Here is the full transcript of author Bill Burnett’s TEDx Talk: Designing Your Life at TEDxStanford conference. This event took place on April 23, 2017 at Stanford, California.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett at TEDxStanford
Bill Burnett – Stanford professor & Author
Hello everyone. I’m here to help you design your life where you’re just going to use the technique of design thinking. Design thinking is something we’ve been working on at the D school and in the School of Engineering for over 50 years. And it’s an innovation methodology — works on products, works on services but I think the most interesting design problem is your life. So that’s what we’re going to talk about.
I want to just make sure everybody knows. He’s my buddy Dave Evans’s face. Dave and I are the co-authors of the book. And he’s the guy who helped me co-found the Life Design Lab at Stanford.
So what do we do in the Life Design Lab? Well, we teach the class that helps you figure out what you want to be when you grow up.
Now I’m going to give you the first reframe. Designers love reframes. How many of you hope you never grow up and lose that childlike curiosity that drives everything you do? Raise your hand. Right? Who wants to grow up? I mean we’ve been talking about curiosity in almost every one of these talks.
And so I’d like to reframe this is we say we teach the class that helps you figure out what you want to grow into next, as this life of yours, this amazing design of yours unfolds.
So Design Thinking is what we teach and it’s a set of mindsets; it’s how designers think. You know, we’ve been taught probably in the university to be so skeptical realists rationalists but that’s not very useful as a mindset when you’re trying to do something new, something no one’s ever done before.
So we say you start with curiosity and you lean into what you’re curious about. We say you reframe problems because most of the time we find people are working on the wrong problem, and they have a wonderful solution to something that doesn’t work anyway. So what’s the point of working on the wrong thing? We say radical collaboration because the answer is out in the world with other people; that’s where your experience of your life will be.
We want to be mindful of our process. There are times in the design process when you want lots of ideas and there are times in the design process where you really want to converge and test some things, prototype some things. So you want to be good at that.
And the other is biased action. Now you know, I’ll say that we think no plan for your life will survive first contact with reality. Reality has a tendency to throw little things at us that we weren’t expecting, sometimes good things, sometimes bad. So we say just have a bias to action. Try stuff.
Why? Why do we start this class? Well I’ve been in office hours for a long long time with my students, have been teaching here for a while. Dave as well — he was teaching over at that community college in Berkeley for a while. And what we notice is — I’m sorry, I’m sorry; it’s a Stanford TEDx. What I notice is, people get stuck. People really get stuck and then they don’t know what to do and they don’t seem to have any tools for getting unstuck.
And designers get stuck all the time. I mean I signed up to be a designer which means I’m going to work on something I’ve never done every day. And I get stuck and unstuck and stuck and unstuck all the time.
But we also noticed as we went out, and we talked to folks who are not just our students but people in mid-career and encore careers that people have a bunch of beliefs which psychologists label dysfunctional beliefs — things they believe that are true that actually aren’t true. And it holds them back. I’ll give you three.
First one is what’s your passion? Tell me your passion and then I’ll tell you what you need to do. Now if you actually have one of these things, these passions you knew it too; you wanted to be a doctor; you knew at seven you wanted to be a clown at Cirque du Soleil and now you are one. That’s awesome.
But you know where we sort of research based here at Stanford, so we went over to the Center for the Study of Adolescence which by the way now goes up to 27. I met with Bill Damon who’s one of our colleagues; he’s a fantastic guy. He studied this question and it turns out less than 20% of the people have any one singular identifiable passion in their lives.
So we hate a methodology which says OK come to the front of the line, you have passion; oh you don’t; oh I’m sorry. Go to the back; when you have one come on back. We’ll help you over there. It’s terrible, eight out of 10 people say I have lots of things I’m interested in. So this is not an organizing principle for your search or your design.
The second one is, well you should know by now, right? Don’t you know where you’re going? If you don’t know you’re late. Now what are you late for exactly? I’m not quite sure but people have — you know there’s a meta-narrative in the culture in my — when I was growing up, 25, you’re supposed to have, you know, maybe have a relationship, maybe have gotten married, starting to get the family together.
When I talk to my students, my millennial students, they’ll say oh that’s got to be like 30 or something because they can’t imagine anything past like 22, but 30 is a long way out. But we know that nowadays people are forming their lives much more fluidly; they are staying in a lot more dynamic motion between about 22 and 35.
And so this notion that you’re late it’s really kind of — it’s not only — it’s like well you should have figured this out by now. Dave and I don’t shoot on anybody in the book or in the class, we don’t believe in should, we just think all right you are wherever you are; let’s start from where you are. You’re not late for anything.
But the one we really don’t like is are you being the best possible version of you? I mean, because you’re not settling; are you for something that’s less than the best because this is Stanford. Obviously we all want to be the best.