This past week I read the book “Designing Your Life – How To Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. It was recommended by a fellow blogger, although I can’t find who it was now (note – if it was you, drop me a comment so I can update this post and credit you!). The book is all about using design principles in figuring out your life, as taught at Stanford in the popular class by the same name as the book title.
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I’m fortunate to have been exposed to design thinking at my workplace before. As mentioned in my bio, I work in IT as a project manager for a large company. I’ve actually worked on projects where our design area has used these principles to help flesh out an idea and make it into a real product. I’ve also had a several day training course on the topic as part of a leadership development program. So for me, this book was a good refresher on the concepts, as well as an excellent explanation of how you can apply these same principles to designing your life, not just a product.
What Is Design Thinking?
Design thinking is a process you can use to design anything – a product, a service, solutions to big societal problems, your life, and your finances. Wikepedia describes it as a creative process to resolve problems. The explanation online is complex, but the process is simple.
Essentially, you start with a series of theories (hypothesis) by brainstorming possible products/services/solutions/life paths. Then you create quick prototypes to test out the concepts as fast and cheaply as possible. Use the information gathered from that prototyping to refine the concept(s) and come to an ultimate solution to pursue.
There should be no limits while brainstorming-anything goes, no matter how crazy it is. Design thinking is proud of being used primarily in solving “wicked” problems, and this is mentioned in the book. A “wicked” problem is ill-defined or tricky to solve, with no easy straightforward solution path. Figuring out what to do for a career, what to do next in life, how to solve the large problems of society – those are wicked problems and design thinking can help you tackle them.
The authors also talk about avoiding spending time and energy on “gravity problems”. You have to play the hand you’re dealt. No sense in trying to move the unmovable, or spend time trying to solve what you can’t solve. Although the problem you’re tackling needs to be wicked, it can’t be impossible. Otherwise you’ll just turn yourself in circles trying to figure it out, and get frustrate that you’re not making progress.
To use design thinking, you need to develop five specific mindsets to be successful:
- Be Curious – Develop a sense of curiousity in your approach to life
- Try stuff – Just give it a try! Don’t be afraid of failure. Be afraid of stagnation
- Reframe problems – change the way you’re approaching a problem to get unstuck
- Know its a process – one step forward, two steps back
- Ask for help – no need to go it alone
Designing Your Life
So how can you use these design principles, more traditionally used in product or service design, in designing your life? The authors walk through many steps, each with its own chapter. Here are the chapters from the book, along with a summary of the concepts covered:
- Start Where You Are – Figure out where you are and what about your life you want to change
- Building a Compass – Determine the purpose of your work and life
- Wayfinding – Start figuring out where you’re going, even if you don’t yet have a specific destination. Seek out flow, where you work and time passes like water
- Getting Unstuck – You’re never really stuck. Just reframe the problem and your thought patterns
- Design Your Lives -Spend time developing multiple “alternative life” visions of different paths you can take. This will help you figure out where you want to go
- Prototyping – Think like a company and don’t do a “big bang” launch of something new about your life without prototyping it first. Instead launch a pilot, give it a try, and change your approach as needed
- How Not to Get a Job – A practical guide that exposes the reality of what you need to do to get a job – and what you shouldn’t do
- Designing Your Dream Job – How to figure out what your dream job is, and how to get there
- Choosing Happiness – Tips on how to choose a path that will make you happy
- Failure Immunity – You need to build up immunity to failure in order to succeed in your prototyping approach to life
- Building a Team – A team around you to support you, brainstorm, and bounce ideas off of can help you get better results than you would yourself
All in all, this was an excellent book on applying design thinking to your life. It gave me some great ideas on how I could do this myself in my work and personal life. I’d highly recommend giving this a read and seeing how you could use these concepts to design your life.
Relationship To Financial Independence
You can use many of these same design concepts on your journey to financial independence (FI) or early retirement (FIRE).
- Start Where You Are – Figure out where you are, and what about your life you want to change. Are you stuck in an unfullfilling job? Are you deeply in debt and yearn for debt freedom? Or are you approaching FI but looking for what you want to do next – to “retire to” something, rather than retiring from something?
- Building a Compass – Determine the purpose of your work and life. Financial independence and early retirement is not the end goal or destination. If you’re FI, but have no higher purpose for your life, then you’ll find RE to be empty. Dig deep to figure out the purpose of your role here on the planet. What can you do that others can’t or won’t?
- Wayfinding – Start figuring out where you’re going. What interests you? What passions do you have that may have been lost in years of the daily grind of work, work, work? Do some experimentation with different passions and start thinking about the path you want to take.
- Getting Unstuck – You’re never really stuck. Just reframe the problem and your thought patterns. It can be easy to get stuck thinking that financial independence is impossible, or focusing on the things about your life you can’t change. Reframe by searching for others in a similar situation to you, and seeing what they did. Instead of focusing on the things you can’t change, focus on the things you can change.
- Design Your Lives -Spend time developing multiple “alternative life” visions of different paths you can take. This will help you figure out where you want to go. Spend time daydreaming about FI and RE. Take a piece of paper and write down-or draw-different concepts of where you could take your life. Which one excites you, energizes you, makes you happy?
- Prototyping – Think like a company and don’t do a “big bang” launch of something new about your life without prototyping it first. Instead launch a pilot, give it a try, and change your approach as needed. Don’t wait until FI or RE to start pursuing those passions. Take some lessons, draw or paint in your spare time, teach a class in the topic that interest you, start a blog, or take some other small steps while still employed to “try out” your new life.
- How Not to Get a Job – A practical guide that exposes the reality of what you need to do to get a job – and what you shouldn’t do. A good section to read if you’re pursuing a better, higher paying job to reach FIRE faster. Conversely, you can use this information to get a different kind of job, perhaps a lower-stress one or one in an area that interest you more.
- Designing Your Dream Job – How to figure out what your dream job is, and how to get there. Definitely check out this section for tips and tricks on designing a perfect post-FIRE opportunity
- Choosing Happiness – Tips on how to choose a path that will make you happy. Happiness is key to successful FIRE – after all, if you’re not happy, why did you bother becoming financially independent? Make sure the path(s) you’re exploring will make you happy. If traveling the world doesn’t make you happy, don’t make it your goal just because others in the FIRE community talk about it non-stop. Make your goals personal to you, so they’ll bring you happiness – not someone else
- Failure Immunity – You need to build up immunity to failure in order to succeed in your prototyping approach to life. This is something that’s key to making your FIRE journey and destination fulfilling. Once you’re FI, failure doesn’t have the same dreaded consequences it did before. You’re not going to lose your house, and if you lose your job – oh well. Build up failure immunity while still on the FI journey so you can tap into it once you RE.
- Building a Team – A team around you to support you, brainstorm, and bounce ideas off of can help you get better results than you would yourself. Start a blog and get feedback directly from your readers. Join Twitter and talk to people you like and admire. Join a forum (check out the link at the top of the site for my favs) and talk to others who share your interests but will tell you when an idea won’t work. There’s lots of steps you can take to build your “FIRE Team”, who will keep you accountable and help you on the journey
Have you heard of design thinking before? What do you think about using these concepts to design a better life for yourself? Or to reach financial independence? Let me know in the comments!
More about design thinking for those that are interested:
- IDEO U – an overview
- A virtual crash course in design thinking from Stamford
- An overview from Forbes
- And a TED talk
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