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Rebroadcast: Empathy as a Force-Multiplier with Ryan Pintado-Vertner

Ryan Pintado Vertner is founder of Smoketown, and a brand strategy expert. We had him on the Mission Forward podcast a year ago, but his message is as powerful today as it was then. It is one of our favorite episodes and we’re glad to be able to serve it back up to you today as a part of our summer session.

It was his experience in the consumer packaged goods industry that taught our guest this week how to channel his empathy. He found it by way of the institution’s appreciation for Design Thinking in product development. “One of the things that you do in design thinking very explicitly is that you obsess over the problem that you’re solving in people’s lives. … They name that empathy.”

For Ryan Pintado-Vertner, that experience connected a new vernacular to something he’d known all along. Empathy — that sensitivity to others’ experience — described both his expertise in product development and his desire to change the world through his activism.

And thus, Smoketown, LLC was born. The name? A callback to Louisville’s oldest African-American neighborhood founded by emancipated slaves after the Civil War. To Pintado-Vertner and team, “it represents extraordinary potential hiding in plain sight.”

This week’s show goes straight to the heart of the dynamics in entrenched business processes that serve to stifle innovation through diversity and limit opportunities for marginalized communities. The opportunity, says Pintado-Vertner, lies in demography.

“They are more likely to lean into progressive expectations for how the economy should work better,” he says of recent generations. “What that means for us, how we think about this moment, is that this is not a moment at all. It is a building up of increasing power and influence of generations who do not share our expectations of the corporations they interact with; what we’re seeing right now is simply going to accelerate.”

Smoketown is an incredible operation with a powerful team shepherding its legacy. Ryan’s insights on that legacy and the historical events that shape our collective outlook today make him the perfect guest to take on such challenging conversations.

Links & Notes

  • (00:00) – Welcome to Mission Forward
  • (21:05) – The Black Recession
This season, we are taking you on a journey to meet ten people influencing and shaping how we communicate at scale for social change. From advertising executives to coalition directors, news editors, campaign managers, and authors, they’re all people who are shaping and challenging the deep power of communication. If you’re working to become a more inclusive and thoughtful communicator, there’s nothing holding you back—except you.
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