Dave Evans and Bill Burnett are designers at heart. Early in their careers, they designed for companies like Apple. Today, as Life Designers, they show people how to get off the couch and prototype alternative versions of their lives and their careers.
About Designing Your Work Life
From the authors of the #1 New York Times bestseller Designing Your Life (“Life has questions. They have answers” —The NYT)–a job-changing, outlook-changing, life-changing book that shows us how to transform our work lives and create a dream job that is meaningful without necessarily changing the job we have.
About Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
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 Codirector of the Stanford Life Design Lab, and a co-founder of Electronic Arts, one of the world’s largest interactive entertainment companies. He holds a BS and MS in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford.
Bill Burnett: I'm on a direction. I'm not exactly sure I'm going, but I know I'm going North or North by Northwest. And I'm open to the possibility that there's going to be something wonderful.
Aaron: Brothers and sisters. Welcome to another episode of Work Life Play today. My guests are designers, authors and fellow journeymen on this hunt for finding work we love: Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. They wrote a sequel book on designing your work life. And their first book, I interviewed them. It sounds like it was three and a half years ago, and it was about designing your life. And they use these design principles that I've used heavily in my life and in work. And we had another conversation today, which is really fun. So their first book went on to be a New York times bestseller. They've sold half a million copies, some hundred plus university college systems around the world, teach the course on designing your life. And we were able to huddle and connect. So we talk about joy, about reframing, about dysfunctional beliefs, about thriving, about having a bias towards action and being led by curiosity about how to choose thinking that is actually empowering for the life that you want and the purpose that you want in your life about autonomy, about getting off the treadmill of more. I know you enjoy it.
So you're saying neither book in the beginning, wherever a possibility if it were left to Dave.
Bill Burnett: Well, yeah, absolutely. I mean, we had been, we had been teaching for five or six years, I think. And you know, the classes past started to get bigger and we'd always had, one of the missions of the lab was to get this stuff off campus. And he said, let's write a book. And they did. And I think it took me two years to convince him to even outline killing it for two years. And then when summer, I finally said, let's outline this thing and we outlined 10 chapters, cause it's a 10 week class and
Dave Evans: No Bill, you said, you'd fire me. If I didn't write the book.
Bill Burnett: I said, you really, this is a responsibility. And then we wrote a bad book and then we find an agent and then we wrote a better book and that was fun. And then when we got to the second, no, the, our publisher actually said, Hey guys, this is going pretty well. Let's get another book. And we proposed a couple of different things. We ended up on the book on work.
Bill Burnett: It's not a book, it's a movement. We've got to keep the movement going, send me a list of second titles. You might be able to write for us. We selected to the book on work. We were, our agent had a brainstorming session and Dave arrived saying, I know you're going to try to talk me into writing another book. And I'll brainstorm with you with this under no circumstances. Are you going to trick me into this again?
Dave Evans: I'm just here in support of my friend, Bill, Bill likes to ideate with me. I'm one of his favorite ideation partners. And we do that together really well. And Bill thinks writing another book is interesting. Again, I don't, so I'm here to help Bill have ideas, but once we have them, you guys can write the book.
Aaron: So what was it about? Was it the actual book writing process that Dave, that you don't enjoy or didn't enjoy? Was it the laboriousness of holing up in hotels for weeks at a time? Like what, what is it that you were resisting?
Dave Evans: Boy, I wish I could give you a mature cause and effect answer, and I can make one up, but the absolute truth is just probably fits into a broad category of problems with Dave that are often evidenced. When Bill sneaks up behind me and leans into my ear and says, Dave, I think we're having an accept problem. I can, um, Bill I've often complimented bills. Bill does reality almost better than anybody alive I've ever met. And I tend to like things on my own terms. Um, and so the reality was that we written this successful book and it was a big deal and it was going to take some time to support it. And, um, and so the reason I didn't want to write the second book was largely, I didn't want to accept being an author. Uh, and it was a lot of work and I can write, but it's not a natural act and it's a ton of effort and I just want to go through it all again. But the real issue was I just had accepted we've become successful authors.
