A Philosophy for Human-Centered Thinking

Five Principles of a Human-Centric Philosophy
Five Principles of a Human-Centric Philosophy

I’ve been researching and blogging about human-centricity for a little while now and come to the realisation that it’s an area of huge untapped potential which if scaled up, has the capacity to transform organisations ready for a post-pandemic world of work, where humans genuinely matter, are truly valued and needs catered for. It may even, dare I say it, make the world a better place!

One thing is clear — there's a significant lack of clarity about what human-centricity actually is and in my opinion, could become, outside of Design Thinking approaches. David Townson from the Design Council states:

“All design should be human centred, it’s as simple as that. And I mean human-centred, not ‘user-centred’ or ‘user-friendly’, because users are human beings after all. But, more importantly, because being human-centred is not just about your user. Human-centred design takes into account every single human being that your design decisions impact on.”

Imagine an organisational restructure for example, where all humans in the organisation are acknowledged and thought about. What if those humans empathise with one another and everyone’s needs are carefully captured and considered to inform what happens? How would that impact the way the restructure is managed?

Chances are, the support offered to everyone would be far superior with positive knock-on effects — reduced mental health related absences, improved employee satisfaction, minimised turnover, reduced operational downtime…the list goes on.

That’s a pretty big scenario, but you could also apply human-centric thinking to something much smaller, such as how a meeting is run so they’re more fun and productive, what workspaces should look like so they encourage collaboration and relationship building, how online-chat interactions with customers are handled so they become more personable and human.

Given the opportunity to take human-centricity to the next level outside of Design Thinking, it feels like the right time to start bringing together ideas, insights and inspiration, in order to try and develop a more solid foundation. It’s likely this will go through a number of iterations before it’s ready for the wider world!

So where to start…

In a previous blog, I’ve offered a definition of what I believe human-centricity is, which I’ve since shortened slightly:

“Being human centric is to deliberately and consistently acknowledge and empathise with other human beings, embodying care and preventing prejudice or detriment to another human.”

Being human-centric has to be intrinsic, something that we choose to be because we believe it’s the right way to think and act in order to ensure fellow humans have better experiences in the world of work (and beyond) and are not harmed in any way.

For some who read this, it will be much easier to associate with what it means and take every opportunity to put it into action. For others, it may sound like a fantasy that will never be adopted in most organisations. If you’re in the latter category: I totally get it. Most organisations (i.e. the humans within them) aren’t willing to challenge the status quo for various reasons, particularly if there’s risk to themselves in some way (decreased job security, losing managerial favoritism, denied pay rises etc.). Or even worse, the organisation actively punishes non-compliance with the established norm.

I do believe however that there are plenty of people out there that want organisations to be human-centric; whether they are corporate rebels and change-agents, emotionally intelligent leaders, entrepreneurs creating a new generation of B-Corps, or any human-being who wants to be just that — not a human-doing or a human-resource. A human-being.

Having established it’s a mindset, the next question is what principles could be followed that would help ensure every interaction, activity, decision, all consider the relevant human beings adequately? Here are a few thoughts to start with:

1. Respect human uniqueness

It’s a biggie, but incredibly important to avoid ‘one-size-fits-all’ approaches that will only result in a higher risk of causing detriment to others. That’s not to say that every approach to every situation has to be unique, but we must not assume that what works for one person can be replicated exactly for another with the same result. Which leads to…

2. Know your humans

Nearly everything we do is likely to impact another human at some point in time, but until we stop and think about who those humans are and really empathise with them, we cannot fully comprehend how our actions and decisions could affect others. Equally, having a greater awareness of our own authentic human selves can help us ensure we are consistently embodying care and being of use to one others by utilising and sharing our unique talents.

3. Establish human partnerships

In my very first blog post, I had a go at pulling together a human-centric manifesto that included the idea of creating partnerships with fellow humans, whether they are employees, suppliers, customers, distributors or anyone else linked to the success of the organisation. I still firmly believe that when we treat one another as equals and share in both the trials and achievements of life, it creates a unique bond that would not have otherwise existed. It’s this bond that has the power to infuse all the necessary human elements for organisations to survive and thrive — trust, resilience, creativity and care to name a few.

4. Accommodate our Human Givens

Organisations are mostly well versed in providing for our physical needs — suitable workstations, toilets, encouraging regular breaks, drinks facilities etc. and more recently, the wellbeing agenda has expanded to support mental health much more. However, our human needs are so much more diverse and complex as illustrated by the Human Given Institute and there’s still a lot of work to do for organisations to attend to these needs effectively. In doing so, I believe we will truly start to unlock our human potential.

5. Enable human creative expression

One thing that isn’t included in the Human Givens but I feel deserves to be in there, is our need to be creative and playful. Whilst we may not always have a constant urge or be in a position to express ourselves creatively, it’s important that we have agency to do so when the desire arises. So many organisations spend a huge amount of effort to implement control mechanisms that stifle creativity and playfulness and wonder why innovation never happens. As well as creative expression being a natural part of what makes us human, whatever form it comes in, it also brings numerous benefits to organisations as presented by BrightHR in partnership with Sir Cary Cooper CBE (of Robertson Cooper).

As mentioned earlier, it’s likely these principles will go through a number of iterations and need to be expanded on in order to develop a solid human-centric philosophy, but hopefully it’s enough to start us reflecting on what it really means to be human-centric and how we can embody this in our lives for the betterment of all.

Please do leave a comment with your thoughts (good or bad!), get in touch with me via LinkedIn or thehumancoach.co.uk and lets have a dialogue.

On a journey to unlock what it means to be human-centric. thehumancoach.co.uk