“The notion that you need to have a passion and follow it is a destructive idea,” says Bill Burnett, executive director of the Design Program at Stanford. Burnett and Dave Evans are the founders of Stanford University’s most popular class, Design Your Life, where they are teaching students (ranging in age from their 20s to 70s) how to approach the “classically wicked problem” of figuring out what you want to do when you “grow up.” While most students around the world are terrified that their choice of major will seal their fate, Burnett and Evans explain how this is just one example of “dysfunctional thinking” and how a single decision will not determine the trajectory of the rest of your life.
Burnett and Evans’s class has become Stanford’s most popular because they are training their students how to build a well-lived, joyful life by using the same tools and creative thinking that designers have been using for thousands of years to solve nearly every other problem under the sun. “Designers create worlds and solve problems using design thinking,” they explain in their long-awaited new book, Designing Your Life: How To Build A Well-Lived, Joyful Life, named after their world famous class. “Look around your office or home — at the tablet or smartphone you may be holding or the chair you are sitting in. Everything in our lives was designed by someone. And every design starts with a problem that a designer or team of designers seeks to solve.” The same design thinking responsible for amazing technology, products, and spaces can be used to design and build your career and your life, a life of fulfillment and joy, constantly creative and productive, one that always holds the possibility of surprise.
As a designer and writer myself, I am endlessly intrigued by this class. Having graduated from university with a degree in architecture, 16 years later my own design career in illustration and the film industry has little or nothing to do with architecture proper. I can also remember the anxiety I felt at the end of high school when I had prematurely charted a course for a university education in business administration — until the very last minute I changed my mind thanks to the world’s greatest English teacher and guidance counselor in the world, Mrs. Kathleen O’Grady. She sat me down and helped me tackle my fears and anxieties head-on. With some critical thinking and creative problem-solving techniques, Mrs. O’Grady helped me realize that a future in business was definitely the wrong choice, and that a post-secondary design education could be a perfect match for me. Not only was she right, but she helped course-correct my life, and set into action a series of choices and events that would forever change my future for the better.
I also love how Burnett and Evans’ life-altering techniques overlap with the philosophy of mythologist Joseph Campbell and his concept of The Hero’s Journey. If fear and anxiety are the biggest barriers preventing each of us each from “breaking through” on our own journeys, then what might happen when we apply Burnett and Evans’ design-thinking tools to Campbell’s teachings as well? If this sounds up your alley then you might also love Stephen Cope’s incredible book, The Great Work Of Your Life: A Guide For The Journey To Your True Calling.
I’ve added some of the best videos from Burnett and Evans below, and you can see a few more HERE. You can also visit the class’s main website at Stanford University. And to grab a copy of their new book, Designing Your Life: How To Build A Well-Lived, Joyful Life, simply head over to Amazon. David Kelly, founder of the San Francisco-based design firm IDEO (which has transformed the modern world perhaps more than any other creative agency) writes, “This [is] the career book of the next decade … the go-to book that is read as a rite of passage whenever someone is ready to create a life they love.”