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Use design thinking to redesign your career

Friday, March 3, 2017  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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By Grace Woo

Design thinking is a hot concept in the Silicon Valley, used by startups to make sure they design products customers want to buy. An interesting book, Design Your Life, by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans of the renowned Stanford University design school, shows how to use this concept in your life.

If you’ve heard about iterating, prototyping, failing fast and failing often, then you have a fairly good understanding of design thinking. Startups talk to potential customers to understand their needs and quickly design and redesign products, getting customer feedback along the way. These companies keep redesigning until they hit on a version that resonates with their potential customers.

Can design thinking help women advance their careers?

There are certain life junctures when we must choose what kind of career we want. When we graduate from college. When we are laid off. Or when we want to pursue something we are passionate about or spend more time with our family.

While we may appreciate our talents and passion, we may be unsure who will be interested in those traits in the workplace. So we keep doing what we did in the past, even though it doesn't feel exactly right.

This is where design thinking can help. Design thinking helps you visualize various possibilities for your life and career. Design thinking gives you guidance on how to take small and meaningful steps to test a career idea by talking to people in the workplace. Design thinking helps us dream big, while staying 100-percent grounded in reality.

Design thinking is about changing your mindset and the way you view your career as a journey. Here are three considerations to apply design thinking to your career.

Stop believing there is one perfect career for your whole life.

My father and my uncle both bucked tradition and quit their high-paying jobs to start new careers in their 40s. As we live longer, we work longer. In our 40-to 50-year career span, we will have at least two or three radically different careers. President Reagan was an actor turned politician. Bill Gates was a CEO before he was a philanthropist. Martha Stewart was a stockbroker before she started her beauty-home-media empire. My family was the norm, not the exception.

Not all your future dreams will come true. That’s okay.

According to happiness expert Dan Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, our assumptions about what will make us happy in the future are often wrong. We often misjudge how we will feel in the future because we forget that the "us" in 2022 will different from the "us" in 2017. Your future self may not want to do what your present self is working toward, so goals may fall by the wayside. Or, your “dream job” may not be your dream when you achieve it.  A couple of weeks ago, I got the idea that eating three croissants in a row will make me very happy, and I went ahead and did that. Needless to say, I felt sick on the train ride home that evening. Gilbert is right. I am terrible at predicting what makes me happy.

Big dreams are only realized with small steps.

We’re constantly reminded of the “the power of positive thinking.” We’re told that visualizing our success — getting that dream job — will move us closer to our goal. Professor Gabriela Oettingen at the NYU took this idea for a test, and her research results were surprising. She discovered that dreaming about an awesome future often makes us paralyzed with fear and unable to move. Luckily, she has an antidote: We should WOOP our life.

Here’s Oettigen’s four-step WOOP mental strategy:

What’s your plan? Pick a wish that feels challenging but that you can reasonably fulfill within the next four weeks.

What’s the best outcome? If your wish is fulfilled, where would that leave you? How would fulfilling your wish make you feel? Identify your best outcome and take a moment to imagine it as fully as you can.

What’s your main inner obstacle? What is it within you that holds you back from fulfilling your wish? It might be an emotion, an irrational belief or a bad habit.

Make a plan. Identify one action or thought to help overcome your main inner obstacle.

Simply put, on top of dreaming big, you should also plan concrete steps to take in the next two or three weeks to move us closer to the dream. Continue to learn, change and plan every two to three weeks. That sounds like iterating life to me!

Grace H. Woo wants to help everyone to robot-proof their career. She serves as director supply chain strategy at McCormick & Company. 

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.


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