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Why Designing Your Life for Women?

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.