This is Podcast 86 and it’s about design thinking. I got reintroduced to this concept by Chris Wilson, the founder of Unstuck School, at a workshop he gave recently. He leads a program called Design Your Year that uses many creative ways to define and achieve your goals, one of which is not calling them goals. I just talked about that in podcast 84, about how scary and intimidating goals can be.
One concept he shared with us that I found really interesting is design thinking. Current design thinking is based on stages defined by Herbert Simon. I quoted Simon unknowingly back in podcast 45 when I talked about the idea of satisficing. Satisfice is a portmanteau of the words satisfy and suffice.
It means that people make decisions based on information and resources they have available and that’s good enough. They can’t have all the information and all the resources or use them properly if they did, so they do without. Satisficers are good at limiting their options in order to make effective, timely decisions and take action.
Okay, back to design thinking. The five stages Simon identified are empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. Although they’re called stages, they don’t always happen in order and sometimes they loop around. Each stage informs the others.
The first stage, empathize, is certainly important when I work with clients. To me, it means that I need to get to know what my client values and desires and suggest courses of action based on that. This is the opposite of coming in with a prescribed method and imposing it. Instead of jamming a square peg into a round hole, you discover the shape of the peg, which might not be square OR round, and then carve a hole that fits it.
It also means I strive not to make assumptions about my client’s situation but, as coaches are trained to do, come from a position of curiosity and discovery. That way, my client is free to describe what’s happening without having to define or rationalize it.
But what I want to talk about is how to empathize with yourself. Often, people want to get organized or declutter or be more productive because they see a lack in themselves, or they feel judged by others. While those feelings may motivate you for a bit, they aren’t great for the long run. It involves looking outside yourself for solutions and that’s never going to get you the right solution.
In the design world, if you’re creating a product, for example, you want to approach the issue by finding out what motivates and engages customers instead of developing a product by guesswork and hoping people want it.
Empathy is a great word to use here. When you empathize with yourself, you get out of yourself a bit to observe with compassion. This helps you understand and explain what you feel to someone else. Feeling what you feel is important, but you need to be able to get some objectivity about those feelings in order to express them in a way someone else can understand.
When you empathize with someone else, you try to put yourself into their shoes and experience the world as they do. You see that they have experiences and feelings that are similar to yours, even if you are very different people. Feelings of similarity cause you to want to protect or help others.
With self empathy, you want to help yourself because you have compassion for the situation you are in. The exploration you’ve done leads into the next stage, which is define. You might define the problem as “I need a better system for managing paper so that I get things done on time and don’t waste time looking for what I need.” That’s much different than “I need to organize this desk because it’s a cluttered mess.”
I always say organizing is a means to an end, not a valuable thing in itself. That end is the thing you define yourself. It’s too soon to start uploading apps or embracing techniques or buying containers. People often want to leap into the solution before they clearly define the problem and it makes the process longer and more confusing.
For the above mentioned scenario, you want to explore further what’s happening. Ask: what all this paper is? Where does it come from? Is this a new problem? Is something making it worse? All that information will help with stage 3, ideate.
I’ll talk about the other 3 stages next week. In the meantime, what you can do right now is practice empathizing with your own particular situation and see it as an issue to be resolved to benefit you, not to satisfy others.