Five steps to making change happen this autumn using ‘design thinking’

Love to make genuinely positive, lasting change this autumn? Learn how to use ‘design thinking’ in just five steps. 

The turning season feels a significant time. For people who grew up in the UK, or who have children at school, this means a new term, next size uniforms, supplies for their pencil cases, and early mornings.

It’s also a chance to make a new start, with different teachers, perhaps new subjects and activities and a new dynamic. Clean page. Let’s start from here.

This kind of conditioning is hard to shake off. Almost as strong as The New Year wave of resolutions to change, improve, do things differently, September offers a mini-version of writing a new chapter. So let’s ride the new school year wave and enjoy this new shift. What do you want to do with it?

Five steps to ‘design thinking’ your way to change

One of the approaches that under-pins the career change process I use with my clients is ‘design thinking’. And the key principle of this approach is this very simple statement: start from where you are.

You simply start right here. This is exactly where you need to be to create the next phase. Don’t turn back and regret the things you didn’t do this summer, the people you couldn’t meet, the holidays you didn’t take and the decisions you didn’t make. The time is now. Plant your feet, then look forward.

Are are the five steps to ‘design thinking’ your way to change.

1) Get focused

You’re here and you’re ready. What do you want to focus on? Spend a couple of quiet minutes thinking about what change you’d like to create in your life. It might be a physical change, or a shift in mindset or behaviour. You might want to create a new habit, a different way of looking at your situation, or make a very big change – something more life-altering.

Don’t overthink this – you know intuitively where that nudge to alter things is making itself felt. Listen to yourself honestly. Then simply decide and write it down:

I want to make a change in my…

2) Get purposeful

Now another question. You have your topic, now you need the vital ingredient: motivation. What is this change going to give you? Why is this change so important to you now? This your WHY.

Changing my… will bring me:

These benefits of your change will be the fuel that keeps you going when things get tough and the initial glow of determination starts to pale. These are the longer term benefits that are worth changing things for.

3) Get practical

With your focus established and your clear and powerful motivation in hand, you’re ready to roll up your sleeves. HOW can you make this change happen?

A good place to start is with a mind-map. Take out a clean sheet of paper and your preferred pens, pencils, crayons or paint. Place your topic at the centre of your page and ‘download’ all your ideas about how you can make this work. If you get stuck, think about who can help, where you can research, and what more you need to know.

I find this process works best when you are physically working with a piece of paper and pens – I like a large board or flip-chart, but a piece of A4 also works.

As the picture builds, I love a post-it on flip-chart approach because it offers lots of scope for moving things around.

Some of you will probably prefer doing this on your laptop or design app. Whatever allows for a free-flow of ideas is going to work!

But this is the vital rule: no filters allowed.

Get all your ideas, options, ways forward onto the page. Block out the inner voices telling you ‘It won’t work,’ ‘you can’t do that’….. Don’t listen, simply capture everything and give it space on the page.

4) Get systematic

So you now have a very full sheet of ideas and ways forward – ways you can bring your topic to life. Now is the time to turn up the volume on your motivations and your intuition – your guides for building a plan.

Let’s start with the end point. Write down what you want to have done and by when. For example I might say:

By the end of September I will have planned out and tested my new Transitions retreat.

>> A word of warning here: you need to keep the actions and timeline realistic. It should be a bit of a stretch but not too much. Don’t make it too easy to give up. Don’t sabotage yourself. Because we’re talking short-term planning here, it needs to be something you know you can attain with work and conviction.

Now go back to your ideas sheet and:

  1. Circle (or group) the things that excite you, that light you up and energise you.
  2. Underline (or group) the things that you really want, but which frighten you a little.
  3. Identify the things which are necessary and you can do, but aren’t especially energising or exciting.

Put an * against the things from any category that you can start today. Then look at what’s left. Why are they left on the page?

Have your inner critics ruled these out because that doubting voice is telling you the story that you’re not clever/strong/important enough for these ideas? In this case, look again. Be brave and put them in one of your categories.

Or are these the things that you don’t really want and you’re happy to leave there? That’s fine. But don’t kid yourself that you don’t want them if the truth is actually that you don’t think you can attain them. Thinking this will seal the deal – you’ll prove yourself right! Note that this is different from the goal-setting I described earlier, where timeframe plays a part in what is possible.

The golden rule: Ask for what you want, not what you think you can get.

Stretch is good! That’s where change happens.

5) Get started

Give your autumn project a name. Create a plan by starting with just three things – more than this can create a feeling of overwhelm. You can go back to your Ideas Sheet and ABC lists when you’ve worked through your first three ideas.

Choose one from each category:

  • A – exciting and energising.
  • B – bit scary but compelling.
  • C – necessary but not exciting.

Make sure one of these is a *start today item.

You now have three steps. Add a start date and completion date to each. Next create or download your project sheet. I suggest you include:

  • Project name.
  • End goal (for example, by the end of September I will have planned and tested my Transitions retreat).
  • Its benefits – what will it give you.
  • First three steps and dates.
  • A buddy – who will you share this idea with? A close friend, partner, another member of a forum or group, your coach? Just saying it out loud makes it so much more likely to happen.

So now you have a clearly defined process to make that change. Don’t hesitate. Go!

Becky Kilsby is a career change specialist and founder at Freestyle Careers. Her Career Change Programmes and resources are designed to help dissatisfied professionals explore, design and create more fulfilling lives.

Photo by Gaelle Marcel