Aaron: Okay. So let's start there using your own methodologies of reframing. The reframe is the ability to pivot In our thinking, it isn't to tell a fictitious story or trick herself into believing something different. Is it genuine from a root perspective shift? So using that as an example, then what became your root perspective shifts that enabled for this book to be in my hand today?
Dave Evans: So the pivot I made was frankly away from looking primarily at the work. It's a lot of work and in many ways it's unnatural work for me. I mean, writing isn't natural for me, thinking of ideas is, and white boarding is and talking is for sure, but writing, first of all, we are successful authors. What does that mean? That means lots of people are asking this question and like the ideas that we're sharing with them to respond to them. So would you like to talk some more with hundreds of thousands of people who have real issues that they think you could be helpful on? And I love being helpful. So I just pivoted away from the work and onto the served constituency, but that pivot required accepting that we apparently read books that people read.
Bill Burnett: I don't know if they remember. So there were two steps first it was outright denial. And then it was this reframe to like, well, you know, this would be useful and people would, you know, we could do something useful. That'd be great. And then, and you recall, you were convinced we had absolutely no ideas did. I said, well, let's get together whiteboard. You know, how did we like to do that whiteboard thing let's get together. And then within 40 minutes, Dave had filled a white, well, we both, it filled the white board and they had, Dave had dozens of ideas about what this book was about.
Dave Evans: We had this brainstorm meeting that I'm dragged into as Bill's assistant, I'm not going to work on the book. We come up with a list of titles, we send it off to the publisher. We all kind of bet what title we think they're going to pick. So it's really a spec book. You know, the publisher wants book number two. Um, and then they, the book they pick neither of us, had been on the book on work. And then we got to get in there. First thing I said, Bill, we're screwed totally squared. We thought up this, I have no idea what this book is. We've not taught this. We don't have his class. We don't have, you know, we have nothing to work from when we've got so much work to do. And he goes, well, let's, let's just do it. Let's just do it. Let's just come on. We'll just do the ideation. You know, and literally it was about 20 minutes later, we had a table of content.
Bill Burnett: I think it does hit on the subject of curiosity because we are both deeply curious about how our students are doing days in this situation. And you know, and we evolve this, this simplified methodology that designing your life and even designing your work life is really first to get curious, because curiosity, as you were saying, Erin, is, is that energy that pulls us to try something new. So get curious, talk to people, which is the, you know, prototype conversations, uh, try stuff, prototype experiences, go out in the world. The world is where we can prototype our ideas. And then tell your story. Because as you, as you connect into these networks of people, storytelling is how you create this virtuous circle of curiosity, leads to prototypes, prototypes, lead to stories, stories they come to work. Now I'm more curious about more things.
Aaron: What I think is fascinating for me, and I'd love for you to bring us into a specific story or a couple of specific stories is in the beginning of your career, you guys were both in technology and software. So you use design principles. Then you were in academia and you were bringing that to life for students. One of the most popular classes, then you move into workshops and then your sphere of influence increases. Well now fast forward, your universe is much larger than it was and many, many, many. So one of the things you mentioned in book, number two here is about how it's everything from helicopter pilots, moms, retirees, like you covered, like it was a really good list. Priests, school teachers, nurses, like pick one. Yeah. So, um, and what I loved about it is that you brought it together to say, this is actually a human condition. There's a human condition about asking the question of how do I have more happiness, joy, meaning, purpose, connection, fulfillment in my life. And Oh, by the way, this is a really simple way. You can begin to activate these things in your life so that you can so take us into a story and walk us through. Cause I think what happens sometimes for listeners especially in the podcast world is it's endless sea of guests. You have great tips about how things can be better. I think the differences, I'm a practitioner of the work that you guys profess and I'd love for them to hear our listeners, how you see this in particular people's lives, making a daily difference.
Dave Evans: I'll give you an anecdote, uh, just to, just to sort of one liner and then a bit of a story for me. The one on one story is, is really the, I mean, it's, it's great. That 500,000 people have a copy of the book, but you know, talk to me individually, you know, how's it going for you? We got an email from a woman who said, “I just want to thank you guys. Um, I'm married to this lovely man have been for 38 years. But unfortunately during all those growing up years, he listened when his parents again and again, and again told him he's just no damn good.
