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Gravity Problems & ReFrame

Lesson 7 from: Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life

Bill Burnett, Dave Evans

Gravity Problems & ReFrame

Lesson 7 from: Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life

Bill Burnett, Dave Evans

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Lesson Info

7. Gravity Problems & ReFrame

Summary (Generated from Transcript)

The topic of this lesson is about gravity problems and reframing them in order to create a more fulfilling life.


  1. What are gravity problems?

    Gravity problems are problems that cannot be solved because they are circumstances that cannot be changed, such as the size of a company or the passage of time.

  2. How should we approach gravity problems?

    We need to accept that these problems cannot be solved and instead focus on reframing them to find new opportunities or perspectives.

  3. What is the benefit of reframing gravity problems?

    Reframing allows us to see the problem in a new light and find new possibilities or actions we can take.

  4. What is the concept of the "best version of you"?

    The idea of the "best version of you" suggests that there is a singular, ideal version of yourself that you should strive to be. However, this is a false belief as there are many different versions of you that can be equally authentic and fulfilling.

  5. How can we reframe the concept of the "best version of you"?

    We need to acknowledge that there are many great versions of ourselves and that it is never too late to explore different paths or possibilities.

  6. How can we overcome procrastination and fear?

    By setting small goals and taking small steps towards action, we can build a momentum that helps us overcome procrastination and fear.

  7. How many different versions of ourselves can we have?

    There is no limit to the number of different versions of ourselves we can have. We can explore different paths and possibilities throughout our lives.

  8. What is the purpose of the thought experiment with the accelerator?

    The thought experiment is meant to challenge the idea of a single "best" version of ourselves and instead encourage us to embrace the idea that there are many different paths and possibilities that can be equally fulfilling.

Lesson Info

Gravity Problems & ReFrame

We're gonna talk about gravity and gravity problems because one of the things we notice is that a lot of people and you guys are so far super smart folks, you're really good at solving problems, but you gotta find good problems if you wanna work on the things that we're talking about. How to have a more meaningful and more fulfilling life. So this idea of problem finding comes up again and again in design thinking, are we working on the right problems? And there is a particular class of problem we're gonna work on defining and reframing. There's a particular class of problems that we call gravity problems, and we call them this because they are the kind of problem that you can't do anything about. Geez Dave I know you're a bicyclist, right? Yeah, I'm a cyclist. And I noticed as you're biking as you get, you know, maybe it's older or something, but it seems like you're going slower and slower. I am going slower, I notice I'm going up a hill slower than I'm used to. I look down I'm...

