Designing your career

Changing your mindset and actions

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Design thinking

Work is fun when you are actually leaning into your strengths and are
deeply engaged and energized by what you’re doing.
Bill Burnett and Dale Evans, Designing Your Life

“Design thinking” is a concept percolating throughout dozens of disciplines and professional settings these days—yep, there’s even a Design Thinking for Libraries toolkit you can check out. One of the reasons it’s become such a popular tool is that design thinking provides a terrifically useful mental model for designing anything, whether that be a product, process, service or…a career. LAC Group Director of Recruiting Brad Rogers, a fan of using design thinking methodology in all sorts of situations, recently agreed that it was a great way to approach making career decisions. “There are so many potential career paths for professionals with information skills,” advises Brad, “that using a mental model like design thinking can really clarify your approach.”

The design thinking mindsets

Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, two design educators in the Stanford University Design Program, created and taught a wildly popular course called “Designing Your Life,” and subsequently co-authored an equally popular book, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life (Knopf, 2016).

The book’s goal is to help you apply design-thinking concepts to the process of creating your best life and career. What might that look like? According to the authors,

A well-designed life is a life that is generative—it is constantly creative, productive, changing, evolving, and there is always the possibility of surprise.

That sounds like the definition of a pretty engaging career, as well! If you agree, the following points will help you get started on your own design journey.

Five mindsets that will underlie your life/career design work

Be curious. This will encourage you to explore and consequently discover new opportunities. That might be exploring a new area of expertise, a new professional role, a new job, or even a new business based on your information skills. The important piece is to see where your curiosity takes you.

Try stuff. The authors call this a bias to action and, in my career, I’ve generally called it “what the heck, let’s give it a try!” As you’d suspect, the outcomes have ranged from terrific to “uh, just NO,” but the important piece is that you learn from every new experience or option you try. And it’s that learning outcome that’s the game-changer for you.

Reframe problems. Per the authors, “reframing is how designers get unstuck. Reframing also makes sure that we are working on the right problem.” So, for example, you might reframe “I hate my job” thinking to “I don’t seem able to communicate effectively with my boss, and that’s creating a lot of tension between us. How might I change that?”

Know it’s a process. When you’re looking for the answer, it can be really difficult to be patient with the process. But the point of design thinking is to explore a lot of ideas, try a lot of options, ask a lot of questions and test a lot of assumptions. This can feel like a frustrating exercise at times, but if the end result is a much better career fit, wouldn’t that be worth the effort—and patience?

Ask for help. Burnett and Evans call this radical collaboration, but in the LIS world, we’d pretty much describe it as business as usual. Information professionals are amazingly supportive of each other when it comes to sharing information, insights and/or contacts. The key point here, however, is the importance of actually asking for that support. We can’t help you if we don’t know what you need.

Meeting people in new environment

The design thinking actions

Once you’ve embraced these five mindsets, it’s time to move forward with the approaches necessary to living a coherent life–in other words, one where who you are, what you believe and what you are doing all form a cohesive whole. Another way to describe this would be pursuing a career and performing work that are in alignment with your values and commitments.

These actions include, among others:

Building a compass. Your responses to a set of Worldview and Lifeview questions will help you identify what direction you’d like your life and career to head – this becomes your compass. (Reality check: sometimes your Lifeview and your Workview may be in conflict, which just means that you’ll choose which commitments to prioritize for that period of your life.) The important takeaway is that your compass is a direction rather than a destination; there will be many paths that can take you in the right direction, and creating your compass enables you to recognize which paths lead in the right direction and which don’t.

Wayfinding. The authors describe wayfinding as “the ancient art of figuring out where you are going when you don’t actually know your destination.” (Information professionals might recognize this in Wernher Von Bron’s analogous quote, “Basic research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing.”) Wayfinding is a process of discovery, where you are experimenting with what activities, environments, groups, etc. engage and energize you as opposed to bore or deplete you. These indicators will help you continue to refine critical aspects of your path.

Getting unstuck. Rather than trying to come up with the perfect career choice and then investing all your efforts in making that one choice work, the primary way to get unstuck is to come up with as many alternative career options that fall within your preferred direction as possible. Why? Because as the authors note, “designers know that when you choose from lots of options you choose better.”

Designing your dream job. The reframe here is from the assumption that your perfect job is out there waiting for you to the reality that “you design your dream job through a process of actively seeking and co-creating it.” This builds on the “lots of options” idea, but from the perspective of trying many avenues to move you closer to your dream job. These avenues might include, for example, networking, informational interviews and researching companies and roles. In addition, you’ll continually approach each new career step as an opportunity to shape your next options to more closely reflect your dream job.

Getting to your dream job

Ultimately, you can reach a point in your career where you actually have positioned yourself to seek and co-create your dream job. Through a combination of the experience, expertise and connections you’ve developed plus the exploration, direction-building and experimenting you’ve done, you will have reached a point where you know what work you want to do, why you want to do it, how you want to do it, and for whom. And at that time, you will likely be able to create or negotiate that job.

Yes, it’s a process that requires commitment, engagement and patience, but as the slogan goes, you’re worth it, right?

Source: Burnett, Bill and Dave Evans. Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life. Knopf, 2016. 238p. ISBN 9781101875322.

Kim Dority

Kim Dority

Kim Dority is a library and information science (LIS) career adviser and consultant. As Adjunct Faculty at the University of Denver's Library/Information Sciences Program, she teaches graduate courses on alternative MLIS career options. Special Libraries Association (SLA) has awarded Ms. Dority the Rose L. Vormelker Award for her commitment to teaching and professional development.
Kim Dority
Kim Dority

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