How to apply design thinking principles for your career success

Applying design thinking principles for career success: a roadmap

The idea of “building a career” can seem arduous and at times overwhelming. It’s emotionally-driven yet logically fueled which requires more sophisticated self-reflection than we all have time for.

Solution: Why not shift a few of the design thinking principles that you apply to your work to your career planning?

In a business realm, the design thinking process is used when attempting to solve what is referred to as a ‘wicked problem’. This is usually an ill-defined problem, where both the problem and the solution are vague.

This is synonymous with challenges faced when one plunges into long-term career planning. Perhaps you’re just looking to “see what’s out there” or maybe you’re seeking a more pragmatic framework to embark on meaningful introspection. Either way, these are the type of problems that design thinking can solve:

The design thinking career roadmap:

Empathise: understand your “audience”.

Action points: Think critically about who and what your job impacts? Who is on the receiving end of your decisions?

  • Are you the primary breadwinner at home?
  • Do you have a mortgage and 3 kids?
  • A sick parent to care for?
  • Is work/life balance, your ultimate goal?

Understanding your parameters/influences can help you build a solid foundation to kick off your design sprint. In my personal experience, this has always been the hardest part. It’s complex and most times a taxing exercise that deludes people into inaction.

Define: what is the problem you’re trying to solve?

Action Points: Define the problem.

  • What is it that you are trying to solve?
  • Do you hate the 9-5? Are you not a morning person?
  • Do you have a bad boss? Toxic culture? Low salary? Lack of progression opportunities?
  • Is it even your current job that’s causing the problem?

I have spoken to many people who have had great jobs but have disengaged because of a lack of passion or purpose in their work. If this is the case, then define what gets you out of bed in the morning and truly drives you, which leads me to my favourite phase — IDEATE!

Ideate: brainstorm and come up with creative solutions

Action Points: think, think more and then some more.

  • Brainstorm. What are your ideas?
  • Write it all down, the avant-garde, the ridiculous, the bizarre, the ugly, the insignificant.

Maybe you want to start your own business, work overseas, be the CEO of a company, run away with the circus, start a food truck, be a yoga teacher.

Do it without self-judgement and with confidence. Remember this is the process of applying divergent thinking followed by convergent thinking. So, think far, think wide.

Prototype: build a model of your idea to seek feedback

Action Points: this is basically building a representation of your ideas.

  • Reach out to your network – reach out to old managers, old colleagues, connect with peers in your market, speak to friends and family, speak to recruiters, sign up to any local/relevant meet-ups, approach people and ask them for their opinion, set up coffees with them. (Remember: The worse thing that can happen is them saying no to you).
  • Prepare for your coffee meetings by writing down your ideas and areas you need guidance with.
  • Share your ideas and ask for specific feedback from every angle.

Receiving unfavourable feedback at the ‘prototyping’ stage is better than getting to the testing phase and making mistakes that could’ve been avoided through effective prototyping.

Test: Take your idea to market

Action Points: This is the stage where you set out to try your best idea.

  • You can start slow by upskilling in your current role
  • You could try an internship or volunteer in your own time to acquire expert skills
  • Take up a course with the likes of GA or Academy Xi, or online with Gymnasium
  • You could just go to market with your skill set and by religiously following these design thinking principles score yourself a sweet little gig in your new field!

Either way, this will ensure real-time feedback providing you with a platform to assess whether you have solved the problem you set out to solve.

YES? BRILLIANT. NO? Then back to ideating and prototyping until you find a solution that does!

Design, design — it’s a sign!

Thanks to the significant success of design-led teams, communities and companies, it has now progressed beyond the creation of objects to being applied as a science that informs strategic development and change. So, why not implement it at a personal level to design your career, wider thinking and decision making? You never know where else it could lead you.

After all, as William McDonough said

Design is the first signal of human intention.


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