Coaching, the design thinking way



So design thinking is a process followed for years by designers. More recently this has been brought to board rooms. The skills taught at design school are very much at home when designing and shaping new areas for business. Put quite simply design thinking is built of three phases…

Learn everything about and around a brief. Observe what the users do and look at similar situations. Draw insight from wherever you can to empathise with the user, walking in their shoes.
From insights, ask questions. If there is a void in a process then ask “how might we fill that void?” Ideate is all about creating ideas to answer the question.
Give it a go! Build a quick version to test. If a website then the quick version may be a click through wireframe. If a product then the prototype could be in the form of a few pieces of card stuck together to simulate what the real thing will be. You need to know what you are testing in building a prototype. It must be quick to build and more importantly, you must be able to use it to test the element you want tested.
In my role, I use design thinking in web design through the initial idea and concept phase. I also coach individuals in the team with the aim of helping them to steer themselves through their career development.
How about if design thinking was used in career or even life coaching?
Step 1 – Discover
Work with the coachee to understand their drivers in life. A key part here is to empathise with them. One approach is called the ‘5 whys’ – To get to the root of a motivation you may need to ask why to uncover the real driver. If you as a coach, fully get where they are coming from, then together you can come up with ways to progress.
Step 2 – Ideate
If you know now what the drivers are then this is the time for divergent thinking- lots of ideas, encourage wild and unconventional ones. When you have lots of ideas then group and start to filter down. The coachee is the user and they should drive the filtering. As a coach you want to facilitate not drive. At the end of this process you want an idea to follow, that you believe will bring the coachee closer to their goal. You want something that you can measure the progression easily.
Step 3 – Prototype
It is now for the coachee to follow their idea. They should get started as quickly as they can and measure right away. The key is to try, to measure, to assess and then iterate. If the idea isn’t working then the coachee could bring the coach in to revisit step 2 or even go back to step 1. If the prototype is giving them progress then they can carry on with confidence. If not then they know what not to do.
I think that using design thinking as a coaching tool for career (and life) development can be really powerful. It is simple but helps all involved to really understand motivations. It also encourages making and measuring small changes. Small successes result in overall progress.
As with design and product development, I believe that the focus should be around progress rather than striving for perfection. The end goal may change as you work through mini cycles of progress and you may find yourself in a better place that you first wished for.

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