Did you know, thought leaders around the world, including the current CEOs of both Microsoft and Slack, are focusing on empathy as one of the most critical skills to the business, creativity, and design. In this episode, we speak to Ilana Ben-Ari, an inventor and social entrepreneur who has devoted her life to spreading empathy by developing toys that help to nurture this practice through her business Twenty One Toys.

Over the course of 45 minutes, we cover the role that toys have played in influencing creative geniuses, how engaging in play is a catalyst for fostering creativity and how Ilana managed to package an experience into a product. Often those who originally oppose attending these workshops express how important the work of teaching empathy and creativity is.

Ilana leaves listeners with a final message: To solve the world’s problems, we need more creatives to become entrepreneurs. Listen to this episode at one of the links below to find out how Ilana is making an impact, one toy at a time.

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Key Points from this Episode

How does the Empathy Toy work?

The Empathy Toy is a wooden puzzle that you play blindfolded. Each player has an identical set of seven abstract pieces, and one person has only words to describe each piece while the other recreates it. In less than 20 minutes, both people end up with insights on how they deal with patience, frustration, and creative communication.

Why empathy is important

Empathy, often confused with sympathy, is an action. It is the imaginative act of gaining someone else’s perspective. On a deeper level, it is the ability to anticipate multiple perspectives around a problem. This is important when considering solutions to an issue.

How to increase your level of creative genius

Toys have been proven to impact your level of creativity. The inventor of kindergarten showed how early on, simple toys influence how creative geniuses like Frank Lloyd Wright saw the world. Once, NASA was struggling to hire creative rocket scientists and engineers. Not knowing much about creativity, they enlisted scientists to study divergent thinking. This study found that the removal of play from education immediately and drastically reduces our ability for creativity.


“Empathy is getting this moment because it touches all elements of learning, as well as all elements of creativity and invention. It’s the imaginative act of gaining somebody else’s perspective.” — @ilanabenari[0:04:40]

“Right now, when I put the toy into someone’s hand, I immediately know the impact and the awareness that it brings out. I see it in people’s faces.” — @ilanabenari[0:30:45]

“To tackle the complex problems in the world, we need more creatives and people who have human-centered design at the core of their thinking.” — @ilanabenari[0:34:34]

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode

Ilana Ben-Ari
Ilana Ben-Ari Twitter
Ilana Ben-Ari Instagram
Ilana Ben-Ari LinkedIn
Twenty One Toys
Benjamin Von Wong
Impact Everywhere
Satya Nadella
Stuart Butterfield
Brené Brown
Friedrich Froebel
Frank Lloyd Wright
Buckminster Fuller
Maria Montessori
Sir Ken Robinson
‘Do Schools Kill Creativity?’

Coming Up Next

Tune in next week to hear from Michelle Thaller, a NASA scientist who will tell us all how science and creativity are not as different as we may think. Subscribe here to be sure you don’t miss it!