In 2009, my law career stalled. I was burned out and ready to make a professional change, but I had no idea where to start or what my next step should be. Should I continue to practice law, but in a different setting or practice area? Should I start my own business, and if so, doing what? One of the most important aspects of resilience involves developing a flexible way of thinking about challenge and adversity and being able to solve problems in an accurate way. Design thinking is a type of innovation methodology – a problem solving process to help you generate options, test strategies, and get feedback so that you can develop something (often applied to facilitate the creation of new products or processes). As I discovered, design thinking is also a great tool to help you get unstuck and problem solve life’s biggest challenges. Design thinking can help you craft a more meaningful life, create the type of relationships you want after a divorce or breakup, or open up new pathways for you at work. Here is how I used design thinking to help me identify a new career (and save lots of time and money in the process):
- Observe. If you were going to design a new product, you would first learn all about the end-user to identify pain points and patterns of behavior. In my application of design thinking, the end-user is you, and you have some work to do.
- Define the problem. What is the exact problem you’re trying to solve? This is an important question because you can lose years working on the wrong problem. The trick to uncovering the right problem is to think like a beginner and get curious.
- Reframe counterproductive thinking. Your automatic negative thoughts (“ANTs”) about stress can cause you to miss critical information. As a result, you need to be able to quickly reframe ANTs in order to think more flexibly and accurately.
- Cut yourself some slack. Self-compassion involves being kind to yourself, getting support from others, and taking a balanced approach to your emotions.
- Ideate. Too often, people get stuck chasing their first idea or trying to find one perfect idea or solution to a problem, which rarely works. My first idea was to become a pastry chef. I was so certain of it, in fact, that I applied to pastry school in New York and told my boss that I was quitting. Thankfully I had the sense to do an internship for a week only to realize that I hated it – hated every minute of it.
- Rapid Prototyping. Take your ideas and conduct small experiments. Prototypes should be designed to get some data about what you’re interested in so you can visualize alternatives in a very experiential way. Most importantly, prototypes allow you to try and fail rapidly. The easiest form of prototyping is a conversation.
- Feedback & Iteration. What did you learn from your small experiments? What worked? What didn’t? Do you need to have additional conversations with anyone or take additional action steps? Take that information and make changes to your prototypes as necessary until you fine tune your solutions.
- Implementation. Once you have validated the utility of your solution, it’s time to act. In my case, I applied to the positive psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania and was accepted.