And he believed them. And so, um, I love him, but he's been stuck for a very long time. And I just have to tell you, I got him your book and he's unstuck for the first time in 38 years. Thank you. And learning this brought me to tears and I have no idea what idea it was or how he got on stuck. But I think that here's a guy who's been receiving help and of all kinds who knows and getting nowhere and why he's getting nowhere. I mean, I have a strong conviction about this. I think the reason our stuff's working for some people and this word of mouth thing, like we go, well, don't go to a book talk, you know? And then we sign some books out and people stand in line for an hour to get the book signed, you know, allegedly by me and legibly by Bill.
And, and they will tell you, not just thank you for the book, but then, you know, I gave it to my son and I, I have a box of 30 in my trunk and I give him all the time. And then they tell me, I give it to my son and he gave it to his girlfriend and she gave it to her dentist and her dentist daughter. And then they will tell you, not just that's where the book went, but the detailed story of the dentist's daughter.
Aaron: That is a revolution that is like a certifiable revolution, right?
Dave Evans: It's hand to hand combat. And I keep thinking of what the, what is going on here. Well, what's going on here is a human condition is exactly what you said and design thinking's proper name is human centered design HCD. And I keep saying, if you get the human part, right, you know, you nailed it. And I, and I think our stuff resonates with people because it is fundamentally more human than those other dysfunctional belief, but exciting and inspiring ideas that simply don't really work. Yeah. One example would be, uh, one of my daughters works, you know, doing women's empowerment stuff, your sport and the, in the townships, outside of Cape town, South Africa. And she was meeting a new colleague in another organization who was doing some work and she, how did you get into this? She said, well, you got to understand, you know, I was doing this other stuff. It was in the business world, you know, and then I read this book and blah, blah. And then she goes, um, my stepdad wrote that book.
And so she goes on into how she literally did, you know, step one, step, two steps. You said, I realized I didn't want to do this anymore. I don't have to be stuck. And I'm going to get curious and I'm going to reach out and talk to a bunch of people. And I got the call back and I had these conversations and eventually there was an Avenue did this project and they said it was, and here I am now, now living the life I chose because I was able to actually do those steps. They were doable and they gave me the hopefulness that I could pull it off. So if we give you enough hope to give it a try and tools that when you try them actually have progress and you just repeat, repeat, repeat stuff happens.
Bill Burnett: Yeah. Our wonderful editor at Kennett, Vicky Wilson, she said, you know, this book is hopeful and I don't think we had thought of it that way. We didn't really see it that way, but it's one of the things that comes back over and over again. So anyway, I'll just get this email through our website. I want to just want it to thank you in all caps for this lifeline. I was just fired this past Friday as a single mother of three kids. I'm sad and terrified. It's a stage of loss where I'm finding it hard to get happy or excited about anything. But I forced myself to go for a walk with the dog and listened to the first couple of chapters of your book today. Not only do I feel inspired, but I love that you have humor into the book. It feels good to laugh right now.
I'm sure you've received hundreds or maybe thousands of similar messages, but know that this book is certainly a major piece of the puzzle for me, as I redesigned a life that I can be proud of and feel secure. And I know it's great to hear that I'm in good company and that most of the world is already also still busy figuring it out. It's like, so, um, it's hopeful. It's not pedantic. We say we don't shut on our students. We don't tell anybody in the book what to do. We'll try to make it lighthearted and a bit humorous. I'm glad people find it funny. And that it brings a sense of like, I can actually do this stuff. Totally. One, two, three formula. I'm going to be great. Like, you know, some self help guru is going to be, make me great.
