Design thinking and your career

As I look around my office I see a telephone, a mug, a building opposite my window, a computer in front of me, the chair I am sitting on and the clothes I am wearing. Almost everything we see around us is designed; existing as a result of human thought about what is needed in our daily lives.

So how can thinking about career design help approach the complex and anxiety inducing question: ‘what should I do next in my career?’ Let’s start from the very beginning...

Why do so many people choose the wrong career?

  • Social pressure - People are not equipped to resist peer pressure, the herd instinct, the allure of money, prestige and security.
  • It’s complex - Career choice is never black and white; sometimes we get accidently sucked in by convenient offerings and find ourselves stuck in a career we despise. 
  • Unable to separate fears from dreams - Comfort, prosperity and respect in the career world might be enough for some people, but not everybody. 
  • Feelings of apathy - When feeling uninspired and lacking a sense of direction, it’s easy to fall vulnerable and quickly settle for a career without thinking long term. Like how will you feel stuck in the same job in two years when others around you are racing ahead.

The help out there too often hinders

  • Friends and family aren’t often objective or clued up on us or the labour market, despite their good intentions.
  • Recruitment Companies work for companies to filter out candidates - they mostly want to earn a quick buck.
  • Traditional Career Consultants coach candidates to improve their self-knowledge and job search skills, but don’t understand the job market across industries themselves. Mentors have the opposite problem and usually only know one industry well.
  • CV reviewers, specialist certificates, grad school and good personality assessments - these all come with a hefty price tag, yet still no job guarantee. 

Diagrams like this one below completely a piece of the career design puzzle.


So what is career design thinking?

  • Career design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation, which helps to integrate your needs, the possibilities you have and whether the world needs it and will pay for it.
  • It helps to integrate your needs, the possibilities you have and whether the world needs it and will pay for it.
  • It relies on our ability to be intuitive, to recognise patterns, to construct ideas that are emotionally meaningful as well as functional.
  • Career design thinking does not advocate reckless job hopping by quitting a job or folding a business at the first sign of displeasure. It prioritises first shifting naturally within your role, while remaining open to a wide variety of options along the way.
  • Nobody wants to make big career decisions on feeling, intuition, and inspiration, but an over-reliance on the rational and the analytical can be just as risky. Design thinking provides an integrated third way.


  • ‘Follow your passion’
  • ‘Find your calling’
  • ‘What’s the one thing that makes you come alive?’

Does your heart sink when you hear phrases like these? Do you feel a rising sense of panic? Maybe a little shame? Career design takes you way beyond these common conundrums and provokes really practical and meaningful insights about yourself. Herminia Ibarra, a Professor at Insead who studies hundreds of successful career changers spurns ‘careers experts’ that so often state ‘’[our] “true identity” is inside, deep within ourselves, [and] only introspection can lead to the right action steps and a better-fitting career.’

So many people get stuck in their head searching for the illusory ‘dream job’. Worse still, they fall foul of the cognitive bias of the introspection illusion, which often arises when people mistake unreliable introspection for genuine self-knowledge and disregard their own behaviour when assessing themselves.

Start from where you are. Your interests, your curiosities. Your knowledge and experience. And the ideas that you already have. 


Viability comes from the latin root vita, meaning “life”; it is a pinnacle element in the design model that gives our careers the chance of growth and success. Everything exists in relativity - there are forces exerted onto us (the labour market), whilst simultaneously we give our forces back to the world, in the form of personal strengths and interests. Career design thinking deeply encourages ways to find a balance between sensitivity and logistics; to always consider a human point of view whilst evaluating economical viability.

The rise of automation, rapid rate of change and unsteady market trends are common factors that dictate many next career moves, but career design thinking aims to elevate career changers from these harboring anxieties. It helps us to remember that when it comes to finding a career that truly suits us, it’s important to remember the forces we exert back onto the market and take some personal control in our decisions. 


Your pivot timing will depend on the scope of your change, how far your ideal end state is from where you are now, your risk threshold, your savings runway, your expertise and reputation, and the complexity of what you are building toward. Ultimately, results are the indicator of where you are in your pivot. Are you experiencing momentum and fulfillment? The income and energy that you desire? 

Life, just like a design problem, is full of constraints. Time, money, age, location and personal circumstances - these factors will always be in conflict with one another. Thus prioritisation and creativity are the key ingredients to achieve a balance between what you desire and what you actually need. 

Getting the right balance between being in our heads and doing stuff is the important thing at each step of the journey.

We need to do more and experience it for ourselves in order to try on a host of “possible selves” we might become. The
biggest mistake people make when trying to change careers is to think you need to know what you want to do before taking action - ‘reflection best comes later, when we have some momentum and when there is something new to reflect on’’.

Too often we are told to find the one ‘dream job’. It is complete rubbish that there is just one perfect working identity for each of us. Our working self-image is a collection of the thoughts we have about ourselves in the past, present and our aspirations for our future. We create our future and the aspirations we have by the actions we take every day.

Enjoyed This Article? What Next?

If you haven’t already taken the Life Productions Career Fulfilment Score we suggest you give it a whirl. It’s designed to help you get clear about what you really want from your career. 

And the best part? It’s online and it’s FREE. Click here. 


As a strong believer in the career design thinking model, Martin draws on his successful career change to be Head of HR and Recruitment where he doubled the team and learnt what it takes to get hired. Qualified in psychometric testing and career coaching, and Career Consultant to a top university, he has helped 1000s of people with their career.