This TED talk is a great introduction to Designing your Life by Burnett and Evans. It is also a fascinating book from designers rather than business people. I’ve picked out five excellent designer self-improvement tips to give you a taste of what these guys have to offer us.
Connecting the dots 1. Connecting the Dots: When it comes to designing and guiding your personal growth, it is vital to connect three dots… 1) Who you are, 2) What you believe, and 3) What you do. Your identity, your “worldview” and your “work view” need to be in harmony for you to be happy. And as last month’s newsletter made a lot of, success in all areas of your life will follow. So, for example, most of us are motivated to do things by more than the desire to acquire money. These motivators make up our “work view.” At the same time, many of us really want to be useful and good neighbors in the global sense. This is our “world view.” Thus we may wish to bend our creativity towards fairness in all our transactions and a zero carbon footprint, to name but two potential life enhancements.
2.  Reframing: We’ve written before about business strategies where we try to predict the future by envisioning where your business will be in say five years’ time, then working back from your vision to the steps you need to take today in order to step towards that future.

The designing your life approach is radically different. It starts where you are. Because it can be argued that no personal plan survives the first engagement with real life, list out the problems in front of you and beware “gravity problems”: the things you CANNOT change.

A ubiquitous gravity problem, for example, is the manhours’ limitation on earnings. There is a ceiling on a designer’s earnings. (The same is true for dentists, cab drivers, architects, and almost any profession you care to name.) He or she can only do so many hours at the drawing board. So, if you want to make more money, you need to find an income source that is scalable, such as writing a bestselling self-help book, or patenting an innovation/invention.

Identify and accept such gravity problems in your life! Stop stressing over them and accept them as circumstances. Then develop or “ideate” in the designer jargon…

Parallel life strategies3.  Parallel Life Strategies: The first should be a continuation of what you currently do, perhaps adding in your “bucket list” of enhancements that will make sure you are on a satisfying trajectory.

The second should be your response to this thought experiment: What if artificial intelligence were to make my work tasks redundant tomorrow? Think how the various traditional Swiss watchmakers responded to Casio (remember them?), when clockwork mechanisms ran out of time almost overnight.

Is there an alternative use to which you can turn your skills, knowledge, and experience? What other strings do you have to your personal bow? Do you bake exceptional cakes, do a mean stand-up party routine, or have a huge comic book collection in the attic?

The third should be your strategy in the event of a huge lottery win. What would you do with yourself if money were no object, and there was no “red tape” to tell you “no!”? Would you quit work and go around the world? If so, why aren’t you in the travel business?

You get the point though, right? It’s all about generating ideas that may become the guiding beacon for you from today onward.

4.  Prototyping: It’s a four-step process. First, thoroughly question yourself and others in radical collaboration to fully understand your proposed new life plan. Second, expose your implicit assumptions, so that you can test them and avoid nasty surprises down the road. Third, involve as many others in your idea generation and planning as is practically possible. Fourth, “sneak up on your future” by implementing your “big idea” incrementally from your current circumstances. Do each of these four steps for each of your three strategies above.

There are two approaches to prototyping your life plans and helping you to make the right choice between alternatives.

    1. To have conversations and network with people who are already doing what you are considering doing. Ask people for their stories, and when you relate strongly to what you hear you can feel reassured that you are on the right track to fulfilling your better destiny.
  1. To go out and experience the lifestyles that are closer to your ideal to test out whether they are really what you want to do.
Choose well by listening to your gut.

5.  Choose Well by Listening to Your Gut: Be action biased in gathering and creating ideas for your future. Then narrow your alternatives down to five at the most. Too much choice is debilitating. Choose one to implement. If you feel “fomo” (the “fear of missing out”) when you make a decision, listen to your gut reaction and go back to the narrowing down and put that option back into the mix.

Be sure to make your decision irreversible. Try to ride two horses at once and you will never be comfortable or satisfied with either.

The final stage of designing your life plan is to commit to one. Let go of the others and move on to a meaningful work-life balance, congruent with who you are and what you want to be.