Career Development: Creating an Action Plan with Design Thinking | Sarah Prevette | Skillshare

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Career Development: Creating an Action Plan with Design Thinking

teacher avatar Sarah Prevette, Entrepreneur & Speaker

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Why Design Thinking


    • 3.

      Step 1: Self-Diagnostic


    • 4.

      Step 2: Situational Analysis


    • 5.

      Step 3: Create an Action Plan


    • 6.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

Ready to unlock success in your career? It's time to plan. 

Join innovation expert Sarah Prevette for a fresh, modern approach to career planning — inspired by core ideas in design thinking. This 25-minute class is packed with examples, creative tips, and worksheets to help you develop a 3-step plan that plays to your experiences and strengths. 

Use these lessons as a springboard to action. You'll learn how to use the creative, user-first mindset of design thinking to foster greater self-awareness and develop a goal-oriented strategy. You'll gather real-life examples, and complete 3 exclusive, downloadable worksheets:

  • Self-Diagnostic evaluating your strengths, weaknesses, and motivations
  • Situational Analysis to assess key career stakeholders, starting with your boss
  • Strategic Action Plan with goals, skills, and traits you want to develop 

The class is entirely customizable to your needs. Whether you're just starting out, eager to make a switch, or looking to be more intentional with your next step, you'll build a plan for personal career success.


Future Design School is a user experience, strategy and innovation lab. Leveraging our proprietary solution design methods, we enable individuals to deconstruct complex issues and implement their own innovative approaches.

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Sarah Prevette

Entrepreneur & Speaker


"Fall in love with the problem you're solving--not the solution."

SARAH PREVETTE has a long history of innovative product development. A serial entrepreneur, she was the founder of well-known online properties Sprouter and BetaKit (acquired) and the co-founder of BrandProject LP - an investment firm that invests in and works with early-stage startups. Sarah launched Future Design School to empower all individuals to be creators and help turn great ideas into meaningful innovation.

