What is the LEAN Career Design Canvas?
The LEAN Career Design Canvas is a large, graphic organizer (comes in many sizes – 11″ x 17″, 2′ x 3′, 3′ x 5′ ) that focuses on a life or career problem that can only be solved by moving through the canvas activities. A user identifies important experiences, reflects on activities, builds a network, writes a personal mission, and develops a proactive plan that addresses the problem. Students often work with a career coach to dialogue about the parts of the canvas and probe deeply into the “why” of their choices and experiences. The canvas has its roots in entrepreneurial lean-startups that value problem-solving, iterating or pivoting potential solutions, prototyping ideas, and seeking options.
The LEAN Career Design Canvas is a big-picture career development tool inspired by entrepreneurial problem-solving.
Kelsen Shares his Canvas
Kelsen points to his five-footlong LEAN Career Design Canvas taped on the whiteboard to reveal his problem: “What can I do with my music skills after high school?” He has completed three canvases in high school.
For the next ½ hour, the pending school graduate shares the narrative of how he solved his problem. He explains prototype experiences with Agriculture in the Classroom, in which he facilitated agriculture workshops for elementary students, and Creative Manitoba, in which he made a film with professional filmmakers—activities that made him step outside his boundaries. Kelsen’s half-hour presentation is one of prototyping, experimenting, reflecting, and planning—he shares who he is, what’s he’s done, what he has learned, and what he plans to do next.
Having worked with LEAN Startups for years, I wondered if I could capture the problem-solving energy of a startup in a career development process. Kelsen and 100s of others like him lead me to believe I can.
The Needle in a Haystack Career Plan
Before the LEAN Career Design Canvas, I felt frustrated when asking, “What do you want to do after high school?” to students who had no idea. The apparently inspirational question, “What is your passion?” exacerbated my angst, creating unrealistic expectations for high school students and young adults to equate a single “passion” with a career path at a formative time in their lives. A recent Stanford study (Witte, 2018) shows that trying to zero in on a “passion” actually limits a person’s possibilities.
Career research in the Louis Riel School Division (The Learning Bar, 2018) shows that only 20% of students make a stable career choice upon exiting high school. The Education Department’s National Centre for Education Statistics (Lederman, 2016) shows nearly a third of first-year college students changed their chosen major at least once within a three-year period; 50% of those who chose a math major ended up majoring in something else.
Is it any wonder that the percentage of adults worldwide who are “highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace” is just 15%? (Gallup, 2017) Career development needs more attention in high school, in post-secondary education, and at workplaces; the needle-in-a-haystack way to choose a career path simply doesn’t provide a robust process for students and young adults to discover the right fit for their life and work.
I discovered a solution for more effective career development practice in a very unlikely place: the world of entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurs Constantly seek WHY
The Career Canvas takes its cue from the LEAN Startup Canvas, a similar design canvas in which entrepreneurs identity a real problem for a customer and iterate it until a pain or frustration is alleviated.
Successful startup entrepreneurs realize that banking on a single solution to a problem without proper research, experimentation, prototyping, and conversations with the customer will often fail. A needle-in-the-haystack approach doesn’t work in small business or with youth who decide on a single path in high school and think they’ve found the “solution” to their career path, ignoring the signs and possibilities that emerge around them.
Why problems? I’ve discovered through twenty years of work with high school LEAN Startups that when students pose a genuine problem, their interest in seeking a solution is intrinsically purposeful and engrossing, like the motivation that Daniel Pink speaks of in Drive (2009) and the flow that Csikszentmihalyi (2000, Moore, 2019) says engulfs its users in utter engagement. Students dig deeper when they choose their own problems that they truly want to solve and when they are engaged in a problem related to their well-being or an improvement in the world around them.
There is no more authentic and engaging problems than those posed by students trying to figure out their lives and where they fit in the world.
Reframing the Problem – A Key Design Element
The LEAN Career Design Canvas, like the startup version, asks that users reframe their problems as they become more knowledgeable, find new personal insight, research different possibilities and participate in prototype experiences that gauge and measure their capabilities, skills, and possibilities for life and work. They may pivot completely— a large change, a major shift away from the original plan—or iterate the question for a smaller shift, more of a tweak that remains tied to the original problem. The following examples are actual questions reframed by students.
• “What jobs are out there for someone with an arts degree?” pivoted to “How do I become a human resources manager?” The student’s exploration, prototype experiences, and plan connected her to two people with humanities degrees who became HR managers. She connected with her interest in volunteer work and in serving others and the plan changed. The pivot reveals the unpredictable potential of being on a journey of exploration, networking, and self-awareness.
• “What kind of work is there for computer geeks?” iterated to “How do I work for Google?” This student verified his interests in video game coding and computer languages in the Canvas and explored jobs at Google Careers (100s exist). The student applied for a job in high school with Google and got one as a part-time worker as he completed his final semester—talk about a prototype experience!
• “What should I do after high school?” pivoted to “How do I become a bio-medical engineer.” The student was a good science and math student but had no idea what to pursue in post-secondary education. The plan included auditing science classes at the University of Manitoba and participating in a hovercraft competition with the Canadian Manufacturing and Exporters. She pivoted towards mechanical engineering.
