Career Transition, Startup Mentality and the Tools of Design Thinking

Posted by on Sep 27, 2013 in Boomer Career Transition | No Comments

When I lost my in-house graphic design job during a major layoff last year, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to go back to school, to volunteer my professional services and – at great personal expense – to take a break from the work world. I was 54 years old and ready for a change.  I really needed to take the time to survey the unemployment landscape and figure out what this career transition business was all about.

It’s now been a year and a half since my layoff. I’ve officially been on the job hunt for 7 months, picking up a bit of freelance design work here and there but not landing any major gigs. The message is loud and clear: my old job just doesn’t exist for me any more and I’ve got to come up with something new. Instead of defeatism and retrenchment, I dived head first into souped-up exploration mode, developing new interests, self-educating, seeking collaborations, joining communities and seeking out associated new fields of inquiry. There was no alternative.

A traditional vocational development approach would have me work on narrowly defining my interests, skills and target companies. In contrast, the new “professional-me-in-training” is experimenting with broadening my interests. Drawing on the Design Thinking process, I cycle through self-reflective needs assessment, pattern-finding, discovery and insight, rapid iteration and prototyping of my career ideas. I shuffle and re-combine my experiences, constantly trying on different professional hats and following each path as far as possible. Every pathway explored becomes fodder for new pathways and the necessary task of synthesizing all of these experiences is indeed exhausting.

Design Thinking is a methodology and set of creative/analytical tools typically applied in the development of new business products and services. (Check out the Stanford d.school’s free, participatory intro to the world of Design Thinking). However, I’m drawn to  Design Thinking because I see my own professional development as though it were a business opportunity, a chance to innovate my way into a sustainable and meaningful new career. To this end, I am in complete agreement with the thesis of Reid Hoffman’s brilliant book, The Startup of You. Check it out.

> The new job market requires that we develop a much more expansive definition of who we are professionally and what it is we do.

> New work opportunities come in smaller chunks today. Gone is the era of full-time employment. Think smaller scale and be nimble.

> People in career transition need to actively nurture and embrace the rapid pace of change in the work world. We must learn resilience and take risks.

> There are significantly less jobs available than people seeking jobs. Therefore, don’t wait; create your own job.

> Baby boomers: According to AARP, entrepreneurism is thriving among the over-50’s demographic. With 10,000 people turning 60 every day, many longer-living, healthy, ambitious older Americans are watching their long-term social support system unravel and realize that they must remain actively engaged in the workforce. They’re choosing to create something new with their lives and so can we all.

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