Designing Your Life

Posted by on Sep 19, 2017 in Scott's Notes | 0 comments

Designing Your Life

What do you want to be when you grow up?


When’s the last time someone asked you that?  When you were 10 and you replied optimistically and enthusiastically, “A firefighter” or “A pilot” or “A doctor” or “An Executive Recruiter” (OK no one has ever said that last one!).  Since we are all constantly striving to grow and evolve as professionals and as human beings, it seems to me that we should ask ourselves this questions on a more regular basis.


When I am first introduced to someone who is seeking career guidance or needs help exploring options for their career, it is one of several that I ask them to answer.  


Why does it matter?  Well, I guess it’s because it’s your life, and so the better you know the answer to that question professionally, the more successful you will be in articulating your goals and the more prepared you will be in assessing opportunities as they present themselves.  As Tim Brown asserts in Change by Design, it’s important to first inform ourselves about what is at stake and to expose the true costs (and benefits) of the choices we make. …if this is not what life is all about, I don’t know what is.


“How might you” describe what you want to be when you grow up or how you want to progress in your career and your personal life, etc?  And then how can you actually make it happen?


This is often a challenging question and I want to offer an approach to help you answer this question.


During the past year we’ve been working with more companies in the Bay Area and have found that those companies more than most have a “Design Thinking” mindset infused into their DNA.


That may be commonplace in the start-up world, and Dave Evans and Bill Burnett at the Stanford Business School wrote the book Designing your Life to help you apply similar concepts to thinking about your career.

Of course, to do this, it’s helpful to understand some of the underlying principles of Design Thinking.

And, keep in mind that while Design Thinking can be a Systematic Process, that does NOT mean it is a linear or sequential process…i.e., it can be messy!  Meaning  there is not one way or a “one best way” to move through the process.


So, with that in mind, here are some of principles of Design Thinking:

  • Start with divergence:  Deliberately attempt to expand the range of options rather than narrow them.
  • Heck, just start somewhere…that is what prototyping is all about.  You might have also heard it described as:  creating a “Minimum Viable Product” or “Failing Fast” as a way to learn from the experience
  • Consider the constraints (in this case, in your life):
    • What is it you Desire
    • What is Feasible (possible given time, location, family constraints for example)
    • Viable (primarily economical, but maybe health wise, etc)
  • Plan for inspiration, ideation, implementation – just remember the SPARC acronym: “See-Plan-Act-Refine-Communicate”
  • Define a “brief” to give yourself a starting point/framework/baseline and at the same time allow for serendipity, unpredictability, and the capricious whims of fate, for that is the creative realm from which breakthrough ideas emerge. If you already know what you are after, there is usually not much point in looking.


Of course, you must be in the right frame of mind to allow yourself to do this, so remember that:

  • Curiosity does not thrive if you have grown cynical.
  • The most successful people “embrace the mess.” They allow complexity to exist, at least as they search for solutions, because complexity is the most reliable source of creative opportunities.
  • The beauty of a Design Thinking mindset helps balance the practical side of life: stability, efficiency, and predictability with joy of spontaneity, serendipity, and experimentation.
  • You have to know yourself:  What you believe, Who you are, What you do.
  • It’s ok to develop alternate paths for your life (I’ve got a few ways I’ve thought about “riding off into the sunset”)
  • And, as Dan Gilbert, the Harvard psychologist and author of another book I’d recommend, “Stumbling on Happiness” says, “Happiness comes from ‘wanting what you got,’ not ‘Getting what you want.’”


Hopefully I’ve helped SPARC some inspiration for you to “just start somewhere” considering the possibilities of the career and life you desire.



Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

At last, a book that shows you how to build—design—a life you can thrive in, at any age or stage.

Designers create worlds and solve problems using design thinking. 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.

Purchase on Amazon



Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation by Tim Brown

The myth of innovation is that brilliant ideas leap fully formed from the minds of geniuses. The reality is that most innovations come from a process of rigorous examination through which great ideas are identified and developed before being realized as new offerings and capabilities.

This book introduces the idea of design thinking‚ the collaborative process by which the designer′s sensibilities and methods are employed to match people′s needs not only with what is technically feasible and a viable business strategy. In short‚ design thinking converts need into demand. It′s a human−centered approach to problem solving that helps people and organizations become more innovative and more creative.

Purchase on Amazon