Monday, July 9, 2012

Wired to Care

I just started reading Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Capture Widespread Empathy by Dev Patnaik.  In building a case for empathy, Patnaik shares how several business such as Harley-Davidson and the Zildjian Cymbal Company have prospered from building close and personal relationships with customers.  Patnaik also shares the story of Nina Planck and the London Farmers' Markets as further evidence that businesses need to understand, on a personal level, the thoughts and feelings of valued customers.

Nina Planck was living in London at the end of the 1990s working as a speechwriter for the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom.  One day Planck left her apartment searching for carrots.  Planck ventured to the local market and a grabbed a bag of carrots.  However, before checking-out, Planck realized that the carrots were from France.  This lead Planck to review the packaging of vegetables in the produce section and the realization that nearly all of the produce was imported.

Planck had just discovered a little-known secret of Britain's food supply: More than half of its vegetables are imported, and more than 95 percent of its fruit comes from overseas.- Patnaik

Planck was shocked by this observation and set out to establish a small urban farmers' market in London.  She began contacting farmers and inviting them to sell goods at her new market.  

 She only had two conditions:  Their crops had to be grown within a hundred miles of London, and they could sell only what they grew themselves.  This was a marked rebuttal to the complex supply chain needed to provide organic tomatoes from Israel to a shop on a London street corner... she called her idea the Wheatland Farmers' Market in honor of her home town.- Patnaik

Planck opened her market on June 6, 1999.  Planck's markets have been well-received by Londoners.  Planck now operates 14 markets throughout London.  She has opened another dozen in the United States and now there are more than 400 farmers' markets in Britain.  

Patnaik shares the following thought about Planck and her story.  

Her farmers' markets did more than offer good veggies to upwardly mobile urbanites.  They were a forum for bringing producers and consumers back together.  That intimacy has acted as a sort of market accelerator to make sure that her shoppers get the best possible food and her farmers get the best  possible prices.

 I like the way Patnaik assessed the growth of Plank's farmers' markets.  The intimacy between farmers and shoppers has been a significant factor in increasing the popularity of these urban markets.  In creating a scenario where producer and consumer meet each other, a strong bond has been developed or as Patnaik puts it an empathic connection forged.

I wonder what schools could learn from Planck and the London Farmers' Markets.  Intimacy is not a term often associated with education and schools.  However, how well do contributing groups of stakeholders now each other?  Is there a level of intimacy that reveals valuable data to help an institution grow and address critical needs?

In promoting empathetic connections Patnaik says:

Producers move to better methods of production, because they know their consumers care about the environment and the health of their families. They cut fewer corners and make choices that are ethically right, because they know that the consumers who could be affected by their decisions are real people with feelings and needs of their own.  At the same time, consumers act differently toward producers when they see them not as companies, but as real people.  That empathetic connection then enables a better transaction... People want to make connections with folks they do business with.

 I see the above excerpt as a guide.  Greater empathetic connections need to be fostered in schools.   A greater level of intimacy needs to exist to ensure that ethical and effective decision-making is possible.  The connections we make that extends beyond academic content, grades and state testing lie at the heart of improving our educational institutions.