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Network Lines Connecting to ServersA well-designed life is a life that is generative – it is constantly creative, productive, changing, evolving, and there is always the possibility of surprise.
– Designing Your Life

Yep, we’re putting 2016 in the rear-view mirror and moving into a 2017 that will be (hope springs eternal) more productive, rewarding, and opportunity-rich for everyone. How can you nudge the odds in your favor? By embracing career-focused design thinking.

To get started, check out Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dale Evans (Knopf, 2016). Based on the authors’ experiences in the Stanford Design Program, Designing Your Life focuses on how to apply the tenets of design thinking to creating your best life – and best career.

The Five Design Thinking Tools
According to Burnett and Evans, design thinking is the best process to help you figure out what you want, who you want to grow into, and how to create a life you love. The five “design tools” or mindsets that support your process include:

Being curious – the key to exploring your strengths, passions, and new ideas and opportunities. Explore outside your familiar landscape of colleagues and roles and employers to see what else might be of interest to you. Pursue interesting ideas to see where they lead, and connect with LIS professionals or others whose work sounds intriguing to you.

Two easy ways to put this in action are to start doing as many informational interviews as you can and expand your normal scope of “inputs,” i.e., the information sources you normally monitor, to include resources from other disciplines, other industries, and even other worldviews.

Trying stuff – the authors further explain this mindset as a bias to action, from which you can then gather information and insights. Although it’s easy to get stuck in analyzing things (the dreaded “analysis paralysis”), design thinking pushes you to act in order to gather meaningful input – the information that will inform your next questions or choices or direction.

Putting this into action in terms of your career might, for example, mean volunteering to work with an organization of potential interest to see if it’s really a good fit for you, or trying out your interest in going independent by taking on some small side projects.

Reframing problems – both to make sure you’re focusing on the right problems and to make sure you’re not making decisions based on dysfunctional (erroneous) beliefs. Reframing a problem helps you look at it from a different vantage point so that you can spot faulty assumptions and possible biases that derail good solutions.

Feel free to enlist a trusted friend(s) to help with your reframing brainstorming. Some people do their best thinking in solitude, others surrounded by the energy of others’ constantly-sparking ideas. Not sure which approach works best for you? Try both options and see which one seems the best fit – design thinking in action.

Knowing it’s a process – which means no perfectionism allowed! The point of design is to iterate (come up with a possible solution, idea or choice), test it out (how does that feel or work), and then improve on your solution, idea, or choice. It’s all about learning and improving, tweaking as you go along. Needing to get anything perfect on the first try often means that the first “try” never actually happens. So rather than perfection, go for an ongoing process of testing, learning, growing, and improving.

To quote Burnett and Evans, “Life design is a journey; let go of the end goal and focus on the process and see what happens next.”

Asking for help – and as you do, realize how cool it is that you’re in a profession where our willingness to help each other is one of our most amazing and admirable qualities. The authors call this concept radical collaboration, pointing out that “life design, like all design, is a team sport.” And that’s especially true when it comes to your career.

Who might you ask for help? Think friends, colleagues, mentors, faculty, the guy in accounting who always comes up with interesting ideas, the kid in IT who’s always sharing her coolest pop culture memes. Asking for help works with anyone who gets who you are, who’s a person you trust, and who can see career choices from a slightly (if not totally) different perspective.

For 2017: How will you start connecting your dots?
Suggesting a life goal of coherency, the authors of Designing Your Life suggest that when you’re living a coherent life (and growing a coherent career), you’ll be able to “connect the dots” between three core aspects of your life:

  • Who you are
  • What you believe
  • What you are doing

As you wrap up this past year and chart your career goals for the next, how will you start connecting your dots?


Burnett, Bill and Dave Evans. Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life. Knopf, 2016. 238p. ISBN 9781101875322.