Look beyond the daily grind with strategic thinking and foresight

In an unpredictable world, strategic thinking and exploring future possibilities are crucial. Central to this is foresight—a structured approach to gathering intelligence, analyzing data, envisioning future scenarios, and crafting strategic options.

As a design leader, I've often found myself balancing the immediate demands of our projects with the need to anticipate future trends and opportunities. Over the years, I've come to realize that this dual approach—combining strategic thinking with foresight—is essential for shaping the future of design.

Strategic thinking has allowed me to look beyond the daily grind, set ambitious goals, and craft innovative solutions to the complex challenges we face.

At the same time, foresight has equipped me with the tools to systematically gather insights, analyze emerging trends, and envision various future scenarios. By integrating strategic thinking with foresight, I've been able to develop resilient strategies that drive sustained innovation and success in our work.

These articles below are my most popular about strategic thinking for design leaders.

Grow your Business savvy and show you mean business

Designers aren’t traditionally trained in understanding the structures and systems that exist in business, yet organizations are looking to designers to influence those structures and systems. According to a recent Forrester Global Customer Experience/User Experience Online Survey, the barriers that prevent design from having a more significant strategic impact in business include gaps in understanding design, silos and politics, lack of leadership, and overall culture.

While learning MBA skills like financial accounting, market analysis, or strategic planning is incredibly useful to a designer, these skills alone don’t translate to being heard. Why? These skills don’t address the barriers.

In my experience, when designers struggle to earn trust, confidence, or empowerment, it's due to gaps in understanding, silos and politics, lack of leadership, and overall culture. If you’re not accounting for these factors while launching products, asking for resources, introducing new workshops, etc., you may be neutralizing your strategic impact. 

Designers, to have a more significant strategic impact, you have to consider these factors in everything you do.

Business savvy is being able to see the common factors that affect decision-making

Business Thinking is a process of deconstructing the common factors that affect decision-making — organizational understanding, politics, leadership, culture, and change — to construct new patterns of trust, confidence, and empowerment. It's applying the principles of design, business, and, most importantly, behavior change, to the challenges designers face in being heard; gaps in understanding, silos and politics, lack of leadership, and organizational culture.

At its core, it's a process to develop and demonstrate the ability to understand and respond to different business situations well. I've been developing this process as a way to help individual designers, teams, and organizations gain the strategic impact they seek by better understanding and navigating the politics, cultures, and organizational factors that go into making decisions.

Designers who are applying business thinking are increasing their influence and impact. They are speaking with dialects that are valued, they are perceived as equals at the leadership table, and they are maturing their organizations as a whole, not just design. These designers are pulling together what's desirable for diverse, cross-functional teams with what is operationally feasible and culturally viable for the company. The effects can be felt in multiple ways:

  • At an individual level, business thinking provides new tools to address the vast range of organizational challenges and career opportunities that designers face.
  • At an organizational level, business thinking provides executives the clarity they need for the risks, consequences, and opportunities in trade-off decisions.
  • At the team level, business thinking provides alternate ways for product managers, developers, and designers to develop the competitive advantages executive leaders and customers expect.
  • At all levels, it's about delivering outcomes that individuals, teams, and organizations can align to rather than relying on the status quo.

The process starts with taking the initiative to understand your colleagues and your company. After doing so, reflecting on what's working (or isn't) and remixing your approach becomes much more manageable. It's about embracing simple shifts in your mindset and tackling decision-making problems in a better way.

These articles below are my most popular about becoming a business savvy designer.

What is Personal Growth in Design Leadership?

There's a certain kind of irony that the more you move into design leadership and management roles, the less development you get from others to grow. I think that's pretty shitty.

Imagine waking up every morning wiser, stronger, and more focused than the day before. That's personal growth. It's that inner fire pushing you to challenge limits and continuously evolve who you are and how you work. It’s more than just a buzzword, it's a way of life, driving you to tap into your fullest potential.

In the pursuit of success and self-improvement, one thing is often overlooked: Mindset. We buy courses, attend workshops, and consume endless content, but the truth is, personal growth extends beyond just gaining new skills. We must also transform our mind — turning our limiting beliefs into a positive mindset that allows us to thrive.

My top 5 lessons on growing as a design leader

1. Include yourself in the narrative

Include your own goals for development when setting specific goals with your team. I remember feeling like moving into management completely changed my work identity. Overnight, I became a different person—a person who wasn’t able to pursue my old interests or values, a person whose growth was on hold. 

But once I have myself permission to include myself in the narrative, that my growth mattered as well, that I too deserved to be who I wanted to be—I found it allowed me to lead on a more energizing, and fulfilling level. 

Set specific goals for your own development alongside team goals. Schedule regular time for your learning and development, such as reading industry articles, attending workshops, or taking online courses.

2. You're not responsible for everything (and everyone)

Each time I jumped into a new, big role, I immediately felt the weight of responsibility for the team I was leading. It was tempting to put in longer hours to make sure everything was running smoothly. Between the pressure to perform and the endless meetings on my calendar, it took some time for me to realize that not only could I not to it all on my own, it wasn't my responsibility.

There's this myth that simply because someone has a title or a lot of power that they're able to adult for themselves. In my experience, the two rarely correlate. Over time, I learned it was more valuable for me to show up in a way that would be proud of than it was to be everywhere at once. Remembering that I too am a human with wants and needs helps me get used to…

3. Give your precious things away

Learning to delegate tasks, especially ones you used to handle, is tough. Jumping into daily tasks might seem like you're being relatable, but you're actually holding your team back and losing time for strategic thinking. It's the same when you fix things yourself instead of giving feedback. Focus on what only you can do.

4. Getting good with ambiguity is a super power

Getting good at dealing with ambiguity is essential for any leader. The reality is, not everything will be clear-cut, and the ability to navigate uncertainty is a game-changer. I’ve learned to embrace the unknown and accept that I won’t have all the answers right away. Instead, I focus on gathering as much information as possible without needing to get all the information.

Design leadership has it's patterns, just like designing. And, getting good at recognizing those patterns is what helped me learn to my instincts, make informed decisions, and stay ready to pivot when new information comes in. The only constant is change, and getting comfortable with uncertainty often opened the door to effective, and creative solutions. By embracing ambiguity, I’ve become more resilient and more effective in leading through change.

5. Remove options that require someone else to change

I stopped paying attention to most design leadership advice because it hasn't address my biggest frustrations. Growth is all about learning how to respond to the situations we're presented with rather than feeling stuck because the situation has happened. Too often, the advice that's out there just ignores that these situations happen.

When I find myself needing fixes that require someone else or something else to change, it robs me of any agency I have. The best tip I can provide when it comes to growth is to remove the answers that require someone else to change. Reframing these challenges gives me the energy and autonomy to keep fighting for what I believe in.

These articles below are my most popular about growing as a design leader.

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