A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
I watched Bill Burnett’s talk, Designing your life, which is worth sitting through and reflecting on.
I took away a few points – adapted slightly, perhaps, from the original message – but perhaps more useful to me.
The first thing that’s interesting is the idea – how to design your life.
The important word is design – what you’re trying to do when you design something is to make it better – not worse.
And it’s very easy to make things worse – think of the outcome of nearly every meeting you’ve been to.
Burnett has five points to keep in mind when it comes to design – but I find four useful, and one of those in a slightly different form.
The first one is to connect the dots.
Burnett argues that meaning comes from connecting dots – dots like what you believe, what you do and who you are.
The idea is that these things are three separate elements within you – and it’s by aligning, connecting, resolving these points that you find meaning in your life.
I’m not so sure.
I see the dots as elements of a system, the parts that need to be in place and that also need to work together for something to happen.
This does have to do with what you do, but also where you do it, what others do and the culture and environment in which you find yourself.
In other words, you have to look at yourself as a system – do all the parts actually work together, like a car driving along on the road, or are they just parts, like the bits of a car dismantled and laid out on a lawn.
Meaning, I think, is an emergent property – it comes out of the system that you have created through choice – and without choice.
It’s only when you connect the dots that you get a line.
And all the dots you need have to be there to get the line you want.
The second point is to avoid gravity problems.
Gravity problems are ones that you really have no choice over – problems that you can’t affect or influence or change.
Either accept them or find a place where they don’t exist.
Which is clearly hard in the case of gravity – but less so when it comes to bosses who you don’t get on with or people who hold you back.
The third point is to try things out before you buy.
Before you quit your job to start a flower shop, try selling flowers at a market to see if you like the experience.
If you can’t try it yourself ask people who do it now – ask a surgeon what the life is like before starting a 14 year programme of study.
Don’t watch enviously, or hide behind your desk.
Get stuck in – trying something out is often cost free or very low cost – which is a cheap price to pay for the learning you get.
There is a missing point here – one about prototyping – thinking about the thing you want to create.
I’m not that sure about that – mainly because when it comes to life I feel that we’re so encrusted with societal views, parental expectations and our own justifications that any design we come up with is likely to be encumbered with elements of those things.
Instead – just try things out that you can try out – keep your eyes open for opportunities and when you see them put your hand up.
Eventually you’ll find yourself doing more of the things you like and less of the things you don’t – as long as you bear the fourth point in mind.
Don’t be afraid to let go and move on.
A sure fire way to make yourself miserable is to keep your options open or be able to reverse a decision.
Choices cause us angst – and having the option to change our minds makes us worry whether we did the right thing in the first place.
Traders know this – it’s too easy to worry about the trades you’ve done and whether they will work out.
You can’t look back – you just need to look at the next trade – the next deal.
And that’s the case with life as well – try something out and if it doesn’t work or you don’t like it don’t hesitate to quit and walk away.
You have nothing to prove to anyone else – the only thing that matters is whether your life is better after you make your choice.
And it always is – your brain is wired to make you feel good about a choice you have made when there is no turning back.
For most of us the essential elements for a good life are in place or accessible to us – it’s often the system that doesn’t work.
But that’s the point of design thinking – there is no best.
But there is better.