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Chasing your dreams - Part II: Design Thinking

Updated: Sep 2, 2021

You want to do something substantial or meaningful with your life, but you don't know what it is; or you know what it is that you want to do or where you want to get to, but you don't know how; or maybe you know how to, but you are afraid to start.

In one of previous posts, we discussed fear of failure as one of the biggest obstacles for most people in achieving their goals or seeking success. In our last post Chasing your dreams - Part I we discussed a method to find out what is the goal you want to pursue. We discussed how we used a variation of a Western interpretation of the Ikigai model and how that led us to start Neuma Being. Today, we will discuss a model we have used in many different instances in our lives, both personally and professionally, to figure out how to do what we want to do and where to start.

It is called Design Thinking. Manori made this diagram below to explain the Design Thinking process.

Design Thinking has been used by architects, designers, engineers, and business leaders for several decades. Design podcast 99% invisible says this about design thinking: "Design thinking is a process that goes a little something like this: first, designers come up with ideas and prototypes. Next, they try those out with a model or sample. Then, they get feedback, review outcomes and incorporate that into the next iteration, and the process starts all over again. Among designers, a shorthand for this is 'express, test, cycle.'"

Manori first heard about Design Thinking while listening to one of her favorite podcasts Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam. She realized she had been using design thinking process as an integral part of architecture design for several years. There are too many constraints involved in designing and constructing a building: regulations and code, the restrictions that comes with the land, the design itself, constructibility, sustainability, materials, engineering, etc. Hence, architects approach design by focusing on a few problems at a time and prototyping them, then reviewing and incorporating the feedback to create the next iteration.

This model breaks down the "scariness" of what you need to or want to do, to smaller "bite size" chunks. It is a process that you can follow to arrive at your desired destination, without getting overwhelmed by the task at hand. The beauty of this model is that it can be applied to a specific project, products or services, an organization (a business or an institution) or your life.

“The big thing about design thinking is it allows people to build on the ideas of others. Instead of just having that one thread. You think about it, I come up with an idea, and then somebody from somewhere else says, ‘Oh that makes me think we should do this and then we could do that.’ And then you get to a place that you just can’t get to in one mind.”

~ IDEO founder David Kelley

Design thinking is very much centered on empathy and collaboration. It asks what does it do for the end user? How can we make the experience better? Instead of you having to solve the problem in its entirety, you know can rely on the support of those around you.

Another aspect of design thinking is that it is not quite linear. You will keep revisiting certain stages out of sequence. So you might do step 1, then go through step two, three, and four, come back to step two, jump to step 4 again, and so on.

Let's look at a scenario:

Step 1 - Frame the problem: Asking the right questions leads to finding the right solutions. It is critical you spend time at this stage to frame the right questions. This will guide you on your journey. Let's say you have arrived at what you want to do - you realized you like to make things. The first thing you have to do is to frame the problem. Why do you want to make Things? Do you want this to be also meaningful? What kind of things would you like to make? Can you can make a living making things?

Step 2 - Gather inspiration: At this stage, you will do research. You will look for precedents. You will look at how other people may have done things. Read, write, talk to people. Discuss your ideas with experts. Debate. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there. You need to explore those questions you asked at the framing stage.

Step 3 - Generate Ideas: Now that you are armed with knowledge, statistics, and data from the gathering inspiration stage, you can begin to look at various options for how to get to your goal of making a living with making things. Some factors to consider:

  • What are things that you are already passionate about?

  • What are different skills or aptitudes you already posses?

  • Are there any skills that you want to acquire and will have the motivation to acquire?

  • How does that fit within bigger plans I have for my life?

You can begin to look at various different paths here. Brainstorm and come up with all different possibilities. Let's say one of the avenues you came up with is inventing a new kind of a non-medical face-mask for general use, that can be used in cities with high pollution or that can be used during pandemics. You will probably need to learn about design, materials, and fabrication methods. You can take a few courses on these topics. These days there are amazing resources available both online (Coursera,, Skillshare, etc.) and in-person (colleges, specialty training programs). Go back and gather more inspirations. Learn about existing face masks. Look at what doesn't work and what works. Come up with some ideas. Don't worry about making it perfect. We will continue to iterate. Sketch and draw. Use diagrams.

Step 4 - Rough Prototypes: Pick one or few of the possibilities you came up with and test them out. Work with some experts or friends. Seek critique and feedback. Pick their brains and come up with various solutions. Put the different components together and see what happens. Make a rough model. Use paper and glue. Make it quick and dirty. Break it apart and put it together again. Mockups, prototypes, and feedback at every stage prevent expensive mistakes, going too far down a dead end. Many have fully developed something to discover it was not feasible, viable or desirable.

Step 5 & 6 - Test the idea & gather feedback: Have some people wear the mask and give some feedback. How comfortable is it? Can you get it tested at an accreditation lab? How safe is it? How good does it look?

Step 7 - Take the feedback and go back to step 1. What worked and what didn't work with your mask design? Now repeat the cycle again. This iterative process will get you closer and closer to having a more mature solution. Worst case scenario, you may realize innovating a mask is not really your calling. But you will learn what is it about making things that you like and you can then focus on that part. And continue to iterate until you find out your niche, your area of specialty you would like to work in.

Manori and Nelson used this process when coming up with The Cymatix - Neuma Being's chaise lounge recliner that facilitates deep relaxation of the body and recharges the mind in just 25 minutes. Based on over a decade of their experience in training students to use various mindfulness practices and heightened states, they knew those techniques help not only with having profound states but also getting creative insights and improved creative performance. They asked themselves if technology can be used to facilitate these states and make these states for accessible and appealing to society at large. This was the problem they framed.

In gathering inspiration and idea generation they realized there is in fact quite a bit of clinical research already done on the benefit of mindfulness and lucid sleep states. They also realized that a staggering percentage of American professionals suffer from burnout causing stress and other health issues, just like Manori & Nelson had experienced in their professional lives. So they set out to engineer a system and design a solution that can help individuals reach these creative and heightened states. They went through several rounds of smaller scaled models and full scale mockups. They discussed with experts about their project. They had people try out the mockups and give feedback. Then, they iterated, integrating the lessons learned. They continue to employ this process as The Cymatix and the entire Neuma Being ecosystem keeps evolving.

One of the bigger lessons here is to keep persisting and keeping going. It's not about winning or loosing, or about the right or wrong step you took. It's keeping at it until you get to your goal. You got this!

If you ever feel like you could do with some extra help finding out what is it that you want to do with your life or how to get there, we are here to help. Drop an email to or call (323) 723.2328 and we will have a chat about how we might be able to help. You don't have to do this alone!


If you want to find out more about design thinking, here are some resources:

  1. A Brilliant piece by Shankar Vedantam You 2.0: How Silicon Valley Can Help You Get Unstuck (Listen or read)

  2. What is design thinking? by IDEO-U. This is business or project oriented. There is an excellent video (49 mins) going over design thinking.

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