The Business of Empathy

The Business of Empathy

People don’t care how much you know until

they know how much you care.

—Theodore Roosevelt

Empathy is feeling that you understand and perhaps even share another person’s experiences or emotions. It’s your capacity to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Empathy stems from understanding the emotional rationale as much as the logical rationale driving other people’s decisions.

Increasingly, business leaders are thinking about how to cultivate the skills (both “soft” and “hard”) that people need in order to be successful in the world. In a Harvard Business Review article, Belinda Parmar—founder and CEO of the Empathy Business—wrote, “I believe that empathy should be embedded into the entire organization.” She also argued that there’s nothing “soft” about empathy: “It’s a hard skill that should be required from the boardroom to the shop floor.”

Parmar’s argument, I believe, stands in stark contrast to more traditional tenets of business and life success. We’ve likely all learned at some point about the need to take a cutthroat approach to competition and the need to climb over others on our way to the top. To the contrary, Parmar makes the case that every single one of us needs support to achieve the results that might drive us forward; we can’t go it alone.

In my view, there’s a link between Empathy and a biological concept called coevolution. Coevolution explains how organisms adapt as they are triggered by changes in the other organisms and in their environments. From a biological standpoint, that means living things have a reciprocal effect on each other’s evolution. They influence, shape, and reshape one another.

Recognizing this exchange of energy—our shared capacity to affect one another—helps explain what it means to live empathetically. Some of the most truly empathic people are those who are able not only to take account of the changes around them but also to adapt themselves to those changes so as to strengthen their interactions with others.

Business executive and philanthropist Bobby Sager decided to spend his life traveling around the globe, giving his money away and using street smarts and an entrepreneurial attitude to make a difference in some of the most devastated places on the planet. Bobby established the Sager Family Traveling Foundation, which has allowed him and his family to spend their lives in the most difficult places in the world.

For Bobby, the most transcendent moments arrive when least expected. “They’ve risen out of the joy and frustration of sharing in ordinary people’s everyday lives.” I was able to sit down with Bobby for an interview to dive into developing understanding for others.

SL: Spending so much time in war zones must have taught you some incredible lessons on how to truly communicate with another human. Can you share some of these please?

BS: You have to get up and close and personal. The closer you get, the more you can find the light. When it comes to understanding someone, when it comes to figuring something out, everything comes down to being a great listener. And the only way that you can be a great listener is if you’re really present and you are rid of your disruptive emotions.

SL: What is one thing that you would encourage anyone to do that would give them a greater sense of purpose and meaning in their lives?

BS: There isn’t any question that if you don’t have gratitude in the day, you’re not going to have a full day. Gratitude is basically not taking things in your everyday life for granted. It needs to be a daily practice and a very conscious effort.

Empathy isn’t just good for understanding a business’s customers; it’s become a critical component of good leadership within a company and of the way leaders educate and develop their teams. Belinda Parmar and others have shown us that Empathy can be fostered in ways that improve business environments. When businesses bring Empathy to the fore, they help to increase the happiness, engagement, and productivity of their workforces.

For those interested in cultivating Empathy, evidence shows that active listening and role-playing are some of the best techniques for helping people put themselves in others’ shoes.

  • Active Listening – To help ourselves listen actively, we need to focus in on our

conversation partner’s physicality, their body language or positioning, their facial expressions, and the subtext of what is and is not being said. Other active listening techniques involve repeating what we’ve heard beginning with phrases like “Let me see if I’ve heard you right” to check that what we believe we’ve heard or understood matches the speaker’s intent.  The more present we can be, the more we improve both our own and others’ experience of the conversation.

  • Role-Playing – Switching roles can allow for new and unexpected dialogue among colleagues and, when enacted in front of groups, can also help those who witness the role-play identify direct and indirect cues that reveal the attitudes and feelings of the players.

Thoughtful and keenly attuned leadership can go a long way toward creating an environment in which people are looking out for rather than competing against one another.

Empathy has humility at its heart because it teaches us to get out of our own shoes and imagine what it might be like in someone else’s. Empathy begins from vulnerability, from opening ourselves up to others. To quote Leonard Cohen, “Our cracks let the light in.”