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1. Introduction: Hi. My name is Sarah Prevette. I'm the founder and CEO of Future Design School. I'm so thrilled to be here to talk to you about design thinking. Design thinking, refers to the creative strategies that can be leveraged to problem solve to build product, to build strategy, to build process. But for today, what we want to do is, talk about how you can use this in your own career. How can you use design thinking strategies and methods to actually propel your career forward? At Future Design School, we teach repeatable methods around ideation, validation, rapid prototyping. It's really about helping people develop robust skill sets around driving innovation. My hope is that by taking this class, you're going to be able to really think hard about what you want to accomplish, and have a growth plan together. In this class, we'll leverage a really specific tool in design thinking and hopefully, you can use in other circumstances. It's around building user personas. User personas are really great way to try and appreciate the needs of the people around you. Trying to understand how your co-workers or your boss perceive you, how you're perceiving yourselves, and being able to manage that perception. It's really critical for your future success. The first step is really being able to do an accurate self reflection and a portrait of who you are, what are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What do you want to accomplish? The second part, is a situational analysis. Thinking about who are the stakeholders in your career currently? How do they perceive you? How can you leverage them to pursue some of these opportunities? And then lastly, how can we build a strategic action plan that's going to get you to be successful faster? There are worksheets available to download. We want you to print these off and get a big fat ugly shabby. I want you to get ready to actually really get your thoughts down on paper. I think it's so helpful to actually see your ideas illustrated. It helps you do actually form connections between different ideas, and it really helps when you're bringing in other collaborators. I would encourage you to use the project gallery. It's a great place to get feedback, collaborate with others, and I of course would love to see what you're working on. I'm so excited that you decided to take this class. Let's get started. 2. Why Design Thinking: User-centered design or design thinking, you can use either interchangeably, is really about trying to understand and appreciate the needs of others. I became acquainted with the design thinking philosophy through Scott Cook, he's the Founder and CEO of a great software company called Intuit. I met Scott when he was an excited young entrepreneur, desperate to show him the cool technology we're building. His first question was around, "Well, how many people have you talked to you and how did you know that this was the need that needed to be solved?" Probably, it wasn't a question that should have stumped me, but it was. We had built the software ourselves. It was something that solved the problem for ourselves, but we haven't actually gone out to really truly appreciate the needs of other people. In that conversation, he showed me about some of the process and methods that they were using at Intuit to design software. He said that they had increased the adoption rates of new software and made him more successful. We started to learn these design thinking processes for our own engineering team and it dramatically changed how we approach product development, but the same principles and methods can be leveraged for anything. Now, almost a decade later, I used it for absolutely everything. Truly being able to appreciate the needs of other people changes your whole perception in life. Make sure that every time you're in a situation, you're really truly trying to appreciate other people's motivations. The design thinking process starts with understanding the problem, truly trying to appreciate how that problem impacts others, and really getting deep into the minds of all of the users, the people who are affected by that problem. We do a lot of research. We do a lot of interviews and surveys to try and build user personas. Those user personas really help tell us about who we're building for. So, before we even start to thinking about solutioning, we're doing a lot of legwork to truly appreciate the needs of others. Today, we're going to leverage those methods around appreciating other people's needs, user personas, to be able to think about how we can optimize our own work performance. We want to have a growth mindset as we go through these exercises, and what that means is, coming at it as a learner, making sure that you're shedding any bias or any cynicism, and saying, "Okay. What can I learn? What can I pull out of this process that is going to be helpful for me?" Smart people typically have a hard time with the growth mindset because as you build experience and you have expertise in something, it's really hard to take a step back, and try, and forget about those experiences, and come at it as a beginner. That's exactly what we need to do. We need to really try, and shed ourselves of any preconceived biased or any legacy, experience, and try to think about things from a clean, clear slate. First, we're going to start with a self-diagnostic. We're going to look at our own hopes, dreams, fears, motivation. What do we need to be mindful of as we navigate the corporate world? Then, we're going to do a situational analysis. That means actually taking a look at the people around us, and developing real deep empathy for their host needs and motivations, and how they might be perceiving our actions. Then, finally, we're going to build an action plan. We're going to think about what you want to accomplish, what skills do you want to develop, what do you want to be doing with your time because your time is your most valuable resource and you want to be successful. Let's turn the course together. Hopefully, these are methods that you can pull out and use at any point whenever you see fit. Let's dive in. 3. Step 1: Self-Diagnostic: This lesson is all about you, getting into your own mind to truly try and appreciate what your hopes and fears are? What are you motivated by? What are you trying to accomplish? How do you think other people are perceiving you and where are their opportunities? It doesn't matter who you are or how successful you've been. Everyone is imperfect. Everyone has something that they need to be conscious of or many things, in my case, that you need to be conscious of and work on and make sure that you're thinking about how do I become my best self. I found myself as an executive early in my 20s, and now looking back more than a decade later, I shudder a bit to think how I was interacting with people. I wish I had a bit more self-awareness about how I was interacting with others and really trying to appreciate what I was afraid of and where my insecurities were. I probably could have been a lot more dangerous and gotten ahead a lot faster had I actually stopped to think about how I wanted to be portrayed. I think that's a really important attribute is being able to be self-aware and be reflective and to be constantly dedicated to the idea of