Virtual Reality: Coming Soon to an Experience Near You – Part 2

Posted on 11th April 2017


Welcome to the Business Empathy Forum and thank you for your visit. In this post I would like to continue exploring advances in virtual reality, with a focus on VR’s potential for supporting and enhancing innovation. A recent article from provides interesting background on this growing trend.

Supporting the Innovation Process

A critical element of successful innovation is the ‘Discovery’ phase, which focuses on discovering client needs and the underlying causes of their needs and challenges. This phase is where genuine innovation begins, as we build a clearer perception of a need or a lack in the marketplace. The Discovery phase is indeed about perception: observing, asking questions, and listening and probing in order to gain as much insight as possible into what the client is looking for. It is during this critical exploratory phase of the innovation process that the imaginative use of VR technology is making its impact felt.

“VR can also help business grasp what life is really like for the people they serve, building their effectiveness in meeting their needs. Designer tools like behavioral studies, user interviews, and ethnographic research, while powerful, can miss key insights on people’s pain points. They’re also only used by designers. Perspective-based VR can bridge this gap. In an effort to improve bedside manner, doctors in the UK were immersed in the perspective of a patient entering the emergency room. They were shocked by the effect of seeing their own unfeeling body language.”

The potential for virtual reality technologies to support innovation in business and even in government is enormous. “Imagine if Pampers could tap VR to allow all its employees to walk through a day in the life of a single mother of a newborn. Or if White House Presidential Innovation Fellows supporting the Department of Veterans Affairs could immerse themselves in the struggles of life as a vet with disabilities. How about health care companies that actually experience the constant interruptions of life as a Type-1 diabetic? The egocentric executive in the corner office might not listen to what designers tell him, but we’d bet he’d be willing to dive into a virtual experience.”

But caution is warranted. A powerful new tool used to build understanding and serve humanity may also be used for manipulative or evil ends, as we have seen with the Internet and mobile technology. The fact is our brains process the immersive experiences of virtual or augmented reality in a way that is quite different from our consumption of traditional media: with VR and AR, the sensation of presence becomes a memory, which actually gives it the potential to change our values and behavior. This presents great possibilities for good, yet offers tremendous scope for manipulation as well: Hollywood pointed this out to us with The Matrix films. So let us be optimistic about VR, but vigilant.

Good luck, and until next time…