This excerpt was taken from Stuart Lacey’s book, The Formula For Luck: Leave Nothing To Chance and a foundational part of the work done at the Bermuda Clarity Institute. If you would like to learn more about the organizational research, including the importance of Failing Forward, that we do at the Bermuda Clarity Institute, visit

The Art of Adaptability : How to become Antifragile

The Art of Adaptability : How to become Antifragile

COVID-19 has been referred to as a black swan event—something that is extremely negative, rare, and almost impossible to predict.  Nassim Taleb, the famous author of The Black Swan, reminds us that we can divide the world and all that’s in it (people, things, institutions, ways of life) into three categories: the fragile, the robust, and the antifragile. We are fragile if we avoid disorder and disruption for fear of the mess they might make of our life. We are robust if we can stand up to shocks without flinching and without substantially changing who we are. And we are antifragile if shocks and disruptions make us stronger and more creative, better able to adapt to each new challenge we face.

The reality is that none of us is resilient all the time. We may be very resilient in some parts of our life but struggle with others. Similarly, if we face many challenges at one time, we may temporarily run low on our capacity for Adaptability and thus resilience. Focusing on developing these behaviors helps make us and our businesses antifragile.

Peter Diamandis, the founder of Singularity University, has pointed out that “We’re living toward incredible times where the only constant is change, and the rate of change is increasing.”  Our ability to respond to constant change is the biggest differentiator for our future success and for increasing our capacity for luck. In today’s world more than ever before, strength is a matter of flexibility. That’s something of a shift from the old adage that to bend is to break or the idea that strength is a kind of superheroic imperviousness. Instead, Diamandis and others suggest that to bend is itself a way of not breaking, of withstanding pressures by fully acknowledging and even accommodating them.

The greatest models of adaptability can often be found in the natural world. We all know that Darwin was a keen observer of the role of adaptation in genetic survival and species propagation. But we can look to nature for still other models of flexibility. Bamboo, for example, is one of the most flexible and resilient plants on the planet and has been used regularly for scaffolding and construction.  Bamboo has one of the highest strength-to-weight ratios in the world. If

bamboo stems are cut, the plant regenerates, heals, and grows again. From nature’s models, we can see some of the features or characteristics that comprise our human adaptability: the ability to withstand pressures and challenges as well as the abilities to recover from setbacks and adjust to changed circumstances.

Both Adaptability and resilience have a lot to do with changing our negative assumptions and beliefs so that we can take positive action. Resilient people tend to have several things in common:

  • They are hopeful but also realistic and are able to keep their emotions from overwhelming them.
  • They are able to think through problems and can reach out to others for support when they need it.

I was fortunate a few years ago to spend time with famed mountaineer, David Breashears. In addition to summiting most of the major mountains in the world, he filmed the IMAX movie Everest on the summit attempt that claimed the lives of twenty-three climbers in May of 1996.

During climbs, David witnessed and regularly had to cope with the result of poor decision-making under stress. He’s drawn attention to those moments when even with the most nimble and elegant of plans, climbers can become unable to adjust course. Their judgment might become clouded by raw ambition, arrogance, fear, being overly committed to a path that inhibits better judgment to turn back, or any number of other factors that keep them stuck taking actions that no longer suit changes in weather, terrain, or other obstacles that crop up along the way.

David learned from personal experience that inflexibility in those moments can quickly become life threatening. When his IMAX team was approaching the top of Everest, they ended up saving many lives by deciding to forgo their chance to summit the mountain as storm conditions threatened. As Breashears’s team descended the mountain, they passed several other teams still on their way up. By nightfall, eight people on those other teams had already perished, including Rob Hall, a world-renowned climber and friend of Breashears. Hall was leading a group of individuals who had paid a substantial fee to be guided to the top, and had invested weeks of effort to make it to the higher camps. They literally were “pot committed” – a dangerous term used in gambling, where someone becomes unable to fold their cards (walk-away from the pot of money) which is strategically the right thing to do, but they cannot given their over commitment in funds and emotion.

In business, adaptability comes down to the company’s people. Yes, adaptable and antifragile businesses must have the right people in management positions. Without good, clear guidance from leadership, even business- enhancing technologies and processes can still bring all manner of ills upon a company—from data breaches to privacy abuses, and the like. But just as important is building a company-wide culture in which employees at all levels have (1) well-developed knowledge of processes and operating systems, (2) the skills necessary to address issues with ease, and (3) a share in the vision and values that make for business consistency over time. Adaptability, in other words, must include our values, our focus and commitment, and our faith in ourselves. That’s what turns “bad luck” into growth and progress.

True Adaptability is not just about risk management or disaster preparedness. Sure, it’s absolutely the case that a business needs to identify clearly how it will respond to security breaches, IT outages, supply chain disruptions, health and safety incidents, and natural and other disasters—just as it needs to have clearly identified plans for recovering quickly from financial and other difficult-to-foresee challenges. But, in a world characterized primarily by rapid change, companies need to develop—in all sorts of everyday circumstances—employees’ capacity to withstand change, to recover quickly from setbacks and shocks, and to adapt to new demands.