self-optimization. So, what we're doing here is building up persona. Typically in the design thinking process, we'd be building personas based on the data that we're gathering about other users. But for our purposes here today, we're going to actually take that persona as a tool to be reflective on our own traits and attributes. It's important to get a handle on who we are and how we're being perceived before we start to think about how we're perceiving others needs and motivations. We've built this diagnostic to help you think about all of the contributing factors to your own personality. This tool can be leveraged to really start to reflect on what you're good at, what you're maybe not so good at, and start to think about how you interact with the people around you. I want to introduce you to Vivian. Vivian is young, 20-something year old marketing coordinator in Toronto, Canada. Vivian has done the self-diagnostic for herself, and we're going to use her examples throughout this process. You can see how she filled out her self-diagnostic and how she thought about filling in each section. I do want to warn you, though, it can be really easy to start to mirror some of the attributes and behaviors that you see other people doing. Really stop and think, is this something that I agree with? Think about your own persona. This is really about being honest about your own beliefs, your own hopes, your own fears and motivations. As we're filling out this self-diagnostic, I want you to be reflecting on the questions in the context of work. In your workplace, how do you feel about your career and your position? It's really important to put those parameters on right from the outset. We're going to start with the Think and Feel box. Again, I want you to be thinking about, how do you think and feel in relation to how you're doing at work? How do you feel at work currently and in your current circumstance? I'd like to start by thinking about what I'm actually thinking about. Where are my thoughts going naturally to? What are they gravitating towards? What are the thoughts that I'm having most often throughout the day? Then, I can start to think about how am I feeling, which is really at the crux of everything. Am I stressed out? Am I nervous? Am I anxious? Am I happy? Am I excited? Am I energetic? What is your current feeling? In Vivian's example, you can see that she's thinking about, how can I be better at my job? How can I provide value? You can also see that she stressed. She's feeling anxious like maybe she's not doing the best job that she could be doing. It's really important for you to be honest with yourself. Really think about how you're feeling. Don't be afraid to actually explore how you're feeling or what your emotions are. This is a crucial part of the process. So, you'll see on the left Want + Need, that's really about what do you want to accomplish and what do you need to get there? The Say and Do, what are you saying? What are you hearing yourself say in the office and what are you doing? Then, See and Hear, what are you seeing around you in your own situation and what are you hearing other people say? You can look at Vivian's examples to get some ideas around how you might answer these questions. Now, what we want to do is actually extrapolate some of the key characteristics. What are the defining principles around your personality that you need to be aware of? If you're nervous about something or you're anxious at work or you're feeling like you don't fit in, that's a key characteristic that we want to drop out. You can see from Vivian's example that she's pulled out the fact that she's really wanting to be seen as successful and to be seen on the same level as her peers. We also want to draw out a little more detail some of your hopes and fears. What are you hopeful for? What are you afraid of? Looking at Vivian's examples, you can see she's really afraid of not living up to the expectations that she set for herself. She's also worried about the perception of her colleagues. Different people have different fears. Maybe you're afraid that you don't have the expertise to do the job that you're currently in. Maybe you're afraid that you have too much to do and you can't figure out how to prioritize. Think about what's really specific to you and your role. So now, we're going to move into the bottom left hand corner and really think about our strengths and weaknesses. You can see in Vivian's example that she's listed her greatest strength around having a optimistic mindset and being willing to learn. She's also listed her weaknesses, which is not being able to prioritize, being unsure of how to handle multiple projects at once. She also believes that one of her weaknesses is being too consumed by worry about how other people are perceiving her. That's a really important insight to have as we move through this process. In the next box, it's all about how you want others to perceive you. Think about how you'd like other people to describe you. How would you like them to be talking about you in your absence? You can see that Vivian is really concerned about how others are perceiving her. That may not be the case for all of you, and if you actually don't care how other people are perceiving you, this is a particularly important box for you because, like it or not, other people matter, and the people around you in the workplace need to be bought into you and your success in order for you to be able to achieve that success. Take time to review the persona that you've created for yourself. Is there anything else that you think is pertinent information that you should probably add here? What are other things about yourself that you think are going to impact your workplace life? So now, what I'd like you to do is think about five things that you should be mindful of. What are those things that you really need to be aware of as you're trying to navigate the workplace? You can see in Vivian's example, one of her things she need to be mindful of is that sometimes her enthusiasm leads her to interrupt other people when they're talking. She gets excited and says, "Okay, okay, okay." without actually asking for that clarification or making sure that she's heard to understand. Being able to pause, reflect, listen, and being able to really truly appreciate what other people are saying is high on Vivian's list. You'll notice here that we didn't get into goals or aspirations or planning, and that's because, first, we need to really do a situational analysis. What we want to do is now start to build personas for the people around us in the ecosystem of our workplace. 