Designing Your Life & Finding Your Talent: Prof G Interview with Bill Burnett

Talk about two stellar minds merging for a podcast, Designing Your Life author Bill Burnett joined legendary Prof G for an episode of his podcast recently. You can listen on Spotify and Apple Podcasts to get inspired. We’ve included a few choice quotes below as well.

“This thing we call design thinking… Now we used to call it just human-centered design. We’ve been doing this at Stanford for a long time since 1963 when we started this program. The way you do it is you just change your mindset. You start thinking like a designer. So there’s five mindsets, curiosity, rather than being a skeptic, be curious, because if we’re talking about the future, there’s no data anyway. So let’s just get curious and check it out. That’s where the energy  for our change comes from. And then we frame the problem. This famous Peter Drucker quote, “There’s nothing quite that’s so useless as doing something very well that never needed to be done in the first place,” right? So, change the problem because most people are working on the wrong problem. And then radical collaboration, the problems and the interesting solutions are out in the world. Talk to people biased to action. Cuz again, if there’s no data about the future, just let’s go do some stuff, let’s build some stuff. And then prototyping, just, let’s try to investigate the world by building things and seeing what people do with them. So if you get curious, radically collaborate, reframe your problems, build lots of prototypes, you’re doing design thinking.

In the case of designing your life, you start with first empathy for yourself. Who are you? What do you want? What do you want outta work? What do you want outta life? And then empathy for the world. Just because you wanna do something doesn’t mean the world cares, right? That doesn’t mean the world’s gonna let you do it. So we have people write a work view, 250 words, 500 words on what’s your theory of work? Why do we work? What’s work for? And then a LifeView, which is, you know, literally 250 to 500 words on what’s the meaning of life? What’s your organizing principle? Why are we here? It might be a spiritual thing, might be a secular thing, but whatever it is. And then the real thing is that research shows that when you, when you have a coherent life view and work view, when the two match, you are able to experience your life as being more meaningful, more coherent.

Psychologists have this principle called the hedonic treadmill. It used to be money. I gotta have more money, get a little more, and then it’s good for a while, then I gotta have some more, I gotta have some, right? And now I think money is maybe the new money, it’s a hedonic treadmill. But, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “Hey look, I want to go to work and I wanna know what I’m working on and what I’m working for. That’s fine. That’s not entitled.

This generation is a little more demanding. They value novelty over mastery. They’re talking to me about, well, “I wanna have an impact.” Well, you’ve only been in the job a year and you don’t really know what you’re doing yet. So like, dig in and learn how to do the job. Once you have mastery over this junior analyst position or this junior designer position, you get more responsibility and you start to move into bigger and bigger, more responsible roles and those roles have more impact.

A guy named Bill Damon, who’s a big researcher in this space, wrote a book called The Path To Purpose. He said only 20% of people have any single year single identifiable passion. 80% of the people, when you ask ’em that question, go, “I don’t know,” or, “I got five of ’em. What do you wanna talk about first?” So it’s a stupid question because eight out of 10 people are gonna answer, “I don’t know.” And I think we’re all in favor of people working passionately and working with grit, but you don’t have to know your passion in advance to figure out what you want to do with your life. You engage your curiosity to figure out where are my talents and talent is interesting because I think it does exist, but I also think that, you know, talent plus the 10,000 hours is what gets you to mastery and to a state where you can see around the corners and you’re doing work that nobody else can do.

So talent is underlying, but if you don’t work on it, if you don’t practice it and make it better, it ain’t a strength.

People get stuck. Our students get stuck, people get stuck in mid-career. People are retiring in some cases earlier and they have a much better health span. They’re gonna be healthy for another 20, 25 years. That’s a whole nother career. You can’t just go golfing for 25 years. So this is a big problem. But how do you know your stock? Well, you’ve taken an assessment the last 12 months you’ve come to work and you had to drag your ass outta bed every Monday morning and there’s nothing, you’re not curious about anything you’re doing anymore cuz you’ve just been doing it for so long that it isn’t interesting. So the stuck feeling is like numb, like your brain’s numb, your head’s numb, your heart’s numb. So it takes a little bit of work to identify it, but once you’ve identified it, then, then the mindsets of curiosity and reframing come into play. And so you get curious, you start talking to people and you try different things and then you, you tell your story. It’s an empirical process. It’s the difference between navigation and wayfinding. If I’m navigating, if I know I’m, I’m currently sitting in Stanford, if I want to go home to my house in the dog patch, I know exactly how to do that. I enter the address in my GPS, it takes me up 280 and I’m there. I know the beginning and the endpoint. That’s navigation. Wayfinding is I know where I am. I don’t know where I want to go. I have a vague target.”