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In 2005, LEGO, the Danish toy maker, took the technology community by surprise when they cheered the hacking of its 3D modelling platform called LEGO Factory. Executives initially fancied the idea of legal action as an archetypal corporate reaction especially since the company still struggled to recuperate from near bankruptcy.

Yet, upon a closer look, it turned out that the hackers were part of a well-coordinated colony of dexterous LEGO aficionados. Discovering inefficiencies in the system brought out through the intrusion, the hackers sought to create a database that would optimize the number of exact bricks a consumer needed. The action would minimize the amount customers would spend, contrary to the original version of the software developed by LEGO whereby one had to purchase a whole bag with far more bricks than one required. Fleshing out the problem, LEGO put itself into the shoes of its ardent consumers. Instead of filing a law suit as originally intended, it switched gears and engaged the hackers.

Tormod Askildsen, LEGO’s Head of Community Development at the time was quoted saying “our lawyers were ready to go after these consumers and say, “you cannot do that.” But we also realized that there was a lot of talent and a lot of very great skills out there in the community. Yes, they are tinkering with our product, but they are improving it. So what happened was that we basically let consumers hack this, and that is the amazing thing. If you trust your consumers, then they may do something that is actually a benefit. The LEGO brand is not owned by us. It’s owned by the consumers. We own the trademark, yes, but the brand lives in the minds of the consumers.” What happened at LEGO was a classical performance of cognitive empathy in a corporate environment.

The 18th century British philosopher David Hume once remarked that “the minds of men are mirrors to one another”. In the early 1990’s, Italian researchers at Parma University made a riveting discovery. Through a series of experiments done on monkeys, they figured out that certain sets of neurons within the premotor cortex fired both when the monkey grabbed an object and also when it observed another primate grab the same object. These neurons were also recently found in human beings. They came to be known as mirror neurons. As such, they form the basis for understanding other individuals’ actions. The particular neurons facilitate empathy in that one experiences understanding of another person’s mental and emotional condition from their perspective. Thus human beings are naturally wired to empathize. Question is, why then should empathy take center stage in an organization’s efforts to turbocharge its performance?

Creativity and innovation have become the lifeblood of first-rate organizations like LEGO. Empathy serves as the engine of creativity and innovation. Business people often mistakenly think that empathy exists as a mere soft skill not taken seriously. However, empathy positively correlates with high performance. The Center for Creative Leadership analyzed data from 6,731 managers across 38 countries and found that empathy positively related to job performance. How does empathy specifically also promote creativity and innovation?

Researchers categorized empathy into cognitive and emotional empathy. Emotional empathy involves vicarious experiencing of another’s emotional state. Meanwhile, cognitive empathy entails the ability to accurately imagine another person’s feelings or thinking and even predict their subsequent behaviors. In the Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin describes Lincoln as a leader who possessed incredible levels of empathy. He held the gift or curse of putting himself in the place of another to experience what they were feeling. It allowed him to discern their motives and desires. A contemporary of the day, Hellen Nicolay, observed directly that Lincoln’s consummate gift for “political diagnosis” that arose from his empathic nature gave him “the power to forecast with uncanny accuracy what his opponents were likely to do.” Inasmuch, it is quite evident that Abraham Lincoln’s empathic capacity gave him a competitive edge when appraising situations and people. It was a source of insights that culminated into fireballs of political and military strategy, hence his competence.

In the corporate world, cognitive empathy aids both organizational and individual competence through integration of knowledge. It helps to explain why LEGO’s executives chose to see the problem from the hacker’s well-intentioned perspective which, of course, involved suspending their own initial security and legal concerns to become open to new knowledge that enhanced LEGO’s innovation. Individuals like Steve Jobs intuitively understood the importance of empathy so much so that he suggested a single set of bathrooms in the central atrium of Pixar’s building to force more interaction amongst animators, computer scientists and creative directors, paving the way for integration of knowledge. Through cognitive empathy, cross-fertilization of knowledge took place between professionals of seemingly unrelated fields resulting in cascades of juicy innovative ideas within an organization.

