Design Thinking: Reframing for Success

A recent New York Times article on the personal and professional and personal applications of design thinking is after my own heart. The article also affirms the Alchemus Prime Diamond Model, which we apply to help clients reframe challenges, and brainstorm and prototype solutions in an integrated way to optimize for personal, career, and organizational goal achievement.

One of the critical benefits of design thinking, as my Stanford colleague Bernie Roth explains in this article, is taking the step of reframing the problem. He states, “If you have tried something and it hasn’t worked, then you’re working on the wrong problem.”

When I was co-teaching one of the workshops in the Research as Design program, which applies design thinking to help scholars innovate with their research processes, we encountered a first year graduate student who was having trouble coming up with research questions. As we probed his dilemma, however, we discovered that coming up with research questions wasn’t the problem. The real issue was fear of being judged by his advisor. Feeling intimidated by brilliant professors at an institution like Stanford is not uncommon. Our young participant reframed his challenge and came up with solutions for how to overcome his fear of approaching his advisor, including practicing talking about his research ideas with friends and colleagues first, as a prototype.

Over the past 6 years I’ve taught workshops in academia and for companies, nonprofits and interdisciplinary conferences, and I keep finding the same pattern: we are conditioned to think in certain ways, which narrows our solution pathways. Snapping out of our habitual ways of thinking allows us to frame our challenges more accurately and change our behavior to achieve our goals.

As the author of the New York times article points out, she was able to lose 25 pounds when she reframed her “I have to lose weight” challenge as “I want to spend time with my friends socially.” The latter reframe, and self-empathy, allowed her to motivate herself to go out more, eat better, and ultimately, lose weight.

As we embark on our new year’s resolutions and organizational targets for 2016, it’s important to consider if we are focusing on the correct problem, and design thinking can help. Once we’ve clarified the path, we can change our actions and succeed. Our model leverages the best of design thinking with behavior change tools, biomimicry (emulating how nature solves problems) and meditation techniques to develop fearless, conscious leaders who master the process of adapting to constant change as they innovate in sustainable ways.



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