All agencies with the reader. One of our favorite, one of our favorite first reviews was it's clear that the authors respect the autonomy of the reader and tell us what to do. We don't tell the students what to do. We don't do it in a classroom just to give you ideas and tools. You're the designer of your life. I got a compass. I'm on, I'm on a direction. I'm not exactly sure I'm going, but I know I'm going North or North by Northwest. And I'm open to the possibility that there's going to be something wonderful. And if you can, if you can start with that kind of curiosity about the world and have a little bit of direction set, we just gave you basic stuff. You can do it. People find their own saying Dave was saying, you know, purposes in a location. It's a, it's a, it's a state of being. You wanna say that again, Dave?
Dave Evans: Well, I got asked to talk to a big college crowd about, you know, finding your purpose. And I said, I'd love to talk about that. And my first suggestion is don't, don't find your purpose because like so many of these lofty ideas, the question is errantly framed around some kind of exclusivity. I have to find my one true purpose and then I will be okay.
Aaron: And there's one answer.
Dave Evans: Yeah. So then, so I got to find that purpose and everything else is pointless till I do. And then I got to go implement it as opposed to no, no, no, look, there's, there's lots of ways to live in the world that are purposefully minded that are value consistent with you that are coherent and meaningful. What you want to do is you want to be a purposeful person. So learn the skill and the art of purposefulness, purposefulness, and live that way. And by the way, if you know how to do this, you could honestly plan three purposeful lives that are all available to you. And then you get to choose which one to live into. So on the purpose question, purpose is a way it's not a thing. I don't have a purpose. Um, I try to do things purposefully. That's that's the council. We try to give
Aaron: One of the things I'm noting is that because you're offering all of these invitation, this hopeful invitation to this woman was lovely letter who just lost her job. Right? And my experience running this morning, listening to the book as well was same thing as like, this is, this is hopeful. This is more hopeful than the first. And it wasn't that the first wasn't hopeful. I thought, I think the first I would wrap up as possibility, And, and so far where I'm at in this book is hopeful, linking hopeful, impossible. And what do I do now? And I'm finding that link really helpful.
So what I'm curious about is what is it that occurred in your journeys together individually over the last three and a half years from book one to book two, you're infusing that as the authors. So what is it that you discovered as it relates to hope that came out in the work that you've produced?
Dave Evans: When I got the email, my copy of the email, that bill just read from this woman, which was about the second book, the designing your work life book, you know, I responded, you know, to bill and to our writer, into our agent, Doug and, and said, wow, but I gotta be honest with you. I wouldn't have seen this one coming. I didn't know we were writing a hopeful book and I don't think I knew we were writing a more hopeful book when we started writing to the worker. My premise. Now I just thought, since I've been in real time, we know we're talking to somebody who's stuck. Hmm. And the first book you may not be stuck. You're just at an inflection point of transition about to retire, about to graduate. That's not stuck. That's just like a moment in time. Um, but boy, the worker book is about somebody who's probably in pain and probably stock. And I think we really do believe what you have more agency than you might think. There are ways you can apply that agency faster than you think, and it might be, have more impact on your life than you think they vest kid. We've got something for you. And that is a helpful stance, but I was just trying to be effective. I don't think I was trying to be cheerful. Um, I think frankly, when you hear people trying to be cheerful, it's annoying.
Bill Burnett: That's, I'll tell you one other big thing that's happened since the first book, you know, Dave has been ramping down a little bit is, um, uh, teaching at Stanford. Cause he's got lots of grandkids and kind of boat and likes to do fun stuff, but you're one of the goals of the lab has always been, let's get this off campus. And the book was one version. And one of the things we've been doing is teaching other universities how to teach this class. Cause as soon as we started doing it, Dave and I were flooded with requests and we just didn't know how to deal with it when it was just me and Dave and trying to teach, you know, six or seven classes. So now we've got the lab and we run, what's called the transfer studio and we have transferred this class to about 120 plus universities. We sent the lab to Thailand, they're teaching it in Thailand, we've sent the lab to Australia.
And so one of the things I'm really excited about is that we get to serve a much bigger community. And what we're seeing is that this kind of, no, I ideas and tools, a little bit of structure is even more helpful and more impactful. If you don't have a dad who went to college or an uncle, you can call and say, Hey, how do I get a job? Cause it's just like blank. It's blue sky. You don't have a network into that group of people. And you know, mom and dad maybe aren't as educated or maybe you said it's a brand new brand, new immigrant family or something. So that's the stuff that really got me excited about the, about the next book, about a book about work is that it looked like it. Wasn't just, you know, that like smart people are knowledge workers could do this.