Once the original problem is posed, students complete Canvas activities that probe deeply into who they are, what’s important to them, and why they choose some activities over others. Throughout the process, they are invited to rethink their original problem and consider, “Am I asking the right question at this time in my life?” Canvas activities spur on personal insight and knowledge to make an informed call about what a future path can be.
Below are some original and reframed questions from students. Some of these examples demonstrate complete pivots, while others demonstrate rethought iterations. Notice how the general gives way to the more specific.
Original: How can I procrastinate less?
Reframed: How can I integrate my dancing skills into my classwork?
Original: Should I choose university or college?
Reframed: Should I choose liberal arts and drama at university?
Original: What should I do with my life?
Reframed: What can I do with my music skills as a career option?
Original: Is post-secondary school for me? Is it ok not to go?
Reframed: What type of business path is suited to me? College or university?
Original: What can I do with my tech and video skills?
Reframed: How can I convince companies that videography services are beneficial for commercial and promotional purposes?
Original: What should I do after high school?
Reframed: What does it take to become an animal technician at Red River College?
Original: How do I work with my ADD to help me study and find the right path?
Reframed: What career paths involve the outdoors and working in parks and conservation?
Original: Should I follow the path of a surgeon—too overwhelming or too much?
Reframed: How can I see what a surgeon does and what her days could look like?
Step Outside the Comfort Zone with Prototype Experiences
Brain research (Berns 2010, Cherry, 2019) suggests that students develop more robust neural pathways when they experience new activities, in other words, when they seek prototype experiences (Turliuk, 2012).
Katy asks on her Canvas: “What is my passion—what do I like to do, what am I good at, what do I want to do? What is my focus moving out of high school into the future?”
The questions are a bit broad, and Katy, a high achiever, has a lot of them. Her nebulous quests are common for students. During her Canvas presentation, she recalls how she liked to write creative stories as a child and how much they shaped her expressiveness. She developed a crafter mentality early in life, selling handmade crafts at trade shows in her grade 12 year. She chooses leadership experiences such as the Junior Achievement ( JA) program where she served as company president to “step outside my comfort zone and meet new people.” She explains her work with different volunteer organizations such as Girl Guides and St. Boniface Hospital, and how she created a Sewing for Charity club at the school. She speaks about life lessons on empathy, love, and respect for others, especially those in vulnerable situations. Katy’s Canvas is colourful, like a carefully crafted piece at a craft exhibit. Wow.
Big Picture Narrative Building
The Canvas has been effective in helping students build a compelling personal narrative, allowing them to see the big picture of a life in one space—no flipping through books or working for twenty minutes on a home-room exercise or sitting intermittently with a guidance counsellor.
Learners have a single space in which they may see how their thoughts, values, actions, and experiences create patterns, themes, and threads in their lives. The personal narratives that emerge are used in a variety of contexts—job interviews, elevator pitches, informational interviews and scholarship applications.
The effect of the narratives have been dramatic. In a small high school of 250 students, where the Canvas has been piloted for two years, five students have achieved enormous scholarships, all based on a compelling personal narrative: one Loren Scholarship ($100,000) and one provincial finalist; two Schulich Scholarships ($80,000), and a University of Manitoba Leader of Tomorrow Scholarship ($16,000). The school had never won a single scholarship of these sizes in its history.
Kelsen’s talk is moving, funny, reflective, and insightful—a natural extension of his playing the leads in drama productions for the past two years. He speaks of his love of the trumpet as “making him feel alive.” “I can’t believe I had to be prodded to go to Tigers’ Den Entrepreneurship Competition,” an event at which his team won first place. He notes that entrepreneurship may be an interesting extension for his music abilities. But, first things first. He reframes his question: “How do I get into the University of Manitoba School of Music?” He outlines a plan that includes extra sax practice, talking to a music instructor at the university, and visiting the school to learn more about the music program.
Kelsen was accepted into the school of music, excited with a plan and a path forward.
Try out the LEAN Career Design Canvas
If you’d like to try out the Canvas with your students or young adults, contact me (email@example.com) and I’ll send you the 11″ x 17″ version that students use to craft and reframe their problems.
Berns, G. (2008). Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation.
Cherry, K. (2019, March 13). What Is Brain Plasticity? How Experience Changes the Brain. Retrieved May 20, 2019, from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-brain-plasticity-2794886
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: Experiencing Flow in Work and Play (25th Anniversary Edition ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Gallup. (2017). State of the Global Workplace (pp. 1-219, Rep.). New York, NY: Gallup Press. Retrieved June 1, 2019, from file://stafffiles/adria.magnifi$/Downloads/State_of_the_Global_Workplace_Gallup Report.pdf.
Moore, C. (2019, May 17). What is Flow in Psychology? Definition and 10 Activities to Induce Flow. Retrieved May 20, 2019, from https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/what-is-flow/
Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. New York: Riverhead Books.
Turliuk, J. (2012, June 27). How I Figured Out What I Wanted To Do With My Life. Retrieved June 1, 2019, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/dailymuse/2012/06/27/how-i-figured-out-what-i-wantedto- do-with-my-life/#595e53333883
Witte, M. (2018, June 18). Instead of ‘finding your passion,’ try developing it, Stanford scholars say. Retrieved June 1, 2019, from https://news.stanford.edu/2018/06/18/find-passion-may-bad-advice/
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adriano Magnifico is a Career and Entrepreneurship Consultant in the Louis Riel School Division in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Fall 2019 issue.A