actually in even lower gear than I used to be, it's very disappointing. I figured out what's going on, it's this gravity stuff. So gravity is not working for me at all and I really have a problem with gravity. Can you help me? And my answer is no, I can't help you. Gravity is not something that is actionable. Dave can get a lighter bike, he can get more gears, he could you know, he could-- I actually do have this problem. That's right, yeah. But he cannot change the fundamental fact that gravity exists, and there's a lot of gravity in problems in our lives. Lets, they sort of show up like this and they sound like this. Gee you know when I started out this was a little startup and now the company's getting so big and it's really hard to get to the top anymore cause it's so crowded. How do I, can you help me fix that? You know, is that fixable? Hey I'm really three, this is that dysfunction, I'm three years behind where I should be. I should be ahead of where I am right now. How do I catch up? Or you know I've just got this amazing overseas assignment but I gotta be near Mom. Dad just passed and Mom needs support, but I want to go to take the Hong Kong deal. What do I do? Right, so these look like real problems, but they're actually not solvable. There's nothing you can do to solve them. And so what we say with gravity is we need a reframe. We need to take the problem and just accept that this is the kind of problem that cannot be solved. You cannot simultaneously be in Hong Kong and in Palo Alto at the same time, we know of no way to do that. The problem isn't coming up with a better idea to change gravity, there is no idea, there's only acceptance. Now once you've accepted, you have the opportunity to completely reframe what the problem is. Let me show you how that kind of works. So on the hey the company's too big, and it's hard to get to the top, what do I do? Well there's nothing you can do. It's not a startup anymore, so just accept that fact. And now there's lots of people in line ahead of you for that Vice Presidents promotion. So you're not gonna get it. You're certainly not gonna get it on the timetable that you thought. We were working with a very big company on the valley. You use their thing all the time. Can't tell you who they are. And that's the problem. It used to be hey when I first got here I was getting promoted every six months, and now we're a giant company and we're not getting promoted anymore, I don't like that. Well the reframe on that, first of all you accept it's not a startup. There's only two things you can do, accept it and then decide to work with it, so look now that the company is so big, there's so many new opportunities for me to have roles where I could learn something. I wonder what interesting projects I could transfer to and it be a lateral move instead of vertical move. That's a perfectly valid reframe once I accept I'm not in a startup anymore. The other reframe would be okay the company's too big, I'm gonna move to a startup cause I love that energy of constant motion. But if you stick with the problem of well here I am now at Facebook, Google, whatever and it's too big and I don't like it being this big, can you please fix it? We're design guys we can't fix that problem, it's not actionable, it's just a circumstance. Hey I'm really three years behind, how do I catch up? This one is my favorite, this is that dysfunctional belief. There is no reframe, you're not behind. What are you behind? Behind what? Behind some expectation you had of yourself, but that was based on a plan and reality got in the middle of that plan and it didn't work that way. And I'll bet you spent some time of that three years doing something that was incredibly valuable, so you're not behind. You're not behind your timetable, you're not behind anyone else. You're right here, right now, and this is the place that you can move from. Once you accept that this is the place you can move from, and what's available from here going forward, gravity just disappears. Love to take that overseas assignment, but I gotta be near Mom. You know Hong Kong-- Solve the mom problem. Solve the mom problem, what do we do about Mom? I either defer this and decide that right now for the next year or two, I need to be with Mom cause she's by herself, for the first time in you know, 40, 50 years, so that's my choice. I don't get to do both things. Or Or Hey Mom, time for an adventure. Wanna come to Hong Kong with me? We'll see how that goes. One way or the other I'm not dumping Mom, okay? She's either, we're doing mom here, we're doing mom there. Make a real choice, but I'm not solving Mom. It's truly a radical acceptance, right? That the situation I am in right now is the only situation available to me. There's nothing I can do about it. I can't change the situation, it's not a problem to be solved, it's just the way things are. Once I've sort of accept the things you cannot change philosophy, but once I'm there, then I'm free to reframe the problem and create some new space for me. Maybe Mom comes with me, maybe I just don't take the promotion, what's the big deal? Maybe you know I just decide I'm not behind. I am exactly where I should be right now. And by changing the way I frame this problem, it moves out of gravity and into acceptance and from acceptance to something I can do something about. So obviously we would like you to try this. You all have a little gravity worksheet, it's a reframing exercise. When you were looking, you know, at your worldview and life view and also at your dashboard balance, it is a balance, were there any challenges that came up for you that you think might be in fact gravity problems? They're just actually a circumstance, not a problem. They're a situation, and if you could identify those, there's a thing on your form there. See if you can write down one or two things that you've been working on, wrestling with for awhile. Probably stuck on. Something you've been stuck on that might, it might be it might not be a gravity problem. We'll decide after we do a little more analysis. But something that really has you stuck. And something that's kind of serious. Either a decision you're trying to make or you're trying to have it all. You know there's the fear of missing out. I wanna have everything, I don't want to have it, I wanna have it all. Or another place where in your life you are stuck either at work or personal. Thanks, write that down. The tempo of gravity is in fact impossible to change. You say well actually somebody's gonna get that Vice Presidency at that large company, I still wanna go for it, even if my chances are one in a thousand. It's not impossible, it's just the risks are really high, and the probabilities are really low. That's up to you, so that's technically not if you say, "No I'm gonna go for it anyway," well okay. You know but if what you're up against