‘Design Thinking’ in careers

‘Design Thinking’ in careers

Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.”
—Herbert Alexander Simon, Nobel Prize laureate (1969)

Design thinking is a human-centred approach to innovation, the key word being human. In today’s VUCA world, with tremendous disruption to the business and technological environment and the resultant impact on work and careers, we at Kavyata, believe that the Design Thinking paradigm is what we need when it comes to Careers.

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”, says Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO , the global design and innovation company which pioneered Design Thinking.

Let me rephrase the above, applying the Design Thinking approach to Careers.

“Design thinking in careers is a human-centred approach to growth and fulfilment in careers that draws from the toolkit of the self, to integrate one’s needs (emotional, material, professional), the possibilities in the environment and the requirements for self and system success.”

The design thinking cycle involves observation to discover unmet needs within the context and constraints of a particular situation, framing the opportunity and scope of innovation, generating creative ideas, testing and refining solutions.

Now let’s apply this framework to the area of career design.

All great design thinking begins with ‘Discovery’ or observation of unmet needs. When it comes to careers, especially the transition from early career to mid-career, digging deep into oneself -one’s aspirations, needs, hidden potentials, motivations and values, is at the heart of great career design. Often, this step is overlooked, or consciously/unconsciously pushed away, because it appears complex, messy and even scary. How much easier it is for us to advocate design thinking to the outside world, and champion EMPATHY towards unmet needs of the customers, than it is for us to turn that same EMPATHY towards ourselves – allowing ourselves the space, the opportunity to really discover our own unmet needs and aspirations! And if we do pay heed to our unmet needs, do we look at the whole set of them, or only prioritise material and professional needs, while ignoring emotional and growth needs? Needless to say, designing this way sounds more like problem-solving or fixing one’s career woes, rather than mindfully and imaginatively innovating for the future. If you factor in rapid changes in the environment, technology and lifestyle, then the costs of unmindful career design multiply, and may even result in unsatisfactory, unproductive and unsustainable career choices!

Looking at unarticulated aspirations and hidden potentials also lays the ground for framing the opportunity and the scope of innovation – in this context, the possible choices related to careers. This is where imagination and intuition combine with logic to systematically explore possibilities of what could be and to create desired outcomes. This is the core of a human-centred process – BLENDING THE HEART AND HEAD to expansively create possibilities for bringing out the best in oneself. Doing anything less would amount to shortchanging oneself and the system that one is part of. In a transition towards a metaphorical ‘second innings’, symbolising moving from early career to mid-career and beyond, the ‘HEAD’ refers to one’s known abilities, networks, professional accomplishments, responsibilities and commitments, which in a sense create a set of boundary conditions to work with. These boundaries are extremely useful – otherwise there would be an endless set of possibilities and we would be hamstrung by them. Having said that, the boundary conditions need to be treated as just that – conditions and not absolutes. The ‘HEART’ comes into play in opening ourselves to imaginatively and boldly negotiate these conditions and expand our choices.

Experimentation, in the form of generating ideas and testing/refining solutions is a critical component of Design Thinking and so is it with career design. If the thought of plunging into unknown realms when it comes to career, scares us, it is far easier to start one’s experimentation in career, by thinking deeply about what are the different domains of expertise and interests one has and where these different domains intersect/overlap. Starting at the intersection points allows one to experiment quickly, figure out what works/doesn’t work and modify accordingly. One can always step back into one’s circle if the experiments do not work. Chances are though they will work, because being at the intersections, gives one a vantage point and the freedom to spot possibilities which were previously unexplored.

Finally, Design Thinking relies heavily on the power of collective thinking and bringing together networks. Doing this allows one to see simultaneously, the interests of the individual entity and the larger system around – leading to solutions which also work both for the individual entity and the system that it is part of. It is for this very reason that explorations in career and career designing could also be best done collectively, contrary to the prevalent notion of individuals only working with their managers/coaches to craft career paths. The latter approach could lead to solutions which prioritise one set of needs over the other, either the individual’s or the system’s leading to unsustainability. However career design using the power of the collective leads to self-system simultaneity; it is also the approach we are following in our Career Design workshops called URJA, where a group of people in career transition, reflect on the experiences of transition collectively, make meaning of it and then carry away insights and choices for themselves. URJA workshops also embody the other tenets of Design Thinking as stated above.

So are you ready to become designers of your careers?

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Kavita, an alumna of IIM Ahmedabad, brings over 16 years of experience in the domains of Experiential Learning, Adult Learning, Personal Growth & Change and Organization Development.

Kavita has completed her internship in Applied Behavioural Sciences from the Sumedhas Academy for Human Context http://sumedhas.org. She has worked with leading Indian and international companies including Johnson & Johnson India Ltd, Xseed Education, Goldman Sachs and Usha International Ltd. As a facilitator and coach, Kavita brings sharp insights along with a deeply supportive and empathetic style. She has worked with clients across domains, including IT, higher education, social entrepreneurship, development sector and healthcare.

Kavita’s forte is Transition coaching and facilitation. Her work around Transitions is influenced deeply by developmental and social psychologists (such as Robert Kegan, Jean Piaget,  Clare Graves, Suzanne Cook-Greuter etc) and looks at how individuals and collectives (such as organizations) go through stages of development, with associated behaviours, perspectives and challenges.