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Kathy Davies and Susan Burnett are taking Designing Your Life, and building a workshop especially for women.  And the work shops are having a real impact…


What’s “Designing Your Life”?

For the past 10 years “Designing Your Life” has been one of the most popular electives at Stanford University, helping students use design thinking mindsets, tools and life practices to design a great life after Stanford graduation. The course resulted in a LifeDesign© method that has been validated in two Stanford doctoral dissertations, and the New York Times best seller, “Designing Your Life – How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life”, authored by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. At the heart of this approach are life’s most important questions: “Who do I want to be? What do I want to do in the future? How can I create a well-lived life?”

Why women?  

Here are a few words from Bill and Dave Evans in conversation with Peter High, writing for Forbes magazine:

High: There is a section specifically for women on the Designing Your Life website. What are some of the nuances or thoughts you have on how these ideas and tools apply to women?

Evans: First, I should point out that neither Bill nor I happen to be a woman, and consequently, we have sympathy not empathy. We do not claim expertise, we claim interest. After we taught the class at Stanford for a while, we got many requests for people to take the class. That is why we wrote the book, but it made the “Can I take the course?” question worse. Since we knew that working people do not have 20 hours over 10 weeks to take a course, we put together a workshop format. We started experimenting with one-day intensive experiences to try to pull this thing off in a meaningful way. In one of our first summer prototypes, which was a four or five hour workshop, a friends and family type of deal, we inadvertently ended up with one session being all women. We realized that something special was occurring in the room. One of the women in that group happened to be this incredibly talented chief learning officer named Susan Burnett, who by happenstance is Bill’s older sister. But it is not about nepotism, it is about smart genes doing smart things. Susan is one of the leading organizational learning experts in the country. She has been collaborating with us for some time, but it was this moment that made us say we need to go somewhere with this.

Burnett: The head of our Design Your Life Lab, Kathy Davies, and Susan put this together. It is essentially the same one-day workshop that we have run a number of times, but takes place over a two-day period. One of the things we noticed was that women want to spend more time talking about these ideas. The two days give us a bit more time for conversation. I have been in a men’s group for many years and there is a conversation that men can have when there are no women in the room, it is a different sensibility, the same is true for women. Certainly, when it is all women in the room, the conversation centers more around the work-life balance issue, and the issue of, can I be a successful executive and raise the kids and have it all? Kathy and Susan have designed special exercises, that are designed thinking based, that allow women to ideate and prototype into those questions. It is not that men do not have the same work-life balance questions, but we have found that women fall into a generative and supportive conversation quickly, and want to talk about and work on these things longer; and they are emotionally available to have these conversations. Kathy and Susan are fantastic facilitators. The first prototype of the two-day workshop was extraordinary; 97 percent of the women said they would absolutely insist their best friend take the workshop.



  • Thank you so much! This is very helpful. I couldn’t quite figure out how to organize the thing… 🙂 Thanks again!

  • Kathy Davies says:

    @ Sanchia:
    We don’t have an online version of the women’s workshop, but Bill and Dave have released an online course around the book. It is available here on the Creative Live platform:
    Let us know what you think if you try it!

  • Kathy Davies says:

    @ Leanne Tremblay:
    Leanne, fantastic that you are planning to assemble a team and work on the exercises together! I recommend doing the exercises individually, and then coming together to share your observations and results. Many book clubs will do a chapter at a time, and have a meeting per chapter. With 4 life designers, the idea of taking turns works well – each person sharing, and then the group noticing and commenting on what they heard, and asking thoughtful questions. It is also useful to set up some ground rules for discussion. The rules we use in the workshop:
    1. Keep it personal, not universal (“I think…” vs. “Everyone knows…”)
    2. Be generative for one another
    3. Keep it confidential – ask before sharing someone else’s story beyond the discussion group
    4. Be respectful of everyone’s views

    RE: going through the book before the workshop, it works either way. We’ve had women who have gone through the book cover to cover prior to the workshop, and women who haven’t ever opened the book attend. The workshop is effective as a stand alone experience, or as a tool to deepen and cement many of the book’s concepts.

  • Sanchia says:

    Hi.. I am based in New Zealand and vrry keen on the workshop for women. Are there any plans for offering a workshop online?
    Love your work

  • Kathy Davies says:

    @Isabella Chayne:
    Isabella, we have two programs scheduled this fall – one is Sept 30-Oct 1, in Pacific Grove and the other is Nov 11-12 in San Diego. We hope you are able to join us. It would indeed be a wonderful birthday gift!

  • Isabella Chayne says:

    I heard about this program about a year ago, and just have been reintroduced to it through NPR’s Hidden Brain. The unfortunate thing is that I am scheduled into the fall with work-related obligations (at least through October 4th). Do you have an idea on when the next workshop will be? I think it a great way to celebrate my 60th birthday (December)!

  • Kathy Davies says:

    @ Tomás Arregui:
    Bill is planning to offer another one day workshop this fall, but dates have not yet been set. Please keep your eye on the website for updates.

  • Kathy Davies says:

    @ Ida Rajkovich: Ida, the workshop is absolutely appropriate for you. In our April, June, and July workshops we’ve had women of all ages, from early 20’s to late 70’s, and from all walks of life. Designing Your Life is all about designing what’s next, and that applies to all of us. Several other women thinking about encore careers are already planning to attend the September workshop so you will be in good company. And perhaps more importantly, we’ve heard great things from past participants about how radical collaboration with folks both similar and different has been key to getting unstuck. We look forward to seeing you in September!

  • Ida Rajkovich says:

    Hi Susan and Kathy ,
    Your program sounds excellent. How I wish I could have had this resource years ago. I’m wondering if now at the age of 61 I can still benefit from your program and find my way for the rest of my years. I don’t plan on retiring and would like to make an appropriate choice. I also want to travel and be very social since I have been single for the past 9 years after a 25 year marriage and 3 great now grown kids. Please let me know if this can work with my goals.
    Lori Schulman referred me to your program. I am so appreciative that there are such interesting programs for women addressing important issues. Thank you!

  • Tomás Arregui says:

    I am from Brazil and I would like to participate in a workshop but for men, can you please inform to me the workshops’ schedulle for men lead by Dave and Bill.

    Thank you
    Best Regards