is a really low probability thing and you want a treat as not actionable, there's such a long shot. Do I really wanna wait around for that? Maybe I should think about something else. That's what we mean by gravity. Spend a few minutes, see if you can identify one or two of those. And if you're not sure what you're stuck on, it's that thing you've been complaining to your friend or your spouse or your special other, for a long time, and nothing's happened, that's probably a gravity problem. Okay if everybody's got one or two things on there that you think might be in that category, here's the next thing. We'd like you to look at that idea, see if you can take the take the problem and just say okay I accept that you know the company's too big, I can't get a promotion. Or I accept that I'm not late, I'm just who I am. Can't make any money as a poet. Can't make any, I'm a CEO making seven figures but I really wanna be a poet, but I only wanna be a poet if I can make seven figures, right, okay. So it's a gravity problem. For whatever reason society does not pay poets that unless you're a rapper. None of you look like a rapper to me, but maybe there's some blatant rapper out there someplace. So accept it and how could you, think about how you might be able to reframe it so that it becomes actionable. You're gonna probably have to take the problem and flip it around or do something new with it in order to make it an actionable thing. And then identify, after the reframe, one or two really simple things you can do like you could do this week or next week to start exploring whether you can defy gravity. Whether you can unlock that problem in a new way. So a reframe and a quick bias to action. What could you do to change the outcome? Alright now as you might imagine we're gonna ask you to share that in pairs, just talk to the person next to you and if you're at home and you've got a friend or something or if you just want to send in some comments, well we can help you with that. Talk to each other, share what the gravity problem was and what your reframe and action step might be. And then talk amongst yourselves. Currently I think I have two gravity problems but I don't think they're like expansive gravity problems, just more so on the smaller scale. But currently I'm traveling for a half year and I can't go every place that I actually want to go within the timeframe as far as National Parks and places just to visit and, you know, camp out and do photography. The second problem is I start finishing my undergrad at UPenn this fall, so I think the gravity problem there is alright what am I gonna study, you know. So there's two different areas whereas there is a current problem and then a future problem. And what have you been studying up to this point? I've worked in the comic book industry as an artist. What? The comic book industry, like doing concept art. What have you been studying at Penn? Oh no I just start in the fall, this fall coming up. Oh wow. I'm like, I don't know what I'm gonna do. But I was military before that. I see, you didn't seem like you were 18 years old. No, no (laughing) Maybe. Yeah, I mean I think that's the two. Okay, so what ar your steps. How do you reframe that? I think knowing that I could always go back to the places that I missed, so acknowledging that, and possibly just picking the places that are best on route, and accepting that it is what it is, and don't get hung up on it, you can always come back. Hopefully it will be there, they should be there. So is it more exciting or more practical to do only a few things and enjoy it versus doing a multitude of things and being stressed about it. You know I had some friends who were in their 50s or something, but they made a lot of money, and they decided to finally go around the world. And they decided to do it in increments rather than go for a whole year. Sometimes these are the really big problems. People like, "Whoa, I've been struggling with this problem "for a long, long time." So sometimes people have some real attachments to these that may raise some questions. Any questions or observations about gravity? Finishing having, like maybe the reframe having a paradigm shift. For example, being a project manager in construction that can be a hammer on the job site, or that can be, you know, being of service to others not just to your client but to the entire team. So having that shift is a-- Typically there's kind of an aha moment where you realize, well wait a minute, I kind of built this prison, I can change it. Yeah, I have the key. What's this key for anyway? So I have a question about whether or not I'm reframing correctly. Nina helped me see this framework essentially where I work in an infinite workplace. There are no boundaries, there are no rules. I can do whatever I do as long as I bring in money, keep clients happy, no problem. Lots of freedom, no guidance. There you go. And so that's the gravity problem. That's just the way we work, it's an infinite workplace. And then I was thinking a reframe is to create my own boundaries, to essentially develop a finite game within the infinite game. But I'm now thinking, I'm stuck on, is that actually a reframe or is that me trying to actually solve a gravity problem? I would say it is a reframe because if you think, oh I'm in a structureless workplace, what do I do? I'm supposed to make it up every minute of the day, whole life is improv, it's like totally go for it. That's the rule, the rule is that I have to live in an unruled place. No you don't. One of the rules in the unruled place is if you want a rule you can give yourself one. The reframe is actually taking it so seriously that no, no, no, I'm the disciplined person in the anarchy company. And that's totally working for me. (maniacal laughing) So that's actually a reframe. Absolutely. Good job. Can I ask a question? Sure, yeah. Just out of curiosity, how would you solve the rapper problem? The poets don't make enough money? The poet problem. Yeah, sorry, poet, rapper. Rapper's fine. Poets don't make enough money. Well, my reframe is there's things you do for money-- No, no, no, you can't solve the problem, you're gonna reframe it. Well, first of all I accepted I'm not going to make any money as a poet, and that there are things that you do for money, and there's things that you do for love. And in fact there's a pretty good argument that I should not do things I do for love on the market's terms cause then I'd have to write the poetry you like, I only want to write the poetry that I like. So, you know, I'm working at Starbucks and I'm a poet. Or I'm the CEO who writes poetry on the side. The guy who went to Tahiti, the painter, was an accountant. Gauguin. Gauguin, he was an accountant, and then he did painting on the side, and then he left his family and moved to Tahiti which was a bad thing. (laughing) There's always