What companies must do on a daily basis is help employees accept changed realities, find meaning in hardship, think positively about setbacks, recover essential functions, and improvise when the playing field has changed.  How much your business can bend before it breaks is directly related to the individual abilities of the people who comprise it.

Adaptability is one of the many characteristics we help develop at an organizational level at Bermuda Clarity Institute. To find out more on how you can become more resilient and anti-fragile, visit our website at

The Importance of Failing Forward

The Importance of Failing Forward

I didn’t fail one thousand times. The light bulb was an invention with one thousand steps.

—Thomas Edison

Since we were children, most of us have been taught to avoid failure. In fact, if we ever received an F or otherwise failed at something, there’s a chance we didn’t simply feel that we needed improvement but, instead, that we had been labeled as failures in and of ourselves.

In this subtle way across countless experiences, it has become embedded in our mindsets from very young childhood to avoid making an attempt when we suspect we might fail.

Two Nobel Prize–winning psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, set out to understand why we humans go to such lengths to avoid losing. They found that the negative impact of a loss—that includes both the sense of loss and the memory of loss— has a greater effect on us than any positive impact of success. Zig Ziglar may have gifted us with the inspirational quote “Failure is an event, not a person,” but what Kahneman and Tversky showed is that we have quite a lot of trouble separating the two.

Research also shows that fear of failure paired with feelings of incompetence leads

to self-sabotaging activity, including procrastination.32 We tend to think that not trying is a guaranteed protection from failure, but I want to suggest that when we don’t try because we fear falling flat on our faces, we’re failing by our inaction in that moment. The antidote to inaction in the face of failure is to understand that we never want to fail at failure itself.

We might all take a lesson from that plucky little fish Dory, the forgetful blue tang introduced to us in 2003. Ellen DeGeneres, who voiced Dory’s character in the film, revealed in an NPR interview that the opportunity to voice Dory came at a particularly difficult time in her own life. The character of Dory maintains an attitude in the face of adversity and encourages Marlin to “just keep swimming.” When we “just keep swimming,” we’re pulling on threads of optimism and positivity, literally deciding not to take no for an answer.

Keeping going is both the practice and product of resiliency.

In the film The Dawn Wall, one of its stars, Kevin Jorgeson, clings by his fingernails to the Dawn Wall of El Capitan. Along with Tommy Caldwell, Jorgeson spent

seven years preparing to assault a 3,200-foot-high slab of granite wall that had never been climbed. Over nineteen days, and halfway up, Kevin found himself confronted by a class 5.14 D pitch, which is listed as the toughest on the planet.

Both athletes had practiced their entire lives for this event and attempted these same moves tens of thousands of times. Over the following seven days and eleven attempts, Kevin just could not complete the crossing. He kept tearing his fingers apart and continuing to fall. Then finally, in front of the world’s media, battling fatigue and the fear of letting down his climbing partner, who was running out of time, something changed in Kevin’s mind that enabled him to make the crossing. On his next attempt he succeeded, and he and Tommy went onward and upward to make history.

In 2001, Barbara Corcoran sold the Corcoran Group, the biggest residential real estate firm in

New York, for $66 million. In all her business dealings, Barbara has been most appreciative

of people who, like her, approach their work with a killer instinct, a sense that there’s nothing to lose and much to gain from being absolutely tenacious about their goals. Barbara is also a TEDx speaker and her TEDx Talk was entitled “Rethinking Failure.” I interviewed Barbara on a rainy evening on June 4, 2020 as she bounced across mid-town Manhattan in the back of a car.

SL: Without action there’s no learning. Without learning we don’t progress. But how does failing fit into this for you?

BC: I’m uncomfortable with sitting still. And so, I’d rather shoot at a lot and see what sticks rather than think things through or analyze them to death. That old expression “Ready, fire, aim” is the right way for me because I’m already firing, and if it doesn’t work, I’ll take another shot.

SL: You are known for having amazing teams working for you. What are your secrets?

BC: You have to consciously promote failure to make sure people are at their creative best. And that’s what I’ve done my whole career….When you put a bunch of those people together, you have a creative organization…. If I had a spectacular failure, I would stand up and start talking about it. Then people would see how cool that was and would know it’s OK in our company to try all kinds of things.

SL: We have spoken often about persistence and how it creates resiliency. What do people need to work on to become truly resilient?

BC: Whether you’re talking about raising a child or getting an employee to become better than they thought they could ever be, I would say the most important thing is to not allow them to feel sorry for themselves. The minute there’s any kind of setback, you’ve got to handle it like, “Well that’s to be expected. Now, what do we do next?” The difference between successful people and others is how much time they spend feeling sorry for themselves.

