Coaching and Design Thinking
Design thinking is more popular than ever. Originally developed at Stanford University’s d.school, this human-centered method helps teams find innovative solutions to existing problems. While working in Berlin, I had the opportunity to learn design thinking at the Hasso-Plattner Institute in Potsdam, Germany. Though there is a whole process to design thinking, I’ll only be presenting selected techniques from it, which I believe enrich the coaching practice.
Design thinkers are encouraged to go out into the real world and talk to people who are affected by the issues they are looking into. By conducting interviews with open-ended questions, they can uncover invaluable and often surprising information. Like investigators, they are curious to find what is really out there. Listening is also a foundation of coaching, but sometimes coaches need a reminder to listen to their clients through their inner investigator.
From writing Post-it notes to drawing on a whiteboard, using LEGO or clay figures, design thinking is all about giving your ideas a shape. Many coaches have folders and papers with client information or documents on their laptop. How about creating visual images of the clients instead? Values, hobbies and goals look good on paper, but they might look even better as headers on Post-its, a tool that the clients themselves could find useful.
Focus on Journey over Outcome
The design thinking approach is focused on the process and is not attached to any outcome. This leaves a lot of freedom for true exploration and an opportunity to have the client’s best interest at heart. By concentrating on the journey itself during coaching—and not the solution, it opens up endless possibilities, both for the client and the coach. More often than not, answers come to the client organically after exploring the topic without the pressure of a solution.
Fail Early and Often
Lots of clients (and new coaches) are afraid of failing, and this means that they might play it too safe—there is always an excuse just around the corner! One of the design thinking rules is to fail early and often, and then to keep going. It might be beneficial to mention this rule when you first start off with a client so it creates a space for them to fail with their coach by their side.
In design thinking, collaboration is very important. Design thinkers work closely together, building on each other’s ideas and accepting different opinions. In coaching, the client and coach form their own team, in which both are equally essential to make the relationship work. This coach-client duo is the basis for the partnership upon which coaching is built. Being fully respectful of the client’s needs and wants creates the foundation for teamwork.
Encourage Wild Ideas
Brainstorming in design thinking is a highly collaborative effort that encourages wild ideas. Sometimes clients stick to reality too much and might need some encouragement to think more innovatively. Such out-of-the-world ideas unleash the creative flow, while putting an end to rigid and limiting beliefs. If the client accepts a few ideas from their coach, it is a great time to remind them of wild ideas and to lead by example.
Have a Beginner’s Mind
Design thinkers are usually asked to look at pre-existing problems and issues. In order to avoid preconceived ideas and to discover new angles, they assume a beginner’s mind. This helps them to see everything with a fresh eye. Keeping a beginner’s mind while coaching a client gives the coach the opportunity to go deeper into the experience of the client. As for the client, they can begin to discover a well-known territory through an entirely new perspective.
As a coach and design thinker, I’m always looking for new tools that help me grow both professionally and personally. I hope that the above-mentioned techniques will inspire coaches to bring aspects of design thinking into the coaching relationship.