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How Innovation Tools Help Me Solve Personal Dilemmas

Tools used for social innovation can also help solve personal dilemmas.


In life, sometimes the most difficult conversations we face are not with others, but with ourselves. Both personally and in my professional life as a designer, there are some difficult questions confronting me. So far, I’ve learned that avoidance doesn’t make the questions evaporate; it only made them hit harder when you least expect it. But the tools of design can be applied to help solve these internal challenges just as well as external ones.


One of the hard conversations I am currently navigating is the state of my health. I was born with a congenital heart defect and it is something I often pretend doesn’t exist, resisting its limitations—and avoiding asking myself that scary question, “How do I feel?” Growing up, my health was my family’s top priority, even when it was not my own. I am grateful for health insurance, but due to my unfortunate pleasure of being a frequent patient of the healthcare system, I see its successes—and failures—through both a patient’s and designer’s lens. The disparate range in quality of care provided throughout socioeconomic levels is one problem I wish to help overcome.

About a year ago, I was confronted with another challenging conversation. I was just a few months in at my first full-time agency position when I started having the thought, “Am I happy?” I was working with talented designers, who quickly became friends, along with wonderful clients who provided me with challenging, rewarding work. But I began to wonder if I should be using my design skills to tackle the larger societal questions—like healthcare—that I cared about most. Working up the courage to face my fear I came to the conclusion that, yes, I was happy, but no, this was not enough. That difficult conversation paid off; I was accepted to the pioneering program of MFA Design for Social Innovation at School of Visual Arts, where I am now pursuing both my passions of design and health.

I have successfully completed my first semester now, which has expanded my breadth of skills and provided me more job opportunities and choices than I could have ever imagined. But once again I find myself asking, “Who am I?” Am I the girl who goes back to a design agency because I know I can or do I take another career risk in the hopes of fulfilling my dream to innovate the healthcare system, tackling the problems others see as insurmountable? How big is my ambition, how strong is my heart? These are the questions that we all must face and answer in order to find the strength to commit, and take the risks required.

For each of the challenges I face, I’ve started using the lens of design to help me find solutions. At DSI, we’ve learned specific skills for using conversation as a tool for social change—as a method for co-creating with communities, for shifting world views, opening new doors of opportunity and for inspiring behavior change and growth. In one course, my professors demonstrated how conversation is used in innovation to make a known meaning common between two people or large communities. We practiced facilitating different methods of conversation such as “Action Replay” and “Bohmian Dialogue.” The Action Replay method focuses on group improvisations and re-enactments. The goal of this method is to get people engaged and off their feet. The improvisations help clarify, celebrate and investigate what happened.

I’ve realized that processes from this method can also be applied to inner conversation to help you think about a current dilemma, such as deciding whether or not to quit your job. In an inner conversation, you could replay moments in your head of both positive and negative experiences from this situation to clarify and investigate dilemma to arrive on the best outcome.

The “Bohmian Dialogue” focuses on listening without prejudice or attempting to influence one another. The purpose is to suspend assumptions to find truth and realize what is on the minds of the participants. Someone could use this method in an inner conversation to be present and discover truths about themselves or a challenging situation while creating a space to understand and reflect on these explorations. One might begin with the question, “Who am I?”

These methods help innovators lead focused discussions and create shared meaning between members of a group. My personal experience has taught me that these skills are equally valuable when turned inward. I know I need to pay attention to my heart, and follow it. Compared to that, all other conversations will be easy.

Image courtesy of MK Loomis

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