In my opinion, Winston Churchill summed it up best: “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

This excerpt was taken from Stuart Lacey’s book, The Formula For Luck: Leave Nothing To Chance and a foundational part of the work done at the Bermuda Clarity Institute. If you would like to learn more about the organizational research, including the importance of Failing Forward, that we do at the Bermuda Clarity Institute, visit


The Science of Serendipity

The Science of Serendipity

Swiss psychologist Carl Jung coined the term synchronicity to describe meaningful coincidences—when events are not connected by causality, yet we take them to be meaningfully associated with one another. His essential point is that we humans see meaning in one instance and randomness in another based largely on our subjective personal experiences and beliefs. So, a meaningful coincidence is an event that speaks to something inside us rather than to some external causal connection.

Scientists have come to call this confirmation bias, our capacity to find in the world validation for the beliefs that we already hold, and sometimes hold dear. But what I think is quite interesting about serendipity, one of my ten principles of building a Luck MindsetÔ, is the underlying experience of interpreting a situation in a way that makes it meaningful and perhaps even motivates us to act in particular ways. So long as our experiences of synchronicity lead us toward, rather than away from, further investigation and learning, they may have an interesting role to play in increasing serendipity.

It’s that additional factor—the inclination to further investigation and learning—that ultimately separates serendipity from synchronicity. Serendipity is instructive or repeatable and not just a matter of mere coincidence.

Horace Walpole, the Earl of Oxford, wrote a letter in 1754 to his distant relation Horace Mann, recounting the Persian fairytale of the 7 Princes of Serendip. In this fable, the titular heroes are always making astonishing discoveries “by accident and sagacity, and of things which they were not in search of”.  What is astonishing of Walpole’s definition, is that it emphasizes accident, sagacity and things they were NOT in search of”.

Serendipity may be synonymous with accidental discovery, but it is impossible to achieve without a keen eye, skill and the wisdom to recognize and then investigate what has been stumbled upon.

We have some amazing examples of serendipitous discoveries in science. We need look no further than Fleming’s discovery of penicillin. These were not possible without a measure of intentional action, but they also required a learned ability to notice and recognize novelty and then explain it. Fleming’s discovery of penicillin in 1928 was triggered by a spore of penicillium fungus contaminating his petri dish while he was growing staphylococcus bacteria. Now, it was an accident that the mold spores landed in the dish. But the discovery was serendipitous in several ways. First, had Fleming not been cultivating bacteria, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to notice the stray mold spore. Furthermore, had Fleming not had a deep and full understanding of how bacteria develops—and this is the element of sagacity—it’s unlikely he would have even noticed the antibiotic properties of the penicillium and therefore develop what was, at the time, the single most important advance in health technology in the twentieth century.

You cannot plan a serendipitous discovery or event. What you can plan is careful work that will probabilistically lead to discovery, and you can also plan to track well the processes that are in play. Be an astute and conscientious observer, make room for hunches, expect some mistakes, and work collaboratively to facilitate success.

I’ve come to think that there are three variants of serendipitous occurrences—three types of Serendipity, if you will. Identifying the three different variants of Serendipity and what we can do more of to manifest them is as important as understanding what is not Serendipity but just regular discovery.

  • Serendipity Type A: You are actively looking for a solution for a problem. You find something else in an unexpected place that solves that problem (think of getting a flat tire, and then a tow truck happens to drive by and helps you out).
  • Serendipity Type B: You are actively seeking a solution for a problem. You find in an expected place something that you were not looking for and that solves for an entirely different problem (think of how Penicillin or Post-it Notes were discovered).
  • Serendipity Type C: You are NOT actively seeking a solution for a problem. However, you stumble upon something that you were not actually looking for and which is in an unexpected place. However, you are open to it, curious enough to investigate it with a keen eye; you apply knowledge (maximize its potential) and in so doing realize it can solve another entirely different problem that you were not even looking to solve. (Think of Newton sitting under a tree and discovering gravity after an apple fell on his head.)

I happen to think that Type C is Serendipity in its truest form, the absolutely unanticipated thing upon which one stumbles, accompanied by the ability to recognize and capitalize on it. For all that we have been told over the years by parents and teachers about looking for a certain something in the right place, I invite you to consider that solutions to problems you’re not currently trying to solve might be discovered in the most unexpected places.

  1. When you are in a moment that feels serendipitous, how do you direct your energy?
  2. What can you do to enable each of the three types of Serendipity?
  3. How can we repeatedly put ourselves in the right place at the right time? How, like Bob Hope, can we steer ourselves there?

