Diabetes Diagnosis Changes Family Dynamics

Empathy for Eric and His Family

“Mom, I’m not taking this note to my teacher,” ten-year-old Eric protested, while Karla shoved stuff into his backpack. “But Eric, your teacher needs to know these details about your blood sugar.” He grabbed his backpack and hollered, “Don’t send anymore notes to my teacher.” The door slammed shut.

Twelve-year-old Emily rushed into the kitchen and asked for her band shirt. Karla slapped her hand to her forehead, “Oh darn, I forgot to put it in the dryer. I’m sorry! I’ll bring it to school before the concert.” Emily burst into tears, “You ruin everything! I was going to hang out with Marissa before the concert. I don’t want to meet up with you.”

Karla reached to hug her, but Emily wrestled away and screamed, “If you weren’t always obsessing with Eric’s diabetes, maybe you could keep track of what I need.” The sweet smell of Emily’s shampoo lingered in the air after she flung her mane and turned away. The door slammed, again.

Karla sunk into a chair and scanned the kitchen. She saw the three-ring binder with activity, diet, blood sugar, and insulin charts … and the blood sugar kit sitting on the counter. Eric’s weekly meal plan took center stage on the fridge. It dawned on her that his diabetes had become the focal point of her life. She put her head in her hands for a few, reflective moments, then sighed and returned to her chores. “First thing is to get Emily’s shirt dry.”

Later, Karla got a call from the principal. Eric had gotten into a fight during recess with his friend, Nick, who didn’t want Eric on their kickball team. Eric got mad and pushed Nick down after Nick said, “You can’t run fast anymore because of you have diabetes.” The principal asked if she and Dave could come in for a meeting with Eric’s teacher and the school counselor.

During the meeting, Karla and Dave learned more about what happened on the playground. Nick had overheard his mom saying that Karla was really worried that Eric might overexert himself in sports and have a diabetes reaction. Nick thought that that meant that Eric could no longer be their best base runner.

After the meeting, Karla and Dave stopped for a cup of coffee. Gently, Dave took her hand in his, “Karen, you need to lighten up. You call the school every day. We haven’t had a ‘date’ in ages and the rare times we socialize, all you talk about is Eric’s diabetes. Our friends don’t care about these details. Let me help. We need to be a team.”

Karla squeezed his hand as her eyes welled up, “You’re right. I guess this has taken over my life. I’m just so worried about Eric. There is so much to learn and manage.” Dave said, “Well, we aren’t the first family who’s dealt with this. There must be some resources that can help us?” Karla nodded, “I’ll look into it tomorrow.”

Empathy Stories Enrich Ideation

Readers sparked to the story, Stroke Shattered Their Retirement Dreams, in my March 2019 post and how empathy stories from users enable Design Thinking, a human-centered approach to innovation. In response to popular demand, I’m sharing another user story, plus a few story-based techniques that can enhance another phase of innovation: ideation.

Empathy Stories

A range of stories and story exercises can help a team unearth powerful ideas and insights to solve problems. For example, company stories, user stories, or your own tales from work and life can trigger a team to think differently. Fiction, fairy tales, and fables tap into universal experiences and provide lessons that reflect our shared humanity. These stories impart wisdom, inspiration, and universal truths. They spark ideas that have emotional context and scalable insights. Try opening an ideation session with a relevant and compelling tale. You can have participants read it together out loud, have one participant narrate, or have everyone read it silently. Or try sharing it using your own storytelling skills.

Campfire Story Circles 

FDR recognized the intimacy of fireside chats to connect with people. I like to create the mood and environment of a campfire: relaxed, warm, comfortable, trusting, organic with a technique called Campfire Story Circles. In this setting, ideation participants feel freer to share their stories and give witness to other people’s stories. Simulating a campfire’s spontaneous energy, this technique gets ideas flowing. Dim the lights and throw kindling on the fire with a relatable story or a story prompt. Stories beget stories—soon they will flow naturally. Allow unstructured, campfire-style story sharing in small groups for 10-20 minutes. Then lead an idea-generating exercise with post-its, flip chart paper, or a worksheet to capture the ideas that surface after this story sharing experience.

Applications for Eric’s Story

Just like the stroke story, this tale reveals how a health crisis triggers changes that affect a whole family. It was used in training an insurance company’s marketing team to think differently about their communications and programming. They brainstormed endings to this story in which the company offered programs and services to help family’s like Eric’s move through this crisis. A build on this approach is to have the team select 5 to 10 of the most intriguing ideas and write stories that express the lead ideas through characters and plots. Also, Eric’s story could inspire innovation in other settings:

  • Health care providers gain more sensitivity to the emotional needs of their patients and adjust their approach to counseling and education
  • A medical device company could brainstorm new technology solutions for children athletes with diabetes
  • A fitness company might invent cool gadgets to help Eric and his mom track his critical biometrics in a fun, virtual and private way
  • A wellness company could provide holistic solutions to help the whole family cope with this change in their life.

How does Eric’s story help you imagine his and his family’s needs? Do you think beyond the technical and practical solutions? Did you surprise yourself with any novel ideas?

P.S.  Three years ago, I began the journey to write a book, Once Upon an Innovation. Along the way, Mimi Sherlock joined me in this adventure. In March, we completed the writing phase. As we start the next chapter of editing and production, we are celebrating by offering the above excerpts from the book. It will be a professional resource guide for professionals involved in innovation, creative problem solving, change management, and business storytelling. More to come …


Leave a Comment