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How to use Design Thinking to manage life changes

Irina Cristache
5 May 2022

The only constant in life is change. Maybe the only other constant is the fear of change. We crave routine because it makes us feel in control of our lives, but change is what pushes us forward.

Change is necessary

While change is often frightening, the only thing scarier than change is the absence of it. We crave routine because it makes us feel in control, but change is what pushes us forward. Companies change, laws change, societal norms change, living beings change and those who don’t are often left behind. Major life changes can be highly disruptive and often distressing. Sometimes we are compelled to change from within and other times external forces guide us against our will. I think we can all relate to the lockdown and the new lifestyle imposed on us back in 2020. Starting a new job, moving to a new country or city, welcoming new people into our lives or learning to live with the absence of those who used to be part of it, can make a huge impact on our wellbeing and have the power to change our way of life completely. What if there was a ‘recipe’ that could diminish the impact and reduce the fear?

Design Thinking as a tool to manage change

I consider myself ‘agile’ when it comes to change. I’ve made many significant transitions in my lifetime, I moved from Romania to England when I was 18, 4 years ago I made a 180-degree career shift from the field communications to the tech industry, and most recently I moved from London to Manchester and started a new role at Capgemini Invent, both in the same month, November 2021. I learned to appreciate change, to seek it and to embrace it, but even that doesn’t ensure smooth sailing all the time. Over the past three months I have reflected over the things that helped me adapt successfully to new situations in the past, and I drew inspiration from techniques I use in my professional life, such as Design Thinking, to come up with an action plan that you can use to manage change.

1. Empathise

The first stage of the Design Thinking process is to gain an empathic understanding of the problem you are trying to solve. In a business scenario, this is where you would talk to the users. Luckily in this case, no one knows more about the situation than you. All the answers are within yourself. This is the stage where you need to define your ‘why’s’, your needs and your pain points. Understanding the ‘why’ is important because knowing your reasons for going through with the change in the first place will help you stay motivated when things get difficult. You can use the ‘why’ as a reminder to guide you and stay motivated. Take some time to become familiar with your new circumstances. I usually give myself a month for this, but everyone is different so you can work with timelines that make sense to you.

2. Define

This is the stage where you get to analyse the feelings and observations that you addressed in the Empathise stage. Use the Define stage to asses your position and determine both positive aspects and pain points of the situation. Define the obstacles that you are facing and categorise them into temporary issues that may not have a long term impact and challenges with long lasting implications. I will use a straightforward analogy as an example – if you recently adopted a puppy chances are your life may have changed drastically. A temporary issue could be the fact that your new friend wakes you up at night. There is a high likelihood that this is a temporary problem with short term implications, that will disappear once your dog familiarises itself with your schedule. On the other hand, if your dog is aggressive and has the tendency to bite people or other dogs, that represents a long term problem that will not resolve unless you do something about it. These are the sort of problem statements that you want to bring into the Ideate stage.

3. Ideate

This is my favourite stage of the process. My favourite ideation technique is Blue Sky Thinking and it is where you get to remove all obstacles and barriers and get to come up with your craziest, most unrealistic, creative and diverse ideas. You don’t have to worry about how feasible they are at this stage, you just have to produce as many ideas as possible for the problems you defined in the previous step.

4. Prototype

While you don’t have to produce an actual prototype, you may still want to create some form of artefact to help you stay on track. You may want to come up with a to-do list, a mental journey map for how you are going to address the problem or a hand-written plan. This is where you pick a few ideas from step three, measure their suitability and turn them into an action plan. Set measurable objectives within a specific time frame. Set daily goals as well as a 6 month and 12 moth plan. Think about where you want to be in 6 months time, a year’s time, and decide what plan B is going to be if, when you assess the situation, you don’t see the outcomes you had hoped for. This will feed into step 5.

5. Test

This is where you take your clearly defined goals and plans from the previous step and put them into action. Ask yourself if you see progress, test out different approaches, assess the outcomes in 6 months and ask yourself “is this plan working?”. Always remember to be honest with yourself.

In mathematics it is assumed that every problem has at least one solution. I like to believe that this is also the case for challenges that come with big life changes. I find that Design Thinking is a fun approach to solving problems and we often produce our best work when we are having fun. Please get in touch to let me know what creative ways you use to manage change. I would love to hear them.