14 July 2014

Design for Your Future, Design for Yourself

Recently faced with making a series of major life changes, a friend of mind decided to apply design thinking principles to his personal situation. He had accepted a fabulous new job that would require leaving the town he loved and long called home for our nation's capitol and doing so in a relatively short timeframe. Familiar enough with D.C., he started his relocation process with the information closest at hand — the dog and the cat were coming with him. And then he interviewed himself.

"I asked myself questions like: self, what kind of place do you want? What should it be near? What do you dislike about your current place? I made Post-Its with my must haves, wants and dislikes," he wrote.

Post-Its are a key component to the process at IDEO—the Silicon Valley design firm where my friend and I have been lucky enough to explore questions that begin "How might we..." and focus on patient-centered solutions within health care. Post-Its allow one to jot down an idea or make a meaningful doodle that is then both tactile and disposable, preserved but not permanent. From the multicolored confetti came a series of hotel stays in various D.C. neighborhoods to practice the commute to work and sample local restaurants. "In other words, prototypes," he wrote. 

I'd like to say that when I decided to approach my problem of achieving better work-life balance concerning my job as a magazine editor, my consulting and advocacy and my relationships with my family, friends and self that I too reached for my Post-Its and Sharpie. Rather I took a very literal approach to form following function. I made a flow chart, or perhaps more accurately, a decision tree

The goal was to determine what personal parameters I would apply in deciding whether or not to accept an opportunity. Some opportunities offer an abstract pay off while others come with cold, hard cash. Some clearly are worthwhile while others offer nothing by way of joy or enlightenment. For all there is a price to be paid, as saying yes to one thing limits one's ability to say yes to another—doing two things half-heartedly is no greater accomplishment than doing one thing well.

I spent a week on my own posing questions, redirecting arrows and contemplating additional possibilities before I sent my draft decision tree out to a group of personal advisors for review. Advocates praised it. Company managers played devil's advocates. And my friend who was designing his new life first suggested, "Seems like you are really wrestling with getting paid for doing the work you want to do," and then asserted, "Follow your damn dreams."

Following dreams inherently is easier when others believe one's dreams are worth following and thus will help make those dreams come true. I am fortunate in that this is the case for me and my dreams. It is enormously satisfying to know that those in the industry I have come to respect and admire seem to feel the same way about me. Their encouragement, partnered with my own stubbornness, has kept me moving along this path. 

Shortly after completing my decision tree, I had cause to implement its process, and accept a year-long contract to serve as administrator of an ePatient scholarship program that enables advocates to attend one of the foremost health care conferences. I also will be leading a workshop on making clinical trials more patient-focused and speaking at this conference as well as speaking at the world's premier nephrology conference. I have applied for a two-week design thinking internship with the intent of researching generosity in relation to financial giving so as to further develop strategic plans for my nonprofit and to a mindfulness in health care symposium focused on patients and caregivers within palliative medicine. If I am selected, I will consult my decision tree to determine these opportunities' return on investment. If I am lucky, this fall will be busy, financially feasible and personally and professionally rewarding. 

Too often I hear complaints from people who are so overwhelmed by what they have to do that they have no time for what they want to do. I say—put in the time and effort to determine one's priorities, to establish standards such that saying no allows one to say yes to something better. Design not for your current self but the self you want to be.