Emotional empathy, on the other hand, provides fertile ground for trust to flourish amongst employees. Communication between individuals who understand each other at a visceral level is spontaneous in character. Consequently, individuals share ideas without fear of being judged or ridiculed thus encouraging creativity in solving problems. A study conducted, in a manufacturing firm, by the neuro-economist Paul Zak, found that those in the top quartile of colleague closeness were 22% better at solving a difficult problem with others. They also enjoyed working on the problem 10% more than those in the lowest quartile of closeness. Ostensibly, such closeness can only occur when an individual emotionally empathizes and therefore results in spontaneity and in turn creative problem solving.

From the Danish toy company to the Oval Office, empathy is undoubtedly an engine that powers creativity and innovation. It would help executives and businessmen in Kenya to rethink the role of empathy in their innovative endeavors.

The article was first published on: http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Empathy-engine-powers-creativity-innovation/539444-3842124-vr7tow/index.html

For the first time ever, Good pitch comes to East Africa and Kenya! Okay so right now you have two questions in mind:

What is Good Pitch or Who are they?

And why should it be exciting news?

See for any writer, journalist, innovator, policymakers etecetera etcetera, documentaries are not just documentaries or films like how you watch it on television and that is the end of the story at the end of the story. This is about capturing the most urgent issues, the untold stories, the exceptional master pieces, and this is exactly the golden chance that Good pitch offers.

So who are behind Good Pitch?

Good Pitch is a BRITDOC project in partnership with Ford Foundation and the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program. BRITDOC is a nonprofit film foundation supported by Bertha Foundation, the Ford Foundation and more than 50 organizations and individuals globally.

What exactly do they do?

GOOD PITCH brings together six documentary filmmaking teams with European foundations, NGO’s, campaigners, philanthropists, policymakers, technology innovators, government, brands and media around leading social issues – to forge unique coalitions and campaigns around documentary films to maximize their social impact and influence.

The filmmakers selected for Good Pitch are exceptional storytellers and independent journalists, capturing urgent global issues: from the struggle of emerging democracies to defending LGBT rights; from degeneration of the seas, to the challenges of ageing; from the price of human migration, to disability in the workplace.


So after a Pan-African call made in Durban in July 2015, six extraordinary film projects, were selected; drawn from 100 entries from 18 countries across Africa. There is a fantastic lineup of extraordinary film projects for this year’s Good Pitch2 Kenya, which are urgent stories of our time. This is going to be the Good Pitch offering a positive opportunity to connect with the biggest challenges facing Kenya, and Africa at large, this decade. With filmmakers hailing from Kenya, Norway, South Africa, Australia and Sierra Leone, these projects tackle several important and urgent issues.

Good Pitch is where change begins. It’s where strategy is conceived, coalitions are forged, deals struck and pacts made. Right now, there are 85 Good Pitch films being used at the heart of national or international social justice campaigns.

Included amongst the 2900+ organizations that have participated in Good Pitch are: Al Jazeera, Amnesty International, Arabella Advisors and Ariadne among many others.


Among the films at the Good Pitch 2016 Kenya are:



Director; Julia Dahr, Kenya, Norway

Over the last five years Kisilu, a smallholder, has used his camera to capture the life of his family, his village and the impacts of extreme weather. He has filmed floods, droughts and storms but also the more human impacts – his kids are sent home from school when he can’t pay the fees; men are moving to towns in search for jobs; and relations within his family become more and more strained. But Kisilu refuses to give up – instead he finds himself on the biggest political journey of his life. Travelling to Paris to present his footage as evidence to delegates at the UN Climate Talks, his video diaries take on a remarkable new meaning. Amid the murky cut and thrust of politics at COP21, ‘the biggest environmental show on earth’, Kisilu sheds a powerful new light on the climate justice movement and the people who lead us.



Director; Maia von Lekow& Chris King, Kenya / Australia

The Letter takes us deep into Kenya’s southern Coast Province, to explore the region’s growing problem of violence against elderly people. Accused and condemned as witches, more than twenty elderly people are being killed every month in these communities. But the witchcraft is being used as a cover-up for countless disputes over land and resources. With the discovery of large deposits of rare earth minerals, property developers and resource explorers eye these ancient lands and tension is rising. With flames being fanned by religious hatred and deep historical injustice which threaten to overwhelm, we follow one family who are fighting to stay together and save their grandmother who is the next to be branded as a witch.



