Entrepreneurial empathy is considered as a cornerstone for developing products that fit customers' needs. Tools like ‘jobs-to-be-done’ or design thinking approaches enjoy high popularity among entrepreneurs in practice to empathize with customers. And yet due to new findings in social psychology and neuroscience the question arises: Is empathy uniformly a good thing for entrepreneurs? “Previously, one could assume that entrepreneurs with the highest empathy levels are most successful” states Konstantin Kurz. Yet, this one-sided view overlooks the evidence that empathic processes can cause cognitive biases among entrepreneurs that outweigh the benefits of customer understanding. The study detects empirically that less successful product launches are the consequence. Hence, entrepreneurial empathy seems to follow a „too-much-of-a-good-thing“ logic, a double-edged sword that can be very powerful but whose power can also be detrimental. Interestingly, the negative effects that high empathy can exhibit are particularly prevailing for entrepreneurs with a high level of personal anxiety. “This effect potentially occurs since high-anxiety entrepreneurs are more prone to affect-infusion”, explains Carolin Bock.
By analyzing millions of Twitter (X) tweets from entrepreneurs for studying their empathy levels, the study applies machine-learning methods and a big data approach and hence hopes to inspire other entrepreneurship scholars to expand their methodological armoury with these powerful innovative methods. By providing novel evidence for the 'dark side' of empathy, the study suggests that empathy is without doubts valuable and important in the entrepreneurial process but there is a „too-much-of-a-good-thing“ perspective attached to empathy that entrepreneurs should be aware of.
The authors, Konstantin Kurz, Prof. Dr. Carolin Bock, and Leonard Hanschur, want to sincerely thank everyone who supported them on the exciting journey of publishing this study, particularly Syrine Adala, Leon Borchert, Christopher Pirk and the whole team from the Chair of Entrepreneurship at Technische Universität Darmstadt. Also, big thanks to Dave Williams and the Elsevier editorial team and awesome reviewers who have pushed the manuscript to its publication level.