I mean, we've got a fast food shift supervisor and the book we've got, you know, we just got a story about a truck driver. We really wanted it to be every worker. And I will both tell you, we got pretty shitty advice when we were in college about what to do. I got lucky cause I accidentally picked a major I liked. And then I was, you know, off to the races and Dave was unhappy because he picked a major that for which there were no jobs for the next until 20 years later. But I mean, when you're hanging out with the students, we hang out with them, people come to workshops and stuff and just look at the amount of kind of needless pain and stuckness and you know, it's not working out and I'm trying so hard and I don't know what to do and to give people one effect, just how about just a reframing tool and prototype? Oh, we had a guy come up to us at a book signing and he goes prototyping. It's a really big deal. Turns out to tell everybody you can prototype anything. And I said, well, I'm signing your books. I think it's in there. I think it's in there for me. I've been a designer for 35, 40 years. So like build prototypes of course you, you don't go with your first idea. The other big, the other big thing that tends to really lack people say, Oh, you mean I can have more than one plan. And if it doesn't work, just pivot.
Aaron: So people that haven't read the books say more about that particular truth.
Dave Evans: In the first book, the big idea is around the exercise called the Odyssey plan where on a single eight and a half by 11 piece of paper in 15 minutes, we will facilitate you coming up with three completely different ideas about how to live the next five years of your life. We, in fact, I remember I literally married the ideation session when Bill Aaron met in the classroom talking about coming over the saucy plan thing, you know, so we're going to do this. And we started characterizing with you as you plan it to look like, and then bloggers. Yeah. But if we're going to do three, I don't want, of course, you know, probably the most single important decision we ever made took a bath for 10 microseconds because it was so obvious because there's not just one of you. So the line we use all the time is there's more a liveliness in each of us than one lifetime permits you to express. There must be more than one of you in there. You're not going to have time to let them all out. So let's, let's give a couple of you.
Aaron: Let's give voice to a couple of them right now.
Dave Evans: give voice to a couple of them right now. And then, you know, and then start prototyping it a lots of them and a combination of not just what's the right one or the best one, the one you really want. Cause I may not even anywhere near be that simple. It's not linear, but it also is a combination with the world's interested in now and that kind of thing. So this starts this empirical process of prototyping to go out and actually start building a life, you know, but the idea is you're not just one thing.
Aaron: So one of the things I run into continually, and I'm sure you do also is people that are far down an already path. A decade, two, three, whatever. Maybe oftentimes it's a career field. And that they're heavily vested in that career field, both from experience as well as compensation and maybe even, um, reward. So everything from, you know, retirement to stock options, then you add all of the externals, the mortgage payments and all those things, things, right? So this idea of designing your life can feel like my experience working with them is that like a luxury for young people, luxury for young people or maybe a forced upset. So like, Oh, well yeah, an event happened in your life a crisis. So you lost your job. You have to, or someone in your family died or it's a sunset, um, plan of what to do. I have a buddy of mine who just retired a couple months ago so he can design his life in the next chapter. But it's kind of like a way that they dismiss themselves from participating in life design because of all of the precursors I just mentioned.
So back to we, we would agree there's some dis dysfunctional beliefs in there, but what is it that you've learned now in interacting with thousands of people, ways that you can begin to get agreement, even in the smallest ways to prototype, to reframe, to run a risk, like walk us through that.
Bill Burnett: One of the things that's been surprising to me is when we run workshops, I say, who's unhappy with their job. Raise your hand. And nine out of 10 times, if someone who is actually pretty successful, at least outside looking in or doing a big workshop in New York and raised no one, raise your hand and matters. I hate my job, but there's nothing I can do. And I'm thinking, well, you know, she's got a menial job, no she's, um, partner, she's managing partner at a big law firm in New York.
