Tea and empathy: Sub Rosa's Michael Ventura feels your pain

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Michael Ventura
Michael Ventura

Michael Ventura wrote the book on empathy. Literally.

The founder of the New York strategy and design consultancy Sub Rosa is a multi-hyphenate. When he's not advising a portfolio of Fortune 500 clients and progressive start-ups, he is running an experiential shopping venture called Calliope with his wife, operating an art gallery and event space, publishing a newsletter called La Petite Mort—a French expression for orgasm—and running an eastern and indigenous medicine and healing practice.

"If you pull the lens back far enough it starts to seem like what I do across all of those things is kind of all the same job," Ventura says on this episode of the Ad Lib podcast. "I'm really good at helping spot where the block is and helping figure out how to try to solve it. Block could be we don't know our brand positioning or how our audience thinks about us or my lower back hurts and I can't sleep at night."

Now he's added "author" to his resume, too. His book "Applied Empathy," out earlier this spring, aims to promote empathy as a competitive advantage in business. Empathy of course is a word that gets tossed around too much in marketing circles these days, but Ventura (whose consultancy also hosts a monthly podcast on empathy) appears to walk the walk.

"Empathy unto itself is inherently very passive. I could have a lot of understanding for you and do nothing with it," he says. "Applied empathy is a process we developed, founded in design thinking methodology to take that understanding and then use it as a problem-solving tool as a leadership development tool, through a series of tactics and different sorts of archetypes we've created that let people try on different ways of being empathic and see what works for them."

We get a little deeper into what Ventura means by "empathy," how he arrived at it as a guiding principle—and how it's won him some surprising clients, like West Point Military Academy.

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