5 Lessons On Embracing Humanity In Business

Dec 07, 2018 1 Min Read

2018 has definitely been the Year of the Human.

This year, the research, analytics, and insights space became obsessed with all things human. The topic was at the core of almost every industry conference.

Thought leaders and major players throughout the industry seemed to focus on the importance of the human element. Finally, right?!  AI and human, we have arrived!

Now that the importance of approaching data with a sense of humanity has become fashionable, the question of what exactly does it means to be human in business is the next open question missing in headlines and podcasts alike.

Even though I consider myself to be a student of human behaviour like most data and insight professionals, I had some particularly good reminders or lessons on humanity recently.

In sharing these with you, my hope is that we can all be inspired to find the human element in every business interaction or situation.

Lesson 1: Find Ways to Connect Authentically 

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) recently hosted an event in SoCal which I attended. 

Tracy Owens, SVP of New Member Acquisition was also going to be there. We had not seen each other in over six years. Yet, we picked up instantly where we’d left off as if it had only been six days and not six years. How did that happen?

After some reflection, I concluded that starting relationships authentically as we had done years ago as two professionals bonding over shared challenges, struggles, successes, and victories was the key. We had started a deeper, more human relationship six years ago.

What was the lesson here? 

Deposit a bit of authenticity in every relationship you form, whether or not there is a transactional value involved.


Pick up the phone to call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while just to say “Hello, I was thinking of you, how are you?”

This is not a strategic decision. It’s a human decision. It’s simple. It’s beautiful.

Lesson 2: Centre Your Business Around Putting Humans First 

At the same ANA event, there was a fascinating case study presented by Del Taco’s chief marketing officer (CMO), Barry Westrum.

A recent brand refresh campaign was based on the idea of “Celebrating the Hardest Working Hands in Fast Food” and featured their everyday employees. The spot was cute. But also real. 

I’m positive that the creative process was not easy. They most likely had hours of debate on measuring the ROI of a non-traditional creative decision to showcase the average employee.

The result?

Westrum shared that customers not only embraced the concept of seeing real human beings in the campaign, but went as far as tweeting directly using custom hashtags named after the employees.


The bigger lesson here is this:

Have the courage to break the rules and put people first. It is actually a real driver of business success.

Lesson 3: Take Every Opportunity to Experience Humanity

The following week, I was at the Insights Association’s Leadership Conference in sunny San Diego. On the train ride, I serendipitously ran into Karen Morgan, President of Morgan Search

Our journey included a huge trail derailment, an Uber driver that refused to take us all the way, and several hours of heart-to-heart discussions about the future of the insights industry, the role of women in business, the importance of company culture, and the vulnerability of good leaders.

Despite the fact that Karen and I have known each other for over 15 years, we’d almost exclusively spoken only about business before this trip.

This train ride was the perfect opportunity to connect on a human level and get to know each other in a completely different way.

The lesson here?

Don’t be shy about showing your vulnerability or humanity to others.


This includes the fears and dreams of the child within, which by the way, is yet another universal human quality.

Lesson 4: Embrace Your Core Human Values 

As always, the Insights Association featured a vast array of fascinating presentations on AI, tech, diversity, blockchain, sales, and how they all impact the MR industry and beyond. But there was one presentation that truly stayed with me long after the event was over.

It was about red shoes. 

Lonnie Mayne is the chief executive (CEO) of Red Shoes Living, an organisation dedicated to helping others live their lives in a way that stands out rather than fitting in. 

The entire audience, leaning forward, rapt with attention, was seeing Lonnie strike chord after chord from that stage with this super human message.

As businesspeople, we often fixate on the bottom line and business outcome. It’s always KPIs, ROIs, IPOs, EBITDAs, or insert your favourite acronym du jour.

But how often do we really focus on having:

  1. awareness,
  2. gratitude,
  3. hearing everyone’s story,
  4. showing respect and kindness, or
  5. putting ourselves out there?

These are Lonnie’s Five Pillars and they reflect human-centric values that serve as keys to a different level of leadership and success.

Big lesson here:

No matter how rough things get in the negotiations, war rooms, office politics, promotion races, and fiery competitive battles, don’t forget that we’re all human and we all work on the common platform of being human.

Lesson 5: Genuinely Invest in the Human Connection 

My last reminder was at a client appreciation and networking event hosted by my company, Imagine If Research & Insights recently in San Francisco. The inspiration for this event was to spend time with our clients outside of deadlines, projects, presentations, and work.

We made a point to avoid any sales pitches or transactional expectations and just focused on the human aspect of our relationship.

As the head of a growing agency, I would typically think about the ROI. The result was an out-of-the-ordinary evening that created new friendships as our clients met each other, bonded, laughed, shared past experiences and arrived at new insights all of which we hope will fuel powerful personal growth for a long time.

There was love in the room that night. As the head of the agency, for me, the ROI for that event was priceless.

The final lesson I want to share is this:

Invest in people first. Invest personally, fully, and genuinely in people. It’s always the right choice.

What About You? 

When was the last time you felt truly in-touch with the humanity in your colleagues, your clients, and in yourself?

By tapping into our humanity inside and outside of business, we can access not only more fulfilling careers, but more fulfilled lives. 

Let’s connect, human to human.


Susan Petoyan is the founder and CEO of Imagine If Research and Insights. Previously VP of Strategy Research and Insights at Walt Disney Company, Susan has spent 20 years using data-driven business strategies to champion positive change for the world’s top brands and their customers.

Reposted with permission.

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This article is published by the editors of Leaderonomics.com with the consent of the guest author. 

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