The JourneyI wonder what it’s like?I’m sure some people thought I was making a mistake. I had a great job with a great salary, a great pension and a great leader. I was doing work that I actually cared about. And yet with all of this, I kept thinking “I wonder what it’s like to work at Overlap?”But I’m not a designer, I’m a social worker!I’m a clinical social worker and therapist by trade. I’ve worked in many different places and spaces doing clinical work and in leadership roles. I’ve worked as a child welfare intake worker, as a network administrator, a sexual assault response team counsellor, as an LGBTQ public educator and recently as a ‘system planner’ in addictions and mental health. To me, it didn’t always matter as much where I worked as long as I was having a positive impact and I was excited about the work.I had been introduced to Overlap a little over 2 years ago as a ‘client’. The organization I worked for at the time engaged Overlap to do their strategic plan. Shortly after that I had a new colleague who couldn’t stop talking about Design Thinking (and previously worked at Overlap). I loved what I was hearing but couldn’t quite see how it could be used in my job. I was in healthcare, a space filled with evidence-base, rules and risk aversion, which helps keep us all safe. But it isn’t a space where creativity is celebrated or encouraged. How could I actually apply design thinking? I’m a social worker, not a designer! It didn’t quite click for me yet.Intensive Design Thinking Training with Overlap changed me.I was fortunate enough to attend a 4-day intensive design thinking training at Overlap a few months later. That’s when my world changed. When I came home after my first day of training I couldn’t stop talking about it. My partner recalls that she hadn’t seen me this excited about something in a long time. I was practically giddy…and couldn’t stop telling her about all of the things I was learning. It was like I had found that missing piece to my career puzzle, a better way to make change happen.I spent the next year working with Overlap as a client on a major project called Designing Better. I worked alongside other Overlappers to try and understand what people with complex addictions mental health issues want and need from services. I was absolutely blown away by the insights they were getting by just starting with the’ end user’ (the person you’re trying to solve a problem for), figuring out what they need, and then co-designing solutions together with them. Amazing! The results were awesome and yet so simple: Give people dignity by default when you design and deliver addictions and mental health care. Yes.The more I learned the more I realized I couldn’t go back to managing projects or implementing top down change. That’s when I started thinking about how I could do this type of work full time.
Why I wanted to work at OverlapI wanted to use Design Thinking every day because it just works betterI have used a ton of different approaches to implement small and large change. I have learned different techniques and tools from different areas such as project management, Lean and community development. While many of these approaches do make an impact, none really allowed for the innovation and new ideas that I was seeing come out of a Design Thinking process. That really stood out to me.I started to tap into some creativity that I had as a kid and lost a bit in during my career. I started to draw and make things that helped communicate ideas and concepts better than words on a page. People seemed to love what I was doing. Now I’m no artist or engineer. And yet, I was able to draw things and make things that were getting other people excited. I was starting to find my creative confidence, and it felt good.I wanted to have an impact through my workAs I started to use Design Thinking in my work, I saw the excitement and ideas it was able to create. By leading a process I was able to support others to design and implement their own solutions. Looking back now, it is very similar to doing clinical social work. I know the process, but it is up to a client to brave the journey and make the change. It is also one of the most amazing and humbling human experiences I have ever had the honour to experience. Design was exactly that, just with more people and the occasional pipe-cleaner and play doh creation. Yes, we actually use play doh and it’s so much fun!I wanted to harness these new skills I had to bring ideas to life for others. I wanted to be part of inspiring all types of organizations see possibilities. I saw hope and wanted to share that.I wanted to be part of a culture that believes better is absolutely possibleThe more time I spent with Overlap and in their space, I could feel that something was different with them as a company. A lot of places I have worked over the years have talked about being a ‘learning culture’ or a ‘culture of ongoing improvement’. While I believe the people who say that, it just never seemed to trickle down (or up) throughout the organization. I never really felt it like I did at Overlap.Overlap spends a lot of effort growing its people and living its values. They are always trying new things to get to better. Sometimes they work, other times they fail. That’s actually OK at Overlap. They learn from failure and keep on going in ways that I have not seen in other organizations or sectors. Staff are excited to learn and share what they know. Most of all they are a company that prides itself in doing the right thing. That matters a lot to me coming from a non-profit world.When it came right down to it, I wanted to work with people who believe what I believe: Better is absolutely possible.
October 12, 2016
How a Social Worker Became a Human-Centred Designer
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