This excerpt was taken from Stuart Lacey’s book, The Formula For Luck: Leave Nothing To Chance and a foundational part of the work done at the Bermuda Clarity Institute.  If you would like to learn more about the organizational research, including serendipity, that we do at the Bermuda Clarity Institute, visit today.


Clarity precedes success

Clarity precedes success

“Clarity precedes success.” The Robin Sharma quote rings true for organizations and clarity awaits.  The Foundations of Clarity workshop has a fundamental set of attributes that no matter the organization, no matter the challenges, they emerge with a clear vision for where they need to go and the groundwork for building out their culture with clarity. In an ongoing series of real-life use cases, below we share the story of one of our current clients – and their journey to continued success:


Bacardi Bermuda engaged with Bermuda Clarity Institute (BCI) for the ultimate goals of both aligning themselves culturally within the local office, as well as ensuring their vision and direction remain aligned and complementary to the goals of the larger Bacardi global group. The proposed research and workshop approach would help Bacardi Bermuda align on their organizational identity by making everyone ask “Who are we as an organization?

Leading up to the workshop, Bacardi team members participated in a survey where they were asked to rank their experience in 12 dimensions of performance and articulate purpose statements, characteristics, and values they identify with the organization. Our team used this data to create interactive plot maps for the ensuing workshop.

This was followed by the Foundations of Clarity workshop. Doug Mello, MD of Bacardi Bermuda shared with us the following after the workshop: “We loved being in the Clarity Learning Lab. It is so innovative and experiential. It enabled our team to feel more engaged, more innovative and creative.” Doug added “what an incredible place for us to work as a team – especially given the incredible technology including 4k video and surround sound, which permitted remote and local team members and Clarity to participate live in an incredible hybridized set of sessions.” 


Using the plot maps derived from the survey and guided by facilitators, the team worked through all of the submitted Purpose, Characteristics, and Value statements to establish the top 5 for each. Carefully bucketing every single statement submitted, the team ensured that every team member’s input and perspective was accounted for and evaluated.

Together, the team discovered their purpose, the glue that bound them together; their characteristics, what makes them distinctive from other organizations; and their core values, the beliefs they held in common. “A highlight was the facilitation on Characteristics, Purpose and Values that created a shared sense of direction and motivation” shared Doug. It was an intentional pause for Bacardi Bermuda: to define as a team why their organization exists, what about their organization that is enduring, and how they perform work. It was a step back to step forward with clarity.


Next up on the strategy front: defining Current and Future state to help Bacardi understand their competitive position in the market and help drive their decisions. The Current State exercise evaluates an organization’s competitive position and develops a strategic plan by analyzing its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The chief aim is to slow down and give the team time and space for an internal audit.

Next, they explored their future state, looking three to five years in the future and thinking about the visionary impact they can see Bacardi (and Bacardi Bermuda, specifically) making in the future. They challenged themselves with questions such as how the industry will change, trends on the horizons that could shape industry behaviors, customer and employee changes, and the most significant objectives they must accomplish. The facilitators dared the group to think big on their “hairy, audacious goals” and pushed them to dream bigger. 


A vision transforms an organization. It provides a picture of what could be. It is a catalyst that can drive an organization to move forward toward that dream. As dreams come true or realities change, visions change. It is a goal of the highest order.

The Bacardi team divided into three teams, and bolstered by the conversation and learnings from the day, each wrote out a draft vision. The groups then came together to share their draft visions and ultimately pull from each to establish one shared draft vision, a declaration of the organization’s objective. This process was an incredible step for the team to work together in defining the vision and strategic direction of the company.


As a cultural rule at the Bermuda Clarity Institute, workshops always end on a positive note. To wrap the day up, each team member wrote down One Positive Takeaway, which was collected to be shared with the group after the fact. Then, we wrapped up with a final exercise called I Admire. Going around in a circle, each team member turned to the person or screen beside them to say one thing they admired about their teammate, something they appreciated about that person and their work. With each person both receiving and giving praise, the positive energy was electric, the gratitude palpable.


By taking time out of their every day and coming together in a structured, creative environment, the Bacardi team started thinking through and aligning on foundational elements of their organizational identity. They were invited to take a step back, to listen and to dig through those elements that they had thus far assumed they were already aligned on – but not yet proven. But after concentrated, thoughtful time together, they became fully aligned around elements of Bacardi Bermuda culture and aligned on their forward-looking vision. This was clearly a team that thrives on challenge, a team diverse in perspective, and after chasing after Clarity, a team that will continue to succeed.