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3 Design Thinking Lessons To Overcome Perfectionism

Written by Tran Nguyen-Phong, Taylor Center 2019-2020 Design Thinking Student Fellow.

Albert Einstein was right when he stated that “you can’t solve a problem on the same level that it was created.” Moving beyond what is safe and familiar is necessary to devise answers to future problems. How can we tackle the grand challenges of the 21st Century with tunnel vision? The world has changed. The way that we approach problem-solving needs to start changing too.

A retiring perfectionist, I employed Design Thinking as my one-way ticket out of the box I found myself always stuck in. A box that confined me to tradition with its echoing mantras of “practicality” and “pragmatism”. Being a product of that box, I naturally clung to the comfort of what was safe and familiar. It is easy to feel bogged down and, at times, paralyzed by changing factors, moving parts, fleeting conditions, and shifting demands.

Tran Nguyen-Phong smiling holding her arms at her sides.

The realization that problem-solving did not need to be so linear was liberating! There was no be all end all.

What’s the point of agonizing over the “perfect” idea or the “perfect” solution when those things are inevitably bound to change anyways.

Here are three lessons I have learned on my Design Thinking journey:

1. Prioritize your user, not yourself.

The core of Design Thinking is humanity and humility. Solutions ought to evolve to meet the needs and wants of the people impacted. Those people require a front seat at the table. You cannot and should not always be the expert in the room. Refrain from answering questions for your user and avoid making assumptions about them and their needs. Focus on being an active listener. What you learn might surprise you.

2. Share! Share! Share!

Working individually can be good. However, working collectively can be powerful. Avoid idea hoarding. Share thoughts, ideas, feedback, works in progress, etc. Allowing others to help you build upon your knowledge will help you address gaps and improve. It will also speed up the timeline and help you work more efficiently. 

3. Anyone can be creative.

The beauty of practicing Design Thinking is unlocking capabilities inside of us that we may sometimes never knew that we had. For example, I never saw myself as a creative. I didn’t think I had it in me to come up with something original, much less innovative. Design Thinking has empowered me to see otherwise in myself and in others around me who may initially share the same sentiment. Channel your inner child and encourage them to explore and imagine.

Give yourself permission to disregard and let go of the rules and limitations you may think exist. The first one to go should be: “I’m not creative.” Be curious, ask lots of questions, and follow up on your inquiries.

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