Talent management: can designers get design thinking wrong?


Sometimes a designer does not a design thinker make. 

I would argue that you should never design such a program that begins with you imposing your view of the world upon others. For example, I have a bias, as I believe that people need to develop the ability to ‘learn to learn,’ which will bring them skills that allow them to remain agile in a VUCA world. This is my bias and it is a poor place to start when exercising a design thinking approach.

 Early career employees are faced with a high degree of uncertainty, there is much that is unknown: it’s relatively easy to understand this challenge, just ask yourself, where will you be in 10 years? The natural tendency, if left to solitary thinking, is to reduce the problem to something more manageable: for example, where will I be in one year?

 Early career planning is a complex problem with only one certainty, change. Therefore a design-led program should, in my mind, start with the early career employee engaging with their challenge by observing, listening, feeling and speaking about/with the wider world. More than this, such activity, being a complex problem, needs to involve a diverse range of experts/peers – limit the scope of observations and you will limit your opportunity to make sense of the whole picture.

 I believe this to be a logical starting point if we are to develop agile/resilient individuals who can adapt to a general VUCA environment.

 Imagine then an early career planning program, led by designers, with no background in career development, advertised as a ‘design thinking’ method, that skipped the empathy phase of design thinking, instead focusing on individual reflection and definition of the challenge. What is the risk of such an approach?

Imagine a situation where designers lay out a linear approach to career design, where early career employees are first asked to define where they want to be in the future – from such a position they are asked to engage with their peers (each session involves a number of such early career professionals) to identify potential challenges to their ability to reach their life goal. Would you consider this to be poor practice?

This is not design thinking and such programs should not be labelled as “design” courses. It is also a poor career development program, where life is emergent and anything but linear. Therefore any support programmes need to be designed to reflect the real world if they are to be of any value to the individual, the organisation or society. You could even argue that any course that promotes a linear process is actually increasing the risk of failure for the individual and the organisation.

Perhaps this serves as a warning, in that sometimes a designer does not a design thinker make.

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