4. Step 2: Situational Analysis: So, now that we've done the self-diagnostic, we need to move on and actually start to think about the people that we interact with that work every day. First, we should probably start with your boss. So, what we're going to do is use a similar format to the persona that we just built for ourself and we're going to try and think about our boss's motivations, hopes, fears, and how they want to be perceived. It's really important for us to get an understanding of how they're motivated and how they perceive the world so we can start to think about how we can best navigate around that. So, now as we go through this exercise, what we want to do is try to appreciate our boss's feelings, and hopes, and dreams, and aspirations as it pertains to work. What we're trying to do is trying to get into the mindset of how they're thinking and feeling while in the workplace. That's going to help us to be able to situate ourselves to understand how we can best navigate forward. So, this isn't about how you feel about your boss, this is about truly developing empathy for how your boss feels about their job, about their role, and their place in your workplace ecosystem. Let's look at Vivian's example as she's done a diagnostic on her boss. You can see that she thinks that her boss is really thinking about how to navigate the political structure of the organization, that she really wants to get ahead and that she's desperate to impress her own boss. That's an interesting insight. Her boss also wants to have everything done immediate, that her needs are around being in control, that she's a perfectionist and wants to know that every detail is taken care of. The things that she's saying and doing are really about why isn't this done and being frenetic and maybe a little bit too stressed out about all the things that she's trying to accomplish. So now, we want to go through the same exercise that we did for ourselves. Extrapolate the key characteristics. What are the key attributes of your boss's personality that you need to be aware of? What are their hopes and fears as you've interpreted them as you've engaged with them over time? What are their greatest strengths? What are their improvement opportunities? Most importantly, how do you see them perceiving you? What do you believe that they would say about you and your performance and about your role in the company? What are the five things that you want to be mindful of about your boss? What are the five things that you think are really pertinent pieces to have in the back of your mind as you're trying to navigate day-to-day? So clearly, Vivian's boss is stressed out and struggling with her own priorities. It could be easy for Vivian to think, "Well, boy, I just need to step up and do more things and be perfect." But really, what Vivian is realizing is that she just needs to be mindful of the fact that her boss is operating from a point of stress, that her boss is stressed out and that she needs to be mindful of that fact and that she might be dealing with a heightened emotional state. There's also factors around Vivian thinking, "Okay, maybe what I need to do is actually clarify with my boss which priority takes precedent." You can't have five immediate priorities, I can only work one thing at a time. So, Vivian's thinking, "I need to be mindful about really clarifying with my team around what I should be working on at what time." Everyone's diagnostic is going to look different. Everyone's boss is different, has different personality, different traits. You might find that your boss is actually maybe not ambitious, maybe they work at a slower pace than you, maybe you're more ambitious and you're looking to climb past them. Whatever it is, you need to appreciate your own situation and circumstances and the unique traits of the person that you're reporting in to. You really want to ensure that your persona is based off fact and as much to a real data as possible. That might be difficult. You probably don't want to go interview your boss and ask them about their hopes, and dreams, and aspirations. But you can be a little bit more subtle and try and extrapolate this information through ongoing conversations. I also suggest actually thinking about building personas for all of the key stakeholders that are in your organization. Now, if you work with a ton of people that's probably not a great use of time, but who are those core people that are central to your day-to-day? How can you start to think about them as individuals and develop really deep empathy for their own ambitions and motivations? Again, most importantly, how they're perceiving your actions? This is all going to be really helpful for us as we start to think about how we want to have others perceive us because then we can start to appreciate how we should really address them and what kind of conversational styles and how we should think about how they're perceiving us. Building personas is also a really useful tool when we're trying to understand our customers or our clients. So, if you're in the gig economy or you're a freelancer, being able to really appreciate your client's point of view is critical to success. Building a persona, though, when you have hundreds of clients can be really challenging. What we recommend is actually start thinking about extremes. Who's at this level? Maybe the laggard type of client who's this persona, and then sort of the other side, maybe the early adopter persona and then somebody in the middle. Just thinking about the spectrum of clients and being able to really identify the commonalities that you see as ubiquitous in your own industry. Figuring out the magic number of how many people you need to be addressing is really up to you. You know your unique circumstance and who you're interacting on a daily basis and who's crucial to your success. What we're really trying to do is build multiple personas that we can then extrapolate ubiquitous needs and motivations. What are those commonalities or common threads that we can pull out so we can start to adapt and adjust to our environment? 5. Step 3: Create an Action Plan: We've done our self-diagnostic and we've done our situational analysis. So, what? Now, we have to figure out how we're going to use it. Let's start by trying to set some goals. When we're setting goals, we want to try to make them as specific as possible. The way that we've structured them is to really think about your short term goals and your long term goals. But we've also added this section to really understand what success looks like because maybe you're looking for a promotion, so your goal might be to be promoted to be a manager. Success is not if you become a manager. Success is if you move into that role by a certain date and that you have success in that role as validated by maybe your boss. You really want to try and set some tight constraints around what success looks like for you. Let's take a look at Vivienne's example. Her short term goal is really practical. She's looking to fill registration for her summer programs. It's obviously something that she's been assigned if she's looking to be successful. She believes that success is, if registration is met by a certain date. Her long term goal is around developing greater technical skills as a marketer. Now, she's defined success as how she could independently execute and deliver on her own campaigns. I would suggest to her if I was speaking with her to actually add dates to these and some metrics for success. For your short term goals, you probably want to think about something that's attainable, something that you know that you can do in the next little while. Your long term goal though, should be a little bit more ambitious. Something that's aspirational, something that you're going to have to work hard to achieve. Everyone's goals will look different. Maybe you're a freelancer and you're looking to build up audience or visibility for yourself. So, maybe your long term goal should be around becoming a thought leader in your space. So, you might want to try and