Director; Jackie Lebo, Kenya

A forgotten desert community grapples with the consequences of a big oil find on their land. Will the promised development be what they’ve always wanted and must they lose their traditional way of life? From the community elders looking for answers and a place at the table, to the young environmentalist campaigning for social justice, to the oil man, who is convinced that this geological find can bring the progress and investment that the region has been desperately waiting for. Turkana: Race for Resources observes the battle for the soul and the future of Kenya’s great Northern desert country.



Director; Pete Murimi, Kenya

What’s the true cost of living a life that’s true? In Kenya, like much of Africa, gay people aren’t even allowed to think about falling in love. Most of our story is set in the sprawling slums of Nairobi, where our protagonist, a father of two and a gay sports player, lives with his lover. It’s a far cry from the kind of life his conservative rural parents imagined for him.  An “aspiring politician” and anti-gay crusader, is used to bending the truth, in his quest for political relevance – something that’s hard to attain when you come from the slums. The politician’s ambitions to push for a “stone the gays law” are at odds with this gay man’s desire to live a truthful life, free of discrimination. What will this desire for TRUTH cost him, in the end?



Director;AlikiSaragas, South Africa

After a massacre by the South African police shakes the foundations of the poverty stricken mining community of Marikana, two uneducated unemployed grandmothers, Primrose Sonti and ThumekaMagwangqana resolve to rise up and organise. They form a community organisationSikhalaSonke (We-Cry-Together) to advocate for economic and social justice. Growing in determination, Primrose joins the new opposition political party the Economic Freedom Fighters, that promises the disenfranchised poor land and jobs. When sheer determination unexpectedly lands her a seat in post-Apartheid South African parliament, Primrose will have a life changing move to Cape Town. Meanwhile Thumeka picks up the reigns of SikhalaSonke in Marikana, and together with a legal advocacy team, lodges a landmark complaint against the World Bank for its investment in Lonmin Platinum Mine. A study of friendship and of leadership and the battle for social justice in modern South Africa, how will these two women make their voices heard to affect real change?



Director; Arthur Pratt, Sierra Leone

Through the lens of Sierra Leonean filmmakers, Survivors presents a heart-connected portrait of the Ebola outbreak, exploring the complexity of the epidemic and the socio-political turmoil that lies in its wake. The film chronicles the remarkable stories of the Sierra Leonean first responders – including an ambulance driver and a nurse, during what is now widely regarded as the most acute public health crisis of the modern era. It is a revealing the story of the local heroes who helped bring the epidemic under control.


The Opening speech of Good Pitch Kenya will be delivered by Hadeel Ibrahim, the Executive Director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

The Moderator will be Nancy Kacungira, now with the BBC.


So what happens next?

The day after the live event, GP are scheduling a private, two-hour Good Pitch Post Pitch Summit of 15-20 persons per film project.

The goal is to view additional material from the film, hear more about the film subjects and their journey, share how the film might be able to serve the movement, brainstorm distribution and campaign strategies then with a key group of stakeholders, create a list of other potential partners, and discuss the possibility of next steps.

See why I say this is exciting?



The global Good Pitch programme in partnership with Ford Foundation and the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program brings Good Pitch2 to Kenya (GP Ke) and East Africa for the first time on October 8.GP Ke is hosted by Docubox, the only East African Documentary Film Fund based in Nairobi.

Further details are as noted below:

GoodPitch2 Kenya LiveEvent

Date: Saturday 8th October 2016

Time: 09.00 –17.30,with a cocktail reception to follow until 19.00

Venue:Kenya National Theatre, Harry Thuku Road Nairobi


Among the attendees are:

Acumen East Africa, Africa Uncensored, Afridocs, Aga Khan Foundation, AGRA, American Jewish World Service, Amnesty International, Amnesty Kenya, AMREF Health Africa, Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) amongst many others.


In Kenya so far over 30 organizations and over 300 individuals have confirmed participation. Another beauty is that the following day after Good Pitch Kenya ie. on Sunday the 9th , a day after Good Pitch there shall also be Good Pitch OPEN HOUSE, A British Council Hustle to be held at Shalom House from 3.00pm to 6.30pm. An invites only (unfortunately) meeting between Funding organization and philanthropists with interested parties that will include filmmakers and other creatives.


I will end this by congratulating and wishing all the participants the very best in the film-making process. We need to see more Kenyan and African stories out there 🙂


To get a flavor of what Good Pitch does, watch our trailer.

Find out more about Good Pitch: goodpitch.org.

What’s the impact?  Take a look at our review!