Bill Burnett and Dave Evans on Making the Most of Our Working Lives
In Conversation with Roxanne Coady
on the Just the Right Book Podcast
Over a 40-year span of working 40 hours a week, which most of us will do, we will spend 80,000 hours in what poll after poll shows that almost 70 percent of the employed are disengaged. Globally, almost 85 percent are unhappy and unhappy with work likely means unhappy with life. Is this the way it has to be? It is work. Well, the answer is delightfully an unequivocal no.
This week on Just the Right Book, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans join Roxanne Coady to discuss their latest book, Designing Your Work Life: How to Thrive and Change and Find Happiness at Work, out now from Knopf.
From the episode:
Roxanne Coady: Your philosophy is that we are each the designers of our life and our jobs. What does that mean and what are the ingredients of doing design? You guys are engineers. But most of us are like regular humans.
Bill Burnett: I’ve been teaching design for a lot of years at Stanford. This principle of human-centered design, how do you look at designing a new cup or a new bowl or a new something from a human point of view, is what we teach our students. About 12 years ago, when Dave and I got together, we started thinking about it as a way of thinking about life, that the future is unknowable. We’re going to design something new when we get there. Then you use the principles of prototyping and all the mindsets of a designer like bias to action and reframing problems, and it applies to life and it applies to job. So it was a pretty simple transposition.
Dave Evans: You just mentioned how we are engineers from Silicon Valley. How does this work? In fact, it’s exactly not engineering. We talk about different ways to think, and design thinking is a way of thinking about a certain class of problems. It’s quite different from engineering thinking. Between Bill and I, we have four engineering degrees. But what that means is engineers solve well-bounded problems with enough information that they know is going to work. The equations are well-established. They’re called team problems. But most of life’s problems, the human problems and what we call wicked problems, where you don’t know what you’re looking for until you find it and you can’t get any data because you’re trying to find this thing that doesn’t exist called your future. We don’t have an analysis data available on the future.
So designers are really good at making up new stuff into new space. Since your life comes to you from this place we haven’t been yet called The Future. It’s a long improv skit, and what we’re really doing is giving people the improv tools necessary to play the game of life really well.
Bill Burnett is the executive director of the Stanford Design Program, and was a product leader for Apple’s groundbreaking PowerBook business. He directs the undergraduate and graduate program in design at Stanford. Dave Evans is the co-director of the Stanford Life Design Lab, and a cofounder of Electronic Arts, one of the world’s largest interactive entertainment companies. He holds a BS and MS in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford
Roxanne Coady is owner of R.J. Julia, one of the leading independent booksellers in the United States, which—since 1990—has been a community resource not only for books, but for the exchange of ideas. In 1998, Coady founded Read To Grow, which provides books for newborns and children and encourages parents to read to their children from birth. RTG has distributed over 1.5 million books.