Designing Your Life: Prototyping for Personal Success

Jun 17 • Financial Planning, Life Planning • 2019 Views • No Comments on Designing Your Life: Prototyping for Personal Success

By Joni Lindquist

We all use GPS these days to help guide us with directions.  Yet GPS only works if you know where you are going.  In our personal lives, we have turning points where we make key decisions that set us on a particular course.  How can we make these decisions so we know where we are going?

Stanford’s Business School has created a methodology for innovation called Design Thinking, which can also be applied to designing our lives.  Design Thinking has five major steps: 1) Learn from people 2) Find Patterns, 3) Ideate, 4) Prototype and, 5) Test and Iterate.   At various points in our lives, we address the question: “What do I want to be when I grow up?”  I have clients in their 50s still asking this question.  We can use the Design Thinking structure to help answer it.

We’re all aware of the books that tout “find your passion” and your life will be rich.  However, research shows that only about 20% of people have a single, identifiable passion.  For the other 80% of us, we have various things that interest us, but not necessarily one that rises to the top.  We need to find another way to figure out what we want our lives to be.

Using Design Thinking, when we hit a turning point – either considering a new job or preparing to retire from our primary career – we can learn from others, find patterns, develop options (ideate), prototype and test/iterate.  Talking to others who have been through similar transitions can provide useful perspectives.   It is also valuable to reflect and do exercises to understand what’s important to us at this point in our lives.  One simple, yet often revealing exercise is the “Gratefulness Exercise.”   Step 1) Set aside 10 minutes a day every day for a week,  2) Recall your day, looking for things you are grateful for (and they can be relatively minor things such as the warm welcome you get at the neighborhood Starbucks),  3) Jot down 2-5 events or exchanges that you are grateful for  4) Focus on each one, and relive the experience and savor the feeling  5) Repeat and 6) at the end of the week, jot any patterns you see.  Being grateful puts you in a positive frame of mind and allows you to be more open to try new things.

Now you are ready to ideate – brainstorm at least three different passions.   From these options, move into prototyping.   In life design, prototypes are experiences you design to answer a question.  Prototypes are also a great way to get realistic data about your possible future.  You want to create brief, cheap (don’t invest too much time or money!) prototypes.  In KHC’s Retirement Readiness program, we encourage clients to “sample” their ideal retirement life prior to retiring.  If you are considering moving, then rent a place for a month and “live” there.  Take a week of vacation and stay at home and schedule that week as if you are retired – how do you spend your time?  By the way, doing this during the holiday season probably isn’t the most accurate depiction.

By sampling or prototyping, you can identify those things that really interest and engage you, and stop feeling pressure to find your “passion.”  Instead, find things that engage you, make you feel productive and valuable, and that you simply enjoy.

If you are considering a job move, it may be harder to prototype, although you can at minimum talk to a people at the new company to get a feel for the culture.  Reach out to those in your network who have held similar jobs – what did they like, not like, what are common challenges, etc.  You can ask if you can shadow someone doing the job to get a feel for it.  These are close approximates to prototypes.

Rather than just letting life happen, you can use the Stanford Business School’s Design Thinking process to help you design your life as you face key turning points.  For help navigating these steps, schedule a meeting by clicking below, contact Joni Lindquist –, or call (913) 345-1881.

Photo credit: Bùi Việt Trung / Foter / CC BY-SA


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