To give a F@*k’ or not – The human centered design approach


A few days ago I spent a weekend reading ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F@*k’ by Mark Manson. The book emphasizes on the need to stop focusing our attention on just about everything around us and channelize our energies towards the things that really matter to us most. Insightful, I thought. The following week at work, I was lucky enough to attend a workshop organized on Design Thinking, where empathy was at the core. Post the workshop, I was compelled to compare my learnings from the book and the workshop. On one hand, I was being told to bother about only things that mattered to me in life and on the other I was asked to empathize with those around me in order to come up with solutions to their problems.

Prima Facie, I did find myself being torn apart between what seemed like conflicting ideologies, the true blue-blooded HR professional in my head finally managed to lend me some perspective.

Mark Manson, while no doubt had a point, I found his argument helpful in decluttering my personal life. However, when it comes to HR, I strongly believe we are nothing without an inherent sense of empathy towards our stakeholders. As far as HR as a community is concerned, we need to learn the not so subtle art of genuinely wanting to give a F@*k.

Thus, Design Thinking is the way to go! Let’s look at the phases involved in the entire Design Thinking model it all starts with gaining empathic understanding of the problem we are trying to solve. This involves a lot of observation, engagement and empathy with people. This leads to comprehending a person’s experiences and motivations along with immersing ourselves in their physical environment to gain a deeper personal understanding of the issues involved and set aside their own assumptions about the world.

Next comes the Defining stage, where we analyse our observations and synthesise them in order to define the core problems identified so far. The idea is to give the problem statement a human-centric approach, which allows us to gather ideas.

Post the ‘Empathise and Defining stage’ where we understand the need of the stakeholder empathetically and  analyse/ synthesis our observations with a human-centered approach, the third stage kicks in where we are ready to start generating ideas. With this concrete background, we can start identifying new solutions to the problem statement we’ve created and start looking at alternative ways of viewing the problem. It helps to get as many ideas as possible and test them so we can find the best way to either solve a problem or provide the elements required to circumvent it.

Post the ideation phase, we start piloting our solution with a smaller population. This is an experimental phase and the aim is to identify the best possible solution for the problems identified. The solutions are implemented within the pilot group. They are either accepted, improved and re-examined or rejected on the basis of the feedback received. By the end of this stage, we will have a better idea of the inherent constraints and complications and a clearer picture of how the larger population would behave, think and feel when exposed to such solutions. The pilot test may warrant rethinking of our approach. Accordingly, alterations and refinements are made and the revised approach is implemented.

The final stage is the test phase, where we roll out the solution to the larger population using the best solutions identified during the pilot phase.

But of course, none of it would really make any sense without empathizing with our stakeholders. With automation, IOT and AI gradually encroaching our work territories, the only few traits left for us as human beings first and as HR professionals later, is to put ourselves in other peoples’ shoes and relate to their experiences. Only then will we be able to make a difference to their lives. Needless to say, this behaviour is a pertinent factor of our leadership styles as well. The erstwhile top-down approach is waning as we speak. Today’s design-driven organizations demand more nuanced leadership style.

Let’s take a look at four popular examples from Bollywood that are easy to relate to. As much as it is loathed for its unwarranted extravagance and narcissism, Bollywood, in pockets, does have leaders, who combine their leadership styles with a design-driven approach to create magic. At the core of the success of all these personalities a sense of empathy wins hands down.

Aamir Khan, the relevant questions guy, has always been known to have a macro perspective on issues. The ability to lift himself as an actor/producer/decision-maker to get a 30000 feet exploratory view helps him find the right answers before agreeing or disagreeing to do a project.

There is a reason why aspiring independent film-makers look up to film-maker Anurag Kashyap and the production house (Phantom Films) that he is part of -. They have been known for cultivating a culture and environment that fosters fresh talent and creativity with calculated risk-taking.

Karan Johar, who helms the affairs at Dharma Productions, juggles many hats. One among those is that of a Coach/Mentor. He is known for being alongside his team in the middle of all the action and getting his hands dirtied on the field. Playing the role of a coach has built respect, empathy and enthusiasm as he gets to witness all the hard work up close and personal. This assists him to connect with his employees in a new way.

The best stories are often told with simplicity with a human-centric approach, stripping away things that don’t matter. What you are left with is a story worth its weight in pure gold. That basically has been the secret to Rajkumar Hirani’s success. We spoke earlier of assessing a situation from a 30000 feet view. But it takes a special skill to understand the nuances across levels all the way to ground zero. And that is what sets Raju Hirani apart from the rest.

As torchbearers of change and organizational development (OD), it is imperative that our leadership style adopts a design-driven approach – one that helps paint a picture of the Promised Land and at the same time, emboldens our team with the courage to reach there. And it all starts when we start giving a F@*k.

Author – Sahil Nayar is a Human Capital Professional working at a leading professional services firm in the country. He is a key note speaker and panelist at various Industry associations and educational institutes. Views are his own.


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