I draw on a number of design thinking principles in my workshops and coaching programs. It’s a big trend and I find it a remarkably useful way to develop ideas and get projects off the ground.

And if you’re planning a career change, or a shift towards retirement, or any big change, it’s interesting to think of your research and experiments this way, too. Design thinkers look at opportunities or problems through a designer’s lens, seeing ways to develop their ideas through questions and experiments in the real world, adapting on the run, discarding things that don’t work and pushing further with things that show promise. Tim Brown, Chair and co-CEO of IDEO and a world leader in this area, believes innovations don’t come from small tweaks and little improvements, but demand creative questioning and entirely new directions. This also relates to life changes,  because you’re working out how best to design your new future, so you need to be open to new directions. You are both the designer and the subject of the design.

The central methodology in design thinking revolves about ‘rapid prototypes’, where you put together a working model of your idea, whether it’s a product or a service or a lived experience of your potential future. Prototypes should only be given as much time and effort as is required to get useful feedback and shape your idea. In fact, the rougher the better, because if you polish your idea too much at the early stage, and invest huge effort into testing it, you’re likely to be very invested in the outcome and become quite attached to this possibility, before you know objectively if it’s a goer.

It’s the same with your experiments — do what you need to do so that you can learn from them, but don’t spend weeks crafting one line of investigation. Don’t go too far into the planning, or you may commit to something before you’re ready, and cut off other avenues of research that might have proved more fruitful in the end. If you are thinking of a particular career area, quickly come up with a number of ways you can test your interest – talk to people, do some online research, see if you can shadow someone in the field…

And don’t just test out one idea, but do multiple experiments so you can compare one to the other and perhaps even fuse together the best bits of several work environments. Stay open, curious and flexible. That way you will design a future that’s ideally suited to you.

Joanna Maxwell


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