Design! – Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans; my lessons and takeaways

Life is lived best when it is lived in chapters
D. Elton Trueblood


Don’t let your life unfold without intention. Design your life. Or, as the authors wrote in the autographed copy of this book we gave away, Design!

Last Friday at the December First Friday Book Synopsis, I presented my synopsis of Designing Designing Your LifeYour life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. This is a very good book for anyone who: is in transition; is thinking about the next chapter of their work life, their play life, their home life, their “volunteer” life. In other words, anyone who is in any way thinking about “what’s next.” And the point of the book is clear: something will be next. So, design it on purpose, with intention, rather than just letting it happen.

From the book:

Three-quarters of all college grads don’t end up working in a career related to their majors.
In America, two-thirds of workers are unhappy with their jobs. And 15 percent actually hate their work. 

Here is why this book is worth our time:

#1 – We are always in need of designing (at least a part of) our life. This book will give us the tools to do this much more effectively.
#2 – We probably are not quite in “balance.” This book will help us identify, and then design a path to joy, for those not-fully-developed aspects of our life. (The four aspects are: Love; Play; Work; Health). 
#3 – We likely know someone in “transition;” or, maybe simply not all that settled. This is a great book to give them to help them design the next chapter of their lives.

Here is information about this book:

From Diane Rehm’s introduction in her interview:

A class called Designing Your Life is among the most coveted courses at Stanford University. In it, two Silicon Valley veterans use design thinking to help students make decisions about not just what they to do, but how they want to live. Now, the creators of the course have written a book to share how the type of problem-solving Silicon Valley companies have been using for years can be applied to everyday life.

And from the book: We teach courses at Stanford that help any student to apply the innovation principles of design thinking to the wicked problem of designing your life at and after university. We teach how to use design to figure out what you want to be when you grow up.”

Throughout the book, they use this tool: one should go from “Dysfunctional Belief” to a “Reframe.” Here are a couple of examples:

Dysfunctional Belief: If you are successful, you will be happy.
Reframe: True happiness comes from designing a life that works for you.

Dysfunctional Belief: It’s too late.
Reframe: It’s never too late to design a life you love.

Here is “this is the whole idea” in a phrase: Problem Finding + Problem Solving = Well-Designed Life

 And here is my summary of the book:

There is not one “perfect for me” job.
There is not one “perfect” path.
We seek alternatives; we prototype.
We design!
And then, we pursue a path, constantly checking in, constantly open to the next chapter.

Here are some of the key points. Think about:

  • Empathy In design thinking we always say, “Don’t start with the problem, start with the people, start with empathy.”
  • The five mind-sets you are going to learn in order to design your life are: curiosity, bias to action, reframing, awareness, and radical collaboration.
  • It’s not about “your passion”… — Anti-Passion Is Our Passion. 
We hate this idea for one very good reason: most people don’t know their passion.
  • Workview and Lifeview — You need two things to build your compass—a Workview – why you work and a Lifeview. – what is important in life (why are we here?)
 Wayfinding: We think the first clues are engagement and energy.
  • Pay attention to AEIOU — Activities; Environment; Interactions; Objects; Users
  • Aim for Unstuck — Stuck = not engaged, not energizing
  • Use Mindmapping and practice Brainstorming:
  • The Rules of Brainstorming 1. Go for quantity, not quality. 2. Defer judgment and do not censor ideas. 3. Build off the ideas of others. 4. Encourage wild ideas.
  • Too many options… — are too many!
  • Practice an “After Action Review” frequently 
– What went wrong (the critical failure factor)? What could be done differently next time (the critical success factor)?
  • The “Big lessons” –
    • Be Curious — There’s something interesting about everything. Endless curiosity is key to a well-designed life. Nothing is boring to everyone (even doing taxes or washing the dishes).
What would someone who’s interested in this want to know?
    • Try Stuff — With a bias to action, there is no more being stuck—no more worrying, analyzing, pondering, or solving your way through life. Just do it.
    • Reframe Problems — Reframing is a change in perspective, and almost any design problem can use a perspective switch.
    • Ask for Help Radical collaboration means that you aren’t alone in the process.
    • Build a team — Create a community. Keep an ask-for-help journal in which you jot down the questions you want help on, and keep it handy.
    • Find a mentor – pay attention to discernment (“We define discernment as decision making that employs more than one way of knowing”).
    • Learn to “Reframe” get very good at reframing

And here are my lessons and takeaways:

#1 — Spend some actual time working on possible designs for your life – On paper! — with lots of ideas!
#2 — Network more; a lot more — and it is going to take a lot of networking; you know, interacting with other people; real people.
#3 — Learn from your mistakes! — You will make mistakes; some whoppers! Learn from them.
#4 — Build a team, and meet with them! — You’ll need a team of attentive folks, who have your best-interests at heart, 
to help you along the way.
#5 — Work on this (your own life design)! – And work on all four dashboards! 
(Love; Play; Work; Health).

And here is one more key guiding principle:  aim for “actionable.”  Always.

Do yourself a favor: buy this book, and go to work designing the next chapter of your life. And, do check out, and use, the on-paper exercises the authors make available at their web site: Note especially these forms: Energy Engagement Worksheet; Failure Log Worksheet; Good Time Journal Activity Log; Love, Play, Work, Health Dashboard Worksheet; Odyssey Planning Worksheet; Improvs and Warm-ups


My synopsis of this book will be available soon on our “buy synopses” tab at the top of this site.


One thought on “Design! – Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans; my lessons and takeaways

  1. Pingback: Commentary: College students should learn to expect the unexpected – Shawn Miller

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