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12/19/2013 Designing out of “Stuck”


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I’ve had a number of conversations lately with people who feel stuck. Stuck in a job, stuck in a routine, stuck in unfulfilling tasks, or stuck in a bad relationship with work superiors. The first instinct is to jump, away. But in a recent design thinking workshop I helped facilitate, people started to become aware of another solution: designing a path out of the stuck.

Taking people through the design thinking process freed up their brains to start envisioning something different. Three parts seemed to have the most impact:

  • Interviewing/Listening – It’s amazing to watch people realize that listening to someone else’s challenges gives them unexpected insight into their own challenge. Or maybe it’s the simple fact of making sure they have to think about someone else’s problem for a change. In any case, sharing and caring are critical. How could you do more of this every day?
  • Brainstorming/Collaborating – This is always fun but it’s challenging for a lot of people. The challenge comes from building upon the ideas of others. It’s something most of us are not that good at. The real power comes from the “aha” of working with others. I think this surprised some of the people at the training.
  • Prototyping – The best part about this was that everyone knew that what they built in the 10 or so minutes they had wasn’t really that good. It was practicing failure in a safe place, failure that was appreciated by everyone. Most of us in our daily routine are not cutting, gluing and folding stuff, unfortunately.

After a day or two of doing this, I saw people re-thinking their stuckness. They started to think of designing their way out of it. Some had grandiose design plans. Others had much more modest approaches.

So here are a few simple pieces of design advise: if you’re feeling stuck, talk with some people you know and a few you don’t. Gather up a couple of people to brainstorm and collaborate with. Create a simple prototype; an artifact of what you want to do different. Share that with other people to get feedback.

Who knows, it might even lead to better work, better relationships or even new responsibilities.

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