A strategic way of thinking called, “Design Thinking”, has helped various successful entrepreneurs and engineers innovate many successful products that enrich the business world today. But this way of thinking can also benefit one outside of the business world as well:
Bernard Roth, a prominent Stanford engineering professor, says that design thinking can help everyone form the kind of lifelong habits that solve problems, achieve goals and help make our lives better.
“We are all capable of reinvention,” says Dr. Roth, a founder of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford and author of the book, “The Achievement Habit.”
I’ve applied design thinking to my own life the past few months, and it seems to be working. I’ve lost 25 pounds, reconnected with close friends and refocused my energy on specific goals and habits.
Design thinking has helped me identify the obstacles that were stopping me from achieving my goals, and it’s helped me reframe my problems to make them easier to solve.
In the words of Dr. Roth, design thinking helped me “get unstuck.”
To get started, design thinkers focus on five steps, but the first two are the most important.
Step 1 is to “empathize” —
learn what the real issues are that need to be solved.
Next, “define the problem” —
a surprisingly tough task.
The third step is to “ideate” —
brainstorm, make lists, write down ideas and generate possible solutions.
Step 4 is to build a prototype or create a plan.
The final step is to test the idea and seek feedback from others.
Design thinking is normally applied by people who are trying to create a new product or solve a social problem or meet a consumer need.
For instance, Stanford students went to Myanmar to work on an irrigation project. The first two steps of design thinking — empathize and define the problem — meant that the students spent time with the farmers to understand their problems with watering crops.
In doing so, they discovered that the farmers’ real problem was not irrigation but light. The farmers used candles or kerosene lanterns, and the fumes filled their small huts. Managing their needs for light without electric power consumed a great deal of time and income.
As a result, the design-thinking students used empathy to shift their focus to the actual problem that needed solving. They developed affordable, solar-powered LED task lights. They have since provided millions of lights to 42 countries, creating an affordable lighting solution in parts of the world that don’t have electricity, or have spotty service.
Dr. Roth says the same type of thinking that solved the lighting problem for the poor farmers can be applied inward. To start, think about the problem you want to solve. Then ask yourself, “What would it do for me if I solved this problem?”
“Design thinking on the highest level is a way of reframing the way you look at the world and deal with issues, and the main thing is this idea of empathy,” Dr. Roth says. “If you have tried something and it hasn’t worked, then you’re working on the wrong problem.”
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