I said, what's the matter she said, I hate it. How'd you get here? Well, you know, it's a Stanford Stanford event and that was hard to get into. So the hardest law school was Yale. So I got into that and the artist's love for him to get into was this big white shoe firm in New York. So I got that. I was a youngest, female partner, youngest managing partner. I just got all the brass rings. I won everything. I'm at the top of the pile and I hate it. And so it's this thing you were talking about. She's in a very professional track, super invested, a lot of money and time and education and in getting through all the various rungs of the ladder. But nowhere in that process, did she stop and check to see if she was on course? Right.
When I asked her why she was stuck? She said, well, you don't understand. Everybody tells me I have a perfect life. I got a house in Manhattan. I got the nice car. I got, we got a place out of a long Island. The kids are in private schools. No, I'm making seven figures. I said, but yeah, but you're unhappy. She said, yeah, but everybody tells me I should be happy. So I think one of the second points, isn't literally that I'm forced to change or I just got laid off 45 million people in this country have been out of work for a little while. It's often that you got stuck because you didn't ask yourself the question, does this still feel like I'm on a purposeful path? This is still feel like a good thing. And so, you know, private equity folks, lawyers, people who are making lots of money, who did play the game, got to the top of the pile, but didn't, but don't don't value.
Any of those things they're truly stuck now, not stuck. Like I'm out a job, she's got lots of money. She could, she could bank, you know, couple of million dollars sell the place in long Island and go become a macrame artist if she wanted to. But she can't let go of the social value of her job and an identity level dental. And the one she honestly, planning sheet, we have one Ossie plan is what would you do if you didn't care what people think had enough money, but you didn't care what people think about you and the people who are in that situation. Can't do that plan.
Aaron: Yeah. It does intersect those things about the stories that we tell ourselves, the identity that we hold, the social circles that we roll in. Right? All those things. Or especially people that do have some privilege of choice in that. Right. What do you find about that? And I know Dave, that you want to build on this is I'm curious about what do you find about at least helping people make that conscious that they are choosing the life they have in terms of their ownership of I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing, but it is a choice versus I'm a victim in the story.
Dave Evans: Um, and in fact, we've been talking about designing your COVID life recently and in step one is, is all about acceptance back. I'm calling it, get real, you know, you just gotta really get into reality. And there are three kinds of acceptance there's Oh, pressive acceptance. Okay. Well, you know, they're going to do it to me, which is acquiescing. And now I'm a victim there's suppressive acceptance. Okay. I got this, the hero so much. I'm just going to take, you know, um, and that brings all kinds of psychological damage, um, cause eventually you break. Um, and then there's engaged except it's like, Oh, okay, well let's dance with whoever came to the party and see what's going on here. Um, and the only the engaged acceptance is generative.
So you can hear that as people, you know, pretty good of a person stuck all the way down a road and just thinks it's too far to back up. Right. I can't go back. Now. We don't want to say about going backwards so you could change the lanes bill. And I've often said about 90% of office hours, is people asking permission? I mean, do, do, do, do you think, I mean, do you think, do you think I should just drop my law practice and, and go over and do this? You know, this tech thing I go, I dunno, what do you think of squalor? I mean, could I, you know, Bill and I apparently in charge of, can people ask his permission all the time? So when I, when I see people coming up and confronting us with that question is almost not unfair to say that they largely fall into categories. Like they really want to, their soul already believes they can. They just need a little activate. Like, I don't know, sounds to me like you think you could kind of, I do sound like that. Well, you do, to me, how about to you? How do you sound to you? I think I sound like I want to do this. Oh, why don't you say that? I want to do this. Oh, I barely want to do this. What I want to do with that? Oh, should I do this? Or do you want to, you know, so I mean, I have those kinds of conversations. I don't tell them anything. And so there's that person. And then there's the person. Like, there's no way, there's just no way. And I kind of go and what their lesson is, where they, where the hell do you get off telling me I could change? What are you lying to me about this go, well, I mean, if you can't change, okay. I accept that. See you're full of crap. I gotta go, okay, that's fine.
Aaron: And you're saying like, in that regard too, like back to the question is sometimes people run hard at you. Oh yeah. When you're the messenger for the invitation and the possible.