define success as a certain number of followers by a certain date or maybe becoming an author in a prestigious publication. You think about how it pertains to you and what you'd like to achieve. So, now we want to think about three things. What are the traits that you'd like to embody? What are the skills that you'd like to develop? What are some things that you'd like to accomplish? So earlier, we thought about who we are currently. Now is your chance to think about who you want to be. Traits. What are the things that you'd like other people to perceive you as? So, thinking about how you'd like to evolve and mature and grow in your work and career. Let's take a look at Vivienne's example. Vivienne has said that the traits she most wants to embody is really around self-confidence. That's also coming out in some of the skills that she wants to develop. She's looking to be a better public speaker and she wants to accomplish being able to independently execute marketing initiatives at scale. All of these things tend to flow into one another. Think about what kind of traits you'd like to embody, skills you like to develop and things that you would like to accomplish. When we talk about traits, we're really talking about character traits. So, how would you like other people to describe you? In the workplace, you probably want people to describe you as resourceful or a go-getter or a self starter. Think about the terms that you'd like to most apply to you. For skills, we want to get a little bit more technical and think about capabilities that we'd like to build for ourselves. This might be something like learning Google Analytics or being able to speak a different language. It really depends on your situation but it's something that you want to develop and get better at. For the what I want to accomplish section, what we want to think about are, what are specific projects or initiatives that you'd like to take on over the next little while as it pertains to your specific role? So now, we want to think about how to take action on actually developing these traits, skills and accomplishments. We need to think about things that we could do, steps that we could take to try and help us achieve what we've set out. Maybe you want to develop leadership traits, so then, maybe finding an opportunity in the workplace to be able to manage other people through a project might be a great idea. If you want to develop more technical expertise around something like Google Analytics, are there other projects that you can put your hand up for where you could develop those skills, learning through someone else? Are there other people who could mentor you to help you develop these traits and consciously work on the things that you'd like to accomplish? Whatever it is, let's think about what steps you can take to actually start to make this a reality. Let's take a look at Vivienne's examples. Vivienne wants to develop her public speaking skills. So, as strategic action, she's listed actually finding opportunity to present in front of her company. That's a great goal. Thinking about what can you do to help yourself find experiences and opportunities to develop the traits and skills that you specifically would like to achieve. So now, we've laid out some things that we want to actually accomplish and the actions that we're going to take to do so. But now we need to take a step back and actually bring it all together and think about all of our stakeholders and ourselves and how we're going to be able to best execute. 6. Final Thoughts: So, we've thought deeply about who we are, and our motivations, and our ambitions, and aspirations. We've also thought about who's around us, and how they're perceiving our actions and our values. We've also really given some thought to some hard skills and traits that we'd like to develop. We have these strategic actions, but it's not quite enough. Now, we need to think about actually prioritizing those actions, and assigning accountability and timelines to them. Let's take time to actually look at our strategic actions and think about who we need to include in that action to make it a reality. As you go through, do you see a common name coming forward? Maybe it's somebody you are reporting to or a colleague. If you see the same name coming out, we now need to think about, what is the most impactful action I could take? Want to do that first because you can't go and make 30 asks for one person. So, let's think about which priority we can actually move ahead with, and how we can go, and incorporate that person into the plan. We did our stakeholder analysis to be able to really appreciate the values, motivations, and feelings of the people around us. So, we want to be able to deal with actually now, use that information to action our priority. So, we want to go develop a technical skill. We need to approach somebody about actually being a part of a project. We want to start to think about how to frame that conversation given all of the information that we've sort of brought together around that person. How can we best position it for them? How can we best structure the conversation in a way that isn't alienating or intimidating and really is going to increase the likelihood that they support us in this endeavor? This is a good time also to reflect on our own tendencies. You need to be honest with yourself. Are you intrinsically motivated enough that you're going to actually take action and this isn't going to just fall by the wayside? Or do you maybe want to put some accountability tricks in there? Maybe share your goals with somebody else, so that they can hold you accountable in the days to come. One of the greatest assets you can have inside of the organization is a champion. A champion can take a lot of forms, but typically, it's somebody who's going to be an evangelist for you and the progress that you want to have in your career. Take a look around your workplace. Is there someone who could be a mentor or coach or an evangelist for you? Could you go, and approach them, and share your aspirations with them, so that they know that this is something that you want to accomplish, and they can lend their support in pursuing some of these initiatives? Every workplace is different and every workplace culture is different. You need to really sit and think about the culture in your workplace and how comfortable you are with sharing. But if you have a great workplace and a positive culture, I really encourage you to share your goals and your aspirations with the people around you. You'd be surprised how much support you can find from other colleagues and your boss. You've taken the first step in building a conscious and intentional plan for your career. So, the next steps might be time management or collaborative problem solving or learning how to really communicate effectively. The methods around building a user persona and developing deep empathy for others are things that you can use throughout your career. Hopefully, as your career evolves, you're taking time to actually stop, and think about what you want to achieve, and whether the actions you're taking are helping you achieve them. Thank you so much for taking this class. I encourage you to use the project gallery to upload and share your goals. We are a community here and we can all champion each other on this journey.