Innovation and Empathy for Loss

In reading Megan Risdal‘s excellent article, Reflections on Stack Overflow: Building Successful Communities, I was struck by a particular passage:

Have empathy. Loss aversion is a very real thing. Even if simplifying something is the best thing for users by all other accounts, taking something away still hurts. And this impacts not just end users, but the people who originally worked on a feature. You can have empathy by understanding how they use the feature and asking about the historical context around its original creation.

– Megan Risdal, Reflections on Stack Overflow: Building Successful Communities

Here’s a good definition of loss aversion: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-loss-aversion/

I think technologists in particular — because we are so fond of innovation — tend to look down on people who express aversion to loss. That disparaging attitude isn’t very respectful, and thus doesn’t lead to very respectful or productive conversations.

Certainly, change is a part of life, but likewise every change is a kind of a death — perhaps the death of something that should die, but any loss can cause deep sadness… and even a crisis of belonging. When innovating, it’s worth asking yourself whether you can find a way to give people the space to grieve the loss associated with the change, holding space for their pain, rather than just brushing them off as short-sighted enemies of progress.

1 Comment

  1. Great read Andrea. Very timely for me.

    How we change something is important. The language we use, the attitude towards it, and even how we phrase our issues/tickets for tracking the changes.

    Like

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