Dave Evans: I think what that is, frankly, I'm not certified to be a psychologist, but it's fear. I mean, anger and fear. Fear is right behind anger. Nine times out of 10, they've actually sued themselves to respond to the pain of their unlikable life. By saying they have no choice. And then we acted as though they did. And if they allow themselves to believe that's true, now they have to take responsibility for something. They don't wanna take responsibility for it. They might have to do a bunch of work. They don't have to do cause it's changes and easy and they'd be much happier knowing they had to be unhappy. Don't you dare burden me with thinking. I might be able to be happier. I'm really happy being totally unhappy that I can't be happy. Some people just aren't happy unless they're unhappy. Yeah. Now that you're that person you need to debunk us, because you have to kill off the possibility that frees you from having to take responsibility. So some people get angry at us because we're acting like they have agency that they don't want to accept.
Bill Burnett: So there's a, the old joke about the psychologist. How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Uh, just one, but the light bulb has to want to change. But when people say this won't work for me, I go, okay, return the book and get your money back. I don't know. So good.
Aaron: I think it is really, um, honorable work, which you guys are up to that you're offering and hopeful alternative. And I suspect that some of the reason maybe that hope didn't resonate with you as a core message intentionally was that the opener of the book is specifically at the Gallup poll. It's for those that are disengaged it's for those that are actively, um, upset and, uh, actively withdrawing from their work. And so anyone who finds themselves in a situation where they would feel stuck, or in my case, I work, it's not too distant in the rear view mirror where I felt stuck that I, I resonate with it at as a hopeful level. Whereas I wonder for each of you, because you guys have been in the matrix, Morpheus, hands out, red pills and blue pills, you guys have been pushing red pills for a long time and they're normal to you. And not everybody takes them. Right? Some people would prefer their blue pill and wake up tomorrow as if none of this happened. But for those of us who need a little permission slip from, um, a guide who's been there before you guys are. Yeah. Usually as the perfect candidates for that. So it's like the hero's journey. And we need guides along the way, who are empathetic to our plight to be able to help us remember what we already know to be true. We just sometimes need to name it and need some help doing so
Dave Evans: A lot of what we are doing for other people, particularly in these one on one conversations, and we're engaging this material and actually working with somebody who might want to change their life one way or another, it's not the guidance and the wisdom we're giving them this, facilitating the process. It's the fact that we are respecting them enough, that our approach doesn't scare them, that we're going to judge them and it doesn't scare them, that we're going to tell them the answer.
So we're safe to talk to because we're willing to be helpful about being prescriptive and that, and very few people are these days, you can be patronizing or you can try to be substantively helpful without being prescriptive. And we worked very hard to occupy that spot. Not too much, not what I call the Goldilocks spot, not too hot, not too cold. At that point. The primary thing we are actually doing as individuals in front of that person is trying to just facilitate their own clarity on their moment, you know, and give them a chance to hear from themselves. You can't do this alone. We talked with design teams. We put people, we put strangers in groups of three, who do astonishing work with each other, having met each other one ago.
What you really need is another human being. Who's willing to stand on your ground on your terms in a, in a thoughtful, reflective way. You don't have to be Bill or Dave, the university didn't believe anybody, but Bill or Dave could teach the class we teach. We said, no, no, no, that's not true. We're good at it, but it's not about us. So a thoughtful design team partner can absolutely be as useful and as effective as sitting down with Aaron McHugh.
Bill Burnett: The very, very first prototype we did was six students. And a couple of Wednesday nights when we're all said and done, and the students wouldn't leave. One of the students said, very forcefully. You don't understand. We don't have any place to have this conversation. Every time we get people in a triad people in a group of six people in a room, the number one thing they say is, wow, that was a great set of conversations I just had today.I've never had a place to have these kinds of conversations. You set up such a safe place. It's such a nice place for us to do this. And I met these really interesting strangers who are all on the same journey and it's so good to know I'm not alone. And isn't that just the fundamental human me to know we're not alone. Even if it's, you know, not alone in the cosmic sense, is there a God or whatever, but how about just not alone and hating my job.
