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Why more research isn’t the answer to your career change (and what to do instead)

Chapter 6 of Designing Your Life starts with a commonly held dysfunctional belief:

Dysfunctional belief: “If I comprehensively research the best data for all aspects of my plan, I’ll be fine
Reframe: "I should build prototypes to explore questions about the alternatives"

It’s very tempting, when we’re looking to change career, to keep doing research – one more book, one more article. Or, conversely, sometimes we’re more likely to make a snap change – we’ve always wanted to open that business or do that postgraduate course – we’re ready to go and get on with it.


Neither of these options are satisfactory, say the authors. In the first, we’re acting passively and we’re unlikely to make any progress. And in the second, we’re likely to be acting under the influence of our preconceptions and assumptions: and risk ending up highly invested in something that may not be for us. And ultimately stuck again.


What the authors instead advocate is prototyping: undertaking experiences in the real world that allow us to try things out, and see how we really feel about different options, rather than relying on our biases or trying to form a view by reading about something or looking at a video. There are four main ways of doing this:


  • Life design interviews: Inviting someone in an industry that we are interested in for a coffee, so that we can speak to them about what it’s really like in their line of work

  • Work shadowing: The next stage up in terms of commitment: shadowing someone for a day or two. And because we’re in their workplace, we get a better view about what it is that they do

  • Internships

  • An exploratory side project that you create

Projects such as these, the authors say, allow us to sneak up on our future. It’s by getting out into the real world that we make serendipitous connections that might well take us in a different direction than the one that we had initially thought. And the chapter gives guidance as to how exactly to go about finding these.



Because there are lots of different experiences that we can trial – including many that we may not have thought of, the second half of the chapter looks at a good way of generating lots of ideas: Brainstorming. Everyone knows the concept of a brainstorm, but the chapter gives a structured approach for a really good brainstorm – a way to harness the energy and ideas from a group of people and to come up with a list of exciting, implementable ideas that you can use to plan your future.


The four steps are:

  1. Frame a good question

  2. Warming up

  3. Doing the brainstorm itself

  4. Naming and framing the outcomes


Framing a good question: Quantity of ideas makes for a good brainstorm, and so the question should be open ended (“How many ways can we think of to…” rather than “Ten ways to… “). It’s a good idea not to include the answer accidentally in the question (so for example “how many ways can we find to build a ladder?” - well there might be some solutions that don’t involve ladders, so “how many ways of reaching items in high places?” might be better), and also to avoid making the question so broad as to be meaningless “How many ways can we think of to decide what I should do with my life”). The authors recommend choosing an idea that you have for a future career as a question to brainstorm: how can you investigate this in more depth (perhaps this might be an idea from the five-year potential odyssey plans in chapter 5).


Warming up: A warm-up activity allows us to move from the analytical, judging brain that we usually use on a day to day basis, to the relaxed, creative, non-judgemental brain that is key to generating lots of ideas. In our brainstorming session, we started with an improv game to get in the mood.


The Brainstorm: A successful brainstorm follows these rules:

  • Go for quantity, not quality – we’re getting as many ideas down as possible

  • Defer judgement and do not censor ideas – judgement comes later. Make this a safe place for people to have crazy ideas and be creative

  • Build off others’ ideas

  • Encourage wild ideas – although these aren’t generally useful in themselves, by breaking us out of the box, they can often lead to seeds of more useful things


Naming and Framing the outcomes: After a brainstorm, it’s important to pin down the ideas - they are still quite fragile, say the authors, and if they’re not processed right away, they can often get lost. They suggest grouping similar ideas together, and then referring these back to the original question, with each category being given a name. It’s then interesting to vote on people’s favourite ideas, with criteria such as:

  • Most exciting

  • The one to do if money were no object

  • Most likely to lead to a great life


This should be done in such a way that people do not influence each other. It was also interesting to see, when we did this exercise, that the selection of the brainstomee was often different to the other brainstomers.


At the end of this exercise, you should have a number of really exciting ways that you can test things out in the real world, that will get you fired up about making progress.

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