Designing a Life

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A well-designed life is a marvelous portfolio of experiences, of adventures, of failures that taught you important lessons, of hardships that made you stronger and helped you know yourself better, and of achievements and satisfactions. 

Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

            A lot of different thinkers and teachers have shaped my approach to coaching, but perhaps the most influential have been Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, professors at the Stanford University School of Design and authors of Designing Your Life:  How to Build a Well-Lived Joyful Life (Knopf, 2016). They argue that you can use some of the same principles that product designers use to design a good life for yourself.

            To design a product, you start with a problem to solve. For example, some of you remember the days when the only way to catch your favorite shows on television was to tune in at the hour the program aired. If you couldn’t sit down to watch “Happy Days” at 8 pm on Thursday night, you just had to wait for the re-runs. So designers started to think about ways to allow us to capture those television shows and watch them on our own schedules. Teams of engineers and designers brainstormed, experimented, improvised, and experimented some more. First, they developed the VCR then TIVO and the DVR. These innovations had the added bonus of allowing us to skip those annoying commercials. Eventually the digitization of video media and the development of high speed wireless capabilities gave rise to Netflix and all the other on streaming services we enjoy today.  In other words, the designers started with a problem—how to watch our favorite shows at times convenient to us—and they built their way forward, repeatedly innovating ever more functional products.

            I take a similar approach to coaching. I help clients identify and analyze the problem they want to solve, brainstorm possible solutions, and begin experimenting. It’s a constant process of innovating, tweaking, and innovating some more. A good life, a life full of joy and vitality, is a process, not a product. You’ll never be finished with your life, but you’ll always be engaged in a process of experimentation, reframing, improvisation, and more experimentation.