People want to help each other. They really do. They're so kind to each other thousands of students in hundreds of classes, we've had more than once or twice where I had to pull a kid aside to say, Hey, you're being a jerk.
Aaron: And what you're naming there is the human quality of goodness in all of us. And when it's amplified one to another one thing that I've been looking forward to in this conversation with you guys, is because of how your work has occupied my life and been, come integrated into who I've become as a person. I'd love to tell you the story. Okay. I'll give you the story version. I would tell my friends fair. So nine and a half years ago, our middle daughter had passed away. She was 11. So I have three kids and our oldest five years ago was in drug and alcohol treatment, daughter had passed away before that. I'm at the top of my career in a software tech company, traveling globally and gone a lot running revenue. So stress anxiety, our life was just a pressure cooker all the time.
And when I looked at these big questions like, well, what do I want to do? What I looked at was how can that coexist with what I need to do? And what I needed to do was keep my family together and keep our marriage together. Those kinds of things. So what was really beautiful was at about five years ago, when our son was in drug and alcohol treatment center, it looked like he was going to get better and he was doing better. My marriage was starting to stabilize from being really thin and, um, really challenging. We started asking these big questions, which started, what if, well, what if, as a reframe, what if the worst already happened to us? Well, it becomes possible. Alright. Well, I don't know. We've never thought about that. Cause we're so busy, grieving, all that had happened, which was we needed to do and was, and has continued, but it was really fun to begin to say, well, we had this marriage coach that we saw, I was telling her about the book I was reading as you guys. And she was like, well, what if you just start with a blank sheet of paper? What would you put on it? And we decided to like start riffing on what would the life look like that we would want to live into.
And so we literally started drawing pictures. Like we'd love to live in a small house that I can afford the mortgage by falling out of bed and working part time, like from a mortgage payment standpoint, like let's right size our expenses to accommodate the lifestyle we want to have. Cause I want to have agency freedom of choice margin more than I want to drive the latest fancy car. So we went through and created a values map. What are the values that we hold and how do our decisions then intersect those?
So we kind of basically started iterating through this process of what if design and then what would we want our relationships to look like? Who would be in our life? Who are the life giving ones, who are the life sucking ones? Like if you could just kind of take a racer to your relationships, which ones would we just get rid of? If you had to do over here, it was so fun. Now this is many, many, many, many months. So then we looked at geographically, where do we want to live? And we were like, well, maybe we'll buy like a, one of those touring vans that a band has. And we'll like tour the country and live in this, this RV. So we were like, no, let's check that off the list. That's not one of our Odyssey plans. We want to move forward with fast forward in my career life. I just was like, you know, I really want to do, I want the work I do every day to be in line with the person that I've become. And the impact I make on the world is on the humans themselves.
And so fast forward, we sold everything. We owned, like everything, everything like a five bedroom house down to a one car garage. We could fit everything in there. And we launched and just went into the unknown to see what would happen. So we worked at a camp. We volunteered, et cetera, et cetera, couch surfed with people for different periods of time. And dude, it was bumpy like super bumpy, like maritally bumpy. So fast forward today, kids are great, son, sober marriage, 27 years. I worked for McKinsey as an affiliate consultant for them doing design work for transformations in organizations, with CEOs and their executive teams. And all of that was on these lists of possibilities, but not in our current view. So I just want to affirm the work that you guys are doing that works. It matters. And it's made a real difference in my life. The hardest part was letting go. Yeah. Yeah, that was scary. It was scary as hell doing it, but the letting go was the hardest part.
I hope you enjoyed today's conversation with Bill and Dave and you now are emboldened to take the next step. So order their book, you can find it at anywhere. You buy books firstname.lastname@example.org, you can find all things, how to design your work and your life. And it's really, really, really applicable real life stuff that you can use to make a difference and start offering your life and influencing it as a designer in a really powerful way.
*We’ve done our best for this transcription to accurately reflect the conversation. Errors are possible. Thank you for your patience and grace if you find errors that our team missed.
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