I spoke about compassion and empathy - two characteristics we all have within us but do not always engage as fully as we could (or should). Much has been written about these concepts broadly. They are prominent in religious and spiritual practices throughout the world, thus it is not a great leap to see how they can fundamentally transform the way we think in business settings. I am making this way of thinking a cornerstone of my business because I believe it will better support my clients and lead to the best outcomes. I will write more on the specifics as our work continues, and I welcome comments on how you have seen these values benefit your business.