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Why empathy is key to small business success

We asked Matthew Jackson of Acknowledge Creativity what skill is needed to be successful as a small business owner.
Why empathy is key to small business success


These days, many creatives run their artistic practices as small businesses where they apply their particular skills to diverse areas such as marketing and product design, or sell their own products online as designers and craftspeople, or maybe even run a local theatre or arts school.

As these owners would know, once you have gone through the hard steps of starting a business, you often enter an important period of skills development and might even begin to reach out to ask the experts in your industry about their own experience.

But sometimes it is hard to find the right advice. To help, ArtsHub spoke to Matthew Jackson, Facilitator for Acknowledge Creativity. With years of experience running his own successful communications studio and designing units for the Diploma of Creative Enterprise offered at Acknowledge Creativity, which blends business skills with creative enterprise, Jackson has worked with many creative business owners. We asked him what skill is crucial to the success of small businesses as they grow.

His answer? Empathy. Because with it we are better communicators who understand the motivations of others.

‘Business owners who empathise with their team are able to lead more effectively around a purpose that each individual can relate to. When team members can identify their roles and responsibilities within the business, they find their work more rewarding and contribute more to the business's success,’ said Jackson.

‘When I talk about empathy I talk about it in terms of “cognitive empathy”, which means not only can I understand a person’s logic, but I can appreciate the way that person thinks.’

People have a tendency to think in ways that make sense to them. Jackson went on to explain that these differences bring up alternate thought processes that, without cognitive empathy, can lead to disagreement and an inability to move forward.

‘You might think in terms of people, you might think in terms of processes, you might think in terms of outcomes, you might think in terms of risk management. All of those affect the way you put together logic. You might put together your logic with the highest importance being on avoiding risk, or you might put the highest importance on the people you want to have around you and associate with and collaborate with. Those two things create very different thought processes.’

But cognitive empathy can only get you so far. This different type of empathy is more visceral — meaning you can feel it, too.

When it comes to creating a product value for customers, defining a customer profile, communicating a marketing plan, or figuring out how to advertise, publicise, promote and differentiate a business or service — all learning outcomes from the Diploma of Creative Enterprise — empathy is key.

‘Empathy toward the customer means that the product's design, the way that it is distributed, the way that the customer pays for it and the way it is marketed are all developed with the customer's needs and wants in mind. This approach to business is developing at a phenomenal rate now that technology enables customer needs and wants to be understood on a much more current and accurate level through automated data analysis. This is the area that is driving competitive advantage in business,’ concluded Jackson.

The Diploma of Creative Enterprise starts 27 August 2019 in Melbourne, and 15 September in Sydney and Perth. Contact Acknowledge Creativity for a free consultation to plan for your business on 1300 858 180 or email

Brooke Boland

Wednesday 24 July, 2019

About the author

Brooke Boland is a freelance writer based on the South Coast of NSW. She has a PhD in literature from the University of NSW. You can find her on Instagram @southcoastwriter.