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Are you taking action in your business or just thinking about it? And when you…


Are you taking action in your business or just thinking about it? And when you do take action, is it the right action? How do you know?

Design thinking might be a way to train yourself to think in a way that results in effective action, says Bernard Roth, academic director of the at Stanford University and author of The Achievement Habit: Stop Wishing, Start Doing, and Take Command of Your Life.

Roth says there’s a big difference between trying and doing, which has to do with the type of energy we use in each case. When we do something, we use power. When we try to do something, we use force. Think about getting up off the sofa when you’re tired. If you just stand up and go, you use the power in your body and mind to take that action. But when you try to get up off the sofa—this means you haven’t actually gotten up but you’re trying to—you are forcing your mind to think its way into action.

The thing that most of us hate to admit is that just getting off the sofa is faster and easier than thinking about it for an hour and trying to force yourself into doing it. Why is that?

Roth says the way we understand how our brains produce action is wrong. “The classic model—and popular wisdom—says that we think things through first and then act on our thoughts. Interestingly, this does not hold up in clinical testing.”

Roth cites studies that have used MRI tests to evaluate signals in the brain. These clinical studies have shown that the brain can send signals to our bodies to take an action before our brain consciously forms the thoughts that account for that action. This means that we do something and then we make up a reason for doing it.

Design thinking is a way to address this gap between doing and thinking, originally named by Stanford professor David Kelley, the co-founder of IDEO. Kelley observed that designers had a different mindset and approach than most people. That difference is summed up in six principles of design thinking:

Principle No. 1—Human Centered: As you create new marketing campaigns, design customer experience pathways, or think about how to approach new prospects, are you centered on that person’s experience or on your own? Design thinking suggests that being user-centered is the best way to approach any solution. Think about all the people who will be affected by what you’re doing and walk yourself through their experience. What will they see, feel, hear and think? And how do your actions need to address those needs? Empathy is key here, says Roth, so put yourself in your client or prospect’s place and take notes about what you find.

Principle No. 2—Mindful of Process: As you dive into creation, don’t get so caught up in the result that you forget the process. How you do something is often as important as what you do. Have you considered how the process impacts you, your team, and your other clientele or partners? Have you evaluated the ups and downs of the process to see when you need to take breaks, get feedback or augment your efforts?

Principle No. 3—Culture of Prototyping: If you go into your day knowing that you’re going to create a test version of your idea, it takes the pressure off. You’re not going to launch your idea right out of the gate. You’re going to create a scenario where you can test it. This takes a lot of pressure off the initial doing and helps you think through the challenges that might arise without anxiety.

Principle No. 4—Bias Toward Action: Keep moving! Roth says that our goal should be to stay in action more than in thought. Rather than tossing ideas around a conference table, he suggests getting into prototyping and testing as quickly as possible. You can also use action as a method of brainstorming by simply trying each option immediately rather than talking it to death. Of course, this won’t work in every scenario, but the overall idea is to be doing the work rather than thinking about the work.

Principle No. 5—Show Don’t Tell: Of course, what design school process would be complete without emphasizing the idea of visualization? Using images rather than words can free up a part of our brains that we often leave out in a brainstorming meeting. If we’re thinking visually, in pictures and with drawings rather than notes, we will find a whole new way to approach our issue. We also might allow others who are more visually inclined to free up their own creativity.

Principle No. 6—Radical Collaboration: One of the best things about design thinking as a process is that it brings together people with radically different viewpoints on purpose. If you can get over your fear of being contradicted, challenged or even proven wrong, your best friend on the path to innovation just might be someone who vehemently disagrees with you. The challenge of this disagreement can bring out the best in both of you as you struggle to defend your principles, work toward a common goal, and stretch your worldview.

As you follow this path to thinking your way into effective action, Roth says the most important action you can take is to get to know yourself really well and be honest with yourself.

“Really deep-down honest,” he says. “The more self-aware you can become, the happier you can be. By better understanding your motivations and identity, you can figure out how to design your life to be more satisfying.”   By Amy Anderson

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