The Real Reason You Aren't Making That Career Transition
Design Your Career: Defining the Challenge

Using Design Thinking to Craft Your Career: An Introduction


"Design thinking is about believing we can make a difference and having an intentional process in order to get to new, relevant solutions that create positive impact. 

Design thinking gives you faith in your creative abilities and a process for transforming challenges into opportunities for design. . .

. . . design thinking is the confidence that new, better things are possible and that you can make them happen." --Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit


In the past year or so, I've been exploring and writing about career resilience--the patterns of behavior we need to cultivate to deal with uncertainty in our lives, both at work and at home. It's been apparent to me that we need a new framework and mindset for how we approach our own career development, especially in an economy that is changing so quickly and not always for the better.

While working on my Youth Entrepreneurship project, I came across this fantastic Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit and something clicked. 

What our careers need is design thinking. 

Design thinking is a mindset--a systematic process and approach that we can apply to all of the places in our lives where we want to create positive change, including our careers. Once learned, you can use it repeatedly to continually address challenges and find new opportunities.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I want to walk through how we can apply design thinking to the overall career process, as well as in dealing with specific career issues. 

Today I'm going to start with an introduction to the process and some of the key principles. 

Key Design Principles

Let's start with some key design principles. These are drawn  from the Toolkit, adapted for thinking about your career.

Design thinking is Human-centered

Design thinking begins with deep empathy and understanding of people's needs and motivations. From a career perspective, this means gaining deep empathy and understanding of YOUR needs and motivations, as well as the needs and motivations of the key people in your life. This can include colleagues, of course, but also significant others, children, etc. 

You will feel the greatest satisfaction and fulfillment when you design a career that starts with your humanity--what works for YOU, as a whole human being who has not only economic needs, but also emotional and intellectual needs, important values, etc.

Design thinking is Collaborative

Success in today's economy depends on our ability to be collaborative. Multiple perspectives and the creativity of other people can open us up to opportunities we may never have considered. From a career perspective, this not only helps us build the Connecting pattern of career resilience, it also helps us develop more robust solutions to our career challenges. 

Design Thinking is Optimistic

At the heart of design thinking is a fundamenal belief that we can create change. No matter what constraints exist, there are solutions. They may not be easy (although many times they are easier than we think) and they may take some time, but we CAN create the change we need and want. 

Design Thinking is Experimental

I am a huge believer in the experimental approach to your life and career. The best way to find out if something is going to work for you is to try it out. The design process is all about devising experiments, testing things out, taking risks and letting yourself fail so you can learn from the process. 

Careers are not straight lines--they are iterative and evolving. Experimentation helps us learn by doing and gives us a way to incorporate our learning into our next steps. 

The Design Process

Now let's get into the Design process. As outlined in the Educator's Toolkit, it consists of 5 phases with associated action steps for each phase, as summarized in the image below:


Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 8.03.05 AM



Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 9.34.30 AM
1. Discovery

I have a challenge. How do I approach it?

From a career perspective, the Discover phase is when we begin to articulate our issue. It may be that we're in a period of transition--we've just graduated or we've been laid off. Or we recognize that we are dissatisfied or ready for new challenges. 

The Discovery phase is when we begin to define our issue, do some research and gather inspiration for what we want to create. 


Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 9.35.16 AM2. Interpretation

I learned something. How do I interpret it?


In this phase, we are looking at the information we've gathered in the Discovery phase and seeing what stories that information tells us--what is the meaning and what opportunities can we explore? 

We are beginning to see themes that may emerge in terms of what we want to create or things that are important to us. We start to get a sense of where we may need to create some career experiments to continue our exploration and learning. 


Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 9.35.50 AM3. Ideation

I see an opportunity. What do I create? 


Here, we are brainstorming possibilities. What is it that we want to explore further and how can we explore it? 

If we are seeing that career change may be in our future, we consider various ways to "try out" a new career. If we identify that we need new challenges, we may come up with potential strategies for bringing more challenge into our work. 


Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 9.36.24 AM4. Experimentation

I have an idea. How do I build it?


Now we're looking at ways to test out our ideas. What experiments can we set up to see what does and doesn't work for us? How can we build in a process for feedback and reflection to learn from these new experiments? 


Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 9.54.56 AM5. Evolution

I tried something new. How do I evolve it?

This is where we reflect on what we've learned in the experimentation phase and look for ways to evolve our ideas.

Often we end up back in the Discovery phase where we are learning new things about ourselves and about our opportunities and we look to incorporate this knowledge to tell new stories and come up with new experiments. 


Next Steps

The design process begins with defining the challenge--what is the specific problem or issue we want to work on? In my next post on this process, we're going to dig into how to define the challenge in ways that can help us keep focused and engaged. 

In the meantime, I want to leave you with some key thoughts on design thinking and your career:

  • You are a designer of your career. If you become more intentional about using design thinking, you will be better positioned to CREATE your career, rather than responding to external circumstances. 
  • To learn, you will need to step out of your comfort zone. You cannot create your career if you insist on remaining in your comfort zone. You need to step outside of your current routines and your current networks if you truly want to move forward. 
  • Start thinking "What if?" instead of "What's wrong?" Problems are really opportunities in disguise. But when we're focused on "what's wrong," we are not in the optimistic, positive space for real problem-solving. When you find yourself focused on the "problems," start reminding yourself to reframe so you search for possibilities. 
  • Embrace your beginner's mind--Be willing to make mistakes and to be OK with not having the "right" answer. Let yourself live in the mess a little, rather than always looking for certainty and "direction." 

Remember, design thinking is all about a mindset. It's something we can learn and cultivate and in doing so, we bring new possibilities and opportunities into our lives. 


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Great Article. I'm reading a number of books on design thinking in relation to elearning and instructional design as well as other areas. I didn't include that thinking in regards to career development (duh duh) I'm going to look into it

Love your posts.


Thanks, Mireille--I too had a "duh" moment about this--makes so much sense and the people I know who seem to be doing better in their careers have much more of this design approach. It will be interesting to play it out in these posts and to see people's responses. . .

Thank you Michelle for your blog entries and your work and insights around career resilience. The organisation I work for has recently undergone a restructure and I have become Assistant Manager and lead a small team of people. When I read your entry about the resource Design Thinking for Educators I found that I could use some of the ideas and apply them with our team. I also combined some Design Thinking ideas with Appreciative Inquiry to run our first planning day. It is early days yet but I am finding that I keep going back to this resource to help with the planning of the next stage of team development and strategic planning.

I notice that Mireille above mentioned that she is reading some design thinking resources. I would be interested in finding out the names of other resources around design thinking, particularly around building teams and strategic planning.

Once again, thanks for your work. I find it provides me with inspiration and ideas in a time where my work is uncertain and constantly changing.

Thanks for the great comment, Maryanne--I love to hear that what I write about here is helpful in such a deep way for others. And I LOVE that you're combining design thinking with Appreciative Inquiry, which is one of my favorite ways to work. I will share some other design thinking resources that I've used, although I will say that I haven't run across things that are specifically about using design thinking for team development and strategic planning. I find that I'm using what's out there adapted for my own uses. Keep me posted on how things go!

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