Design Thinking for the Modern Startup

How the principles of Design Thinking changed my perspective from hourly employee to startup founder.

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Photo by Krisztian Tabori on Unsplash

My career was at a crossroads a few months ago. I had little satisfaction in the repititive nature of my job. It wasn’t going anywhere and I felt as if I were just treading water. I needed inspiration, advice and possibly a change.

I have a very close family friend who works for the one of the top universities in the country. She agreed to meet me for coffee and help me with my resume. As we started to discuss my experience, the conversation took an interesting turn. I began explaining the new opportunities in Project Managment I had taken on at work in an effort to make my day more challenging and interesting. As I spoke, I became animated about the work I was doing and the freedom my position provided me. She was enthralled with my perspective and had some ideas to guide me along this path.

As she threw out possible suggestions including returning to school for an MBA (we both quickly decided this would be a waste), we happened upon a great option. Her university had sent some of their top Project Managers to a program at Stanford University called IDEO U. Founded by David Kelley, the program is design centered focusing on products and strategies. Kelley’s design resume as head of his firm by the same name includes products such as the firs Apple mouse.

Put simply, it is a premier course in Design Thinking. I had never heard of the concept.

The Executive Education program offered at the is an immersive week long program called Design Thinking Bootcamp. We quickly decided it was a bit expensive to get started at a $13,000 price tag. But IDEO offers online education classes. I could start immediately at home, today for a few hundred dollars.

I signed up for the intro class that day. It was quite simply, a revelation. My mind expanded into new thinking methods. Instead of making everything a linear, prudent, measured creation, why not unleash your creativity with no boundaries? How about solving the problem in the best way possible and figuring out how executable that plan is later?

My perspective shifted. So often, we are looking for the exact right answer the first time. But when you are faced with novel problems every day, trying to design solutions isn’t always a linear equation. It is so much more interesting to start with the ultimate solution. Worry about how to bring that idea to fruition later. The biggest lesson was to let go of all your preconceived notions about what makes sense to allow a free flow of creativity.

IDEO focuses their instruction on learning to problem solve from a human perspective. The very first projects introduced were the result of brainstorming sessions. Choose items someone may carry with them every day. The exercise became combining two items that seemingly have nothing to do with one another. A credit card and an umbrella. A wallet and a dog leash. The point of the exercise is not necessarily to come up with the next big invention, but to unlock creative potential by practicing inventing.

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Sprinkles Cupcake ATM Photo: Colleen Murphy

I went into my meeting looking for career advice. A few weeks later, I was pitching my new startup idea to a friend, hoping to gain a partner. By simply letting go of preconceived notions about design and creativity, I was able to unlock my own inner creative and launch an innovative concept.

My startup company has already moved forward with increasing speed. As I put my focus on creativity and building a team, the pieces have all fallen into place. Using the principles of Design Thinking have unleashed a curious approach to problem solving. I have learned all endeavors into invention need to be a little wild. We can bring the ideas back down to earth later. Staying open and flexible as we innovate is yielding the best results. And the spirit of creativity is becoming contagious. I hope you catch it too.

Writing about the beautiful journey of life and love. We are all figuring this out together

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