The 4-Step Design Thinking Process You Can Use to Revamp Your Work

There is a myth that to be truly creative you need no process. False! Actually process is what separates truly creative people, repeat creatives, from the rest. In our studio, we have a rallying cry: TRUST THE PROCESS!

My design process is Deconstruction:Reconstruction. It is based on my experience of designing award winning products, systems and experiences, everything from office furniture for Herman Miller to kitchen utensils and tools for Target and washlets (toilet seats with bidets) for TOTO.

Deconstruction:Reconstruction has 4 simple steps that can help you to think differently about anything with optimism and creativity, even your work.

Note: Before you get started, do a simple warm-up exercise to wake up your right, creative brain. Here are my 32 easy exercises that will take you 15 minutes or less that you can choose from.

STEP 1: DECONSTRUCTION. Taking the whole apart.

Here is my work, deconstructed. CREDIT: Ayse Birsel

Deconstruction is not a new idea. Even Rene Descartes, the French philosopher, mathematician and scientist, talked about it in the 16th century: "Divide each difficulty into as many parts as is feasible and necessary to resolve it."

This step takes that same approach.

Start by mapping out the main building blocks of your work, things like collaborators, time, places, purpose, strengths, earnings. Then continue to deconstruct each building block into smaller parts and pieces until you run out of things to note.

Take a look. Did you note love? Make sure you have love. How about money? 80% of people who've deconstructed their work forget to include money!

Now note your AHA!'s: those things that surprised you. Here are some of the most common of these insights:

  • Being your own biggest stumbling block and the need to get out of your own way;
  • Work becoming a rat race (bigger car, bigger house, bigger salary) and the need to reconnect with your real purpose (helping others achieve a dream, giving without expecting something in return, doing what you love);
  • That all the pieces that matter are there and what you need is to be mindful of what you already have.

Seeing the parts and pieces, you can decide what you want to keep, what you want to delete or change, what you want to have more or less of, and you can identify the new connections you can make between the parts. Which brings us to our next steps.

Step 2: POINT OF VIEW. Seeing the same things differently.

Example of Heroes Exercise by Alexander Osterwalder, Co-Founder Strategyzer and inventor of the Business Model Canvas. His heroes made him “realize even more how much I love creating stuff!”. CREDIT: Alexander Osterwalder

The goal here is to look at the same things from a new perspective. This to me is the heart of creativity and inspiration is the perfect tool for it.

Think about people who inspire you at work. Make a list: note their names, draw a little icon or symbol for them, and write their qualities in detail.

Marshall Goldsmith, the author of the best-selling business book Triggers, came to my workshop and realized that his heroes were his teachers who had taught him what they knew without asking for anything in return: Peter DruckerFrances Hesselbein, Buddha. Marshall decided to do the same and started the 100 Coaches Project to teach what he has learned from his teachers to 100 CEO's, entrepreneurs and leaders for free. His only requirement: give back and teach what you know for free to others when it is your turn. Full disclosure: I am one of the first 25 of 100 Coaches!

Marshall's heroes reconnected him with his purpose and inspired him to start one of the most important projects of his life.

What do your heroes tell you about your own values and what matters to you. What do they inspire you to do differently at work?

Step 3: RECONSTRUCTION. Putting it back together.

Reconstruction teaches us the key to doing more with less. You can’t have everything but you can be intentional about what you choose to have in order to create something unique. CREDIT: Ayse Birsel

Reconstructing your work is about making choices about what you want in your work, knowing you can't have everything (we simply don't have enough, time, energy or resources).

Pick 3 things that you want in your work, the work you love. Note: The number 3 is an intentional constraint to remind you that you cannot have everything. It also helps you focus on what really matters.

Here is a cheat sheet, from participants of my Design the Work You Love workshops. Add your own using the inspiration from your heroes and insights from your Deconstruction:

  • Act from an authentic place
  • Constantly evolving
  • Persevere
  • Grace under pressure
  • Fearless determination
  • The ability to walk to your own drum
  • Act with integrity
  • Save lives
  • Have your own voice
  • Be a consummate teacher
  • Redefine the way something is done
  • Longevity
  • Mindful
  • Generous
  • Inclusive
  • Full of humility
  • Curious
  • Fearlessly pursue your dreams
  • Courageous
  • Audacious
  • Kick ass
  • Be the best at what you love
  • Add yours here...

Your choices are the foundation of the work you love.

Step 4: EXPRESSION. Giving it form.

Steph Stepan expressed herself as Big Bird from Sesame Street, tall, strong and gentle, which led her to ask: “What does this look like in my inner and outer life? What makes me fly? What does my Sesame Street look like?” CREDIT: Steph Stepan

Now that you have the essential ingredients of your work, you need to give it form. You can express your new vision of work by drawing and writing about it.

Steph Stephan from Amsterdam, who was a participant in one of my Design the Life You Love workshops, drew herself as Big Bird, from Sesame Street, and wrote the 3 qualities she wants to embody everyday:

  • I STAND TALL! By sharing what I believe in; knowing what I have to contribute; acting with integrity.
  • I AM STRONG!! I show up, even when I am scared; I keep my body healthy; I am honest--my litmus test.
  • I AM GENTLE! I welcome people; I assume the best in people; I am kind to myself (I try).

Now it is your turn. Draw yourself as you want to see yourself at work--Big Bird, Katy Perry(my vision is to be the Katy Perry of Design the Life You Love), a tree, Little Buddha, and identify your key qualities. Then do this daily exercise: plan how you can embody your 3 key qualities every day before work to help you be intentional about bringing these qualities to life.

Go ahead and design the work you love in 2017. Prototype it, enlist your friends and team to collaborate with you on it. Test it for a year. A year from today, you can take your notes and drawings out and see what worked, what you'd like to change as you continue to redesign the work you love.

Keep me posted! I would love to hear from you about your work design for 2017.

Design the life and work you love!