The Power of Design Thinking for Goal Setting
Updated: Sep 18, 2019
It’s January 2019 and, like many people, I have been thinking about goals for the new year. We know that goal setting is something we should do. We have this one life. What kind of life do we want to live? Who do we want to be? What do we most value? How do we want to feel? How do we want to be in this world?
By answering these big questions, we can direct our energy and our actions toward what really matters. And then we can live a life that is rich and full and coherent. Goals (big and small) are the stepping stones. Goals give you purpose - something to work toward. Goals help you to move forward - they keep the momentum going. Goals motivate you to take action. And goals are good for you - achieving a goal you set out for yourself can be immensely satisfying.
“If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes.” (Andrew Carnegie)
But sometimes we don’t know which goals to work toward or we are working toward the wrong goals (hint: it’s the wrong goal if: you never start working on it or accomplish it or, once you reach it, you don’t actually feel fulfilled). I found myself setting similar goals year after year. Ones like: eat more healthfully, get more sleep, pursue an interest more intentionally, etc. We keep thinking about and tackling the same goals in the same way because, as humans, we have developed these entrenched patterns of thinking, these biases, that are rooted in ‘the known’ - those things we think and do day-in, day-out, year-in, and year-out. We rely on patterned thinking and responses as an act of self-preservation so we don’t have to relearn from scratch every time or go against the behavioural norms we find comfort in. In approaching goal setting in this patterned way, we can get stuck in a rut. We can’t think ‘outside the box’.
This is where design thinking comes in; it offers a different way to approach goal setting. Design thinking is an approach to creative problem-solving that helps you zero in on the ‘right’ problems to work on in the first place and then gives you a way to creatively solve them in your life (i.e. turn them into ‘golden goals’).
Golden goals are the right goals for you. Discovering and defining 'right' is the work we do together in The Golden Goals whole life design groups.
A design thinking approach has helped businesses create new products or services, organizations solve social problems, technology companies develop user-friendly solutions for consumers, and so on. Why not apply design thinking to the problems, challenges, and goals in one’s life? A quick Google search reveals that design thinking is being applied to life. You can take a course, read a book, listen to a podcast, watch a TEDTalk, etc. to learn how to apply design thinking to your life.
Design thinking is human-centered; it focuses on understanding people’s needs and building solutions to meet those needs. Design thinking is iterative; it’s all about experimenting and trying things. Design thinking is biased toward action; it’s about beginning now.
A design thinking approach can be broken down into five ‘phases’:
Empathize. Learn all about the people you are designing for (how they do things, their physical and emotional needs, how they see the world, what they value) so you can gain a better understanding of the problem and needs and push aside your own assumptions.
In a Golden Goals group, each member empathizes with the others. For example, in one group, members learned that Jane, an accountant and mom to teenagers who enjoyed her job, was nevertheless feeling disengaged and uninspired in her day-to-day life.
Define. Craft an actionable problem statement or ‘point-of view’ based on insights about and needs of the people you are designing for (the ‘why’ stage).
Using the same example, the group determined that what Jane needed was a creative outlet that would bring more inspiration and beauty into her life.
Ideate. Generate lots of ideas for solving the design problem that get beyond the obvious ones, often starting with a ‘what are some ways’ question (the ‘how’ stage). You can learn more about ideation techniques here.
The group asked, ‘What are some ways Jane could invite creativity meaningfully into her life?’ and came up with two dozen ideas - from taking an online photography course to going to karaoke every Tuesday at the local pub to volunteering to lead crafting workshops with seniors to taking herself on weekly artist dates.
Prototype. Take a handful of ideas (possible solutions) and create simple prototypes the people you are designing for (the users) can interact with or experience. In this way, possible solutions are investigated and accepted, improved upon, re-examined, or rejected based on the users’ experiences.
Jane ended up checking out a photography Meetup group in her neighbourhood, investigated the possibility of leading a felting workshop at the seniors centre at the bottom of her street, and borrowed a copy of The Artist’s Way from the library to see if going through its program was of interest.
Test. Get feedback about the prototypes (possible solutions) from users which provides an opportunity to learn more about them and then further refine the solutions.
After trying a few things, Jane realized that what was most engaging and inspiring for her was not simply being creative in her own life, but helping others bring creativity into theirs. What she needed, in fact, was a passion project! So, she ended up designing and leading a successful felting workshop at the seniors centre with plans to do them quarterly moving forward.
These five phases or modes of a design thinking approach are fluid and flexible. They don’t have to follow a particular order and modes can even occur concurrently with knowledge gained during one mode informing another, so you end up with iterative feedback loops.
So, what does this have to do with goal setting?
Design thinking can help you identify the ‘right’ goals to work on - goals that are aligned to who you are, what you believe, and how you want to be in the world. Design thinking can provide a framework to exponentially expand ideas about how to work toward those goals. Design thinking gives you tools to refine, adjust, and even reject your goals so they can best meet your needs. And, finally, design thinking is a hopeful and optimistic mindset that provides you with multiple possible paths forward.
Happy New Year and Happy Goal Setting!