a way, and also sometimes just separate why are you doing this in the first place, and particularly for things that you do for love or for expression. Be careful about putting them on the market's terms. That's not necessarily the best place for them. Keep in mind the boundaries, the laws of nature that caused that CEO poet to have a problem included and I have to make seven figures. So you're in charge of that rule too. So you can say, or I really want to make a living as a poet. I want to do poetry all the time. I accept that you only make about $15,000 a year doing that. I know, I have to learn how to creatively live on $15,000 a year, which by the way, you actually can do. I guess the following question for me is, is there a way to meld the two? Meld the creativity with the CEO, is that in another reframe a way to, is there, I don't know. Or is that not a reframe? And you conduct all of your board meetings in prose and poetry? Well maybe it's not poetry, maybe it's not the CEO, but is there a role, is it like-- I think there's vocation and avocation. Can those two things, can you have a life with both? Absolutely. But I think you have to respect the rules of business, and the rules of business are, you know, this is about this, it's not about this other stuff. So you can have both, but they're probably going to live in really different domains. And then the only question is, can you make that work? You can prototype. What does it mean to be an executive poetically? Okay, so I can try to live into that. But there's not a universe, we do not believe, that the universe has a rule that you're supposed to be able to do all the stuff you like all the time, and get paid really well for it. I don't see that rule lying around anywhere, so that rule is informing, I know what I'm doing, I'm going to cram these things together. You know, I love beer and I love ice cream. I know, a beer milkshake. I actually tried it, bad idea, okay, bad idea. You know, not everything goes together. We have some questions coming in from the online audience. So these two are kinda similar. I'll start with this one posted by Charfenisa Quadry, hope I said her name right. They say, "I have a non-gravity problem, "I just have to act in order to solve it." But they're issue is procrastination and laziness, and we've seen a few variations on this. How do you deal with that? Is that a gravity problem? What is it about laziness or procrastination feels like it kind of bogs you down, but is that a gravity problem? You know, I don't think that I would put it, cause it's actionable. I can do something about my inaction. I don't like the term lazy cause that's pejorative, but a lot of people procrastinate, and that's why our methodology is set the bar low. Pick something really simple. What could she do this week to get action going on something that she's curious about. So if you set that bar low, and you have really small accomplishments, but you start stacking those up, you'd be surprised at how quickly you notice, hey, my behavior used to be procrastination, and now my behavior is a bias to action based on my curiosity because curiosity pulls me into my future. So it's totally actionable, not gravity, and quite common. Really pernicious procrastinations, by the way, may be an invitation for a reframe. Reframing is much bigger than just gravity problems just that all gravity problems need a reframe. So if you've got something you've procrastinated on forever, you could reframe it as a thing I'm choosing not to do. So you literally cross it off, it is not worthy of your time and act like you're not late any more cause it's just over. And if two weeks later nothing happened, drop it. I've got one more comment I want to read here. This one comes from Genise who says, "I'm a creative person who has always done, "and felt stuck in, practical, "analytical work that's boring. "But now I see that my strength is in "creative problem solving, "which can definitely be applied to something new, "and it's also in line with my life, work views." So sounds like she's seeing some progress as she works this out. There's an aha in that, actually the strength and these other things are not in opposition. Great, great. One more question and then we'll move on. Yeah, I wanted to ask about shame. Shame. As far as a source for procrastination in the sense that I used to be an editor of a big magazine, knew everybody in the field five years ago, and now the field is changed. And I've moved to San Francisco, where I've lived before, but San Francisco has changed a lot in the last 20 years. And so, I'm usually very good at putting together lists of people and going and networking and all that stuff, but I've have this thing, item, on my to-do list build contact list for a year now or more, and it's like, you know what I mean. And I'm not doing it. And I think it's shame. It's like a used to be a big kahuna in the media world, and all of a sudden I'm in a new and different place. Anybody gonna return my emails, anybody gonna know who I am? So, maybe shame, and I put that right next to fear. The number one thing that holds people back on almost all of the bias to action, things that we suggest, is fear. It won't work, people will laugh at me, no one will return my email, that would result in some shame because I have this image of myself, and it's not being reflected back in the world. But fear is one of the things we absolutely know how to master, right. This notion of guided mastery, the work of Al Bandura on phobias, people who were terrified of snakes and getting on airplanes and stuff. We totally know how to cure that, and it is about this methodology of very small steps taken over and over again to build up what we're gonna talk to you about as failure immunity. Sort of nice segue into something we're about to talk about. Our takeaways for this is acceptance is the first step because until you say, okay this is a non-solvable thing therefore it's not a problem, it's simply a situation or a circumstance I find myself in, that allows you to reframe something that could be actionable. The result of that is you have freedom to make more choices, and that's what we're really after, the freedom to move from where we are to the next step. Procrastination, fear, and other things not withstanding we've gotta take that next step to bias to action. Where are we in the framework Dave? Well apparently we're moving down into sort of a real guts and the heart of design thinking. Design thinking if it's known for anything, it's known for ideation, having lots of ideas, even wild ideas, and prototyping, prototype iteration. That's really the core of how design thinking is different than say engineering thinking or analytic business thinking. So we're gonna jump into that, which means we're now gonna have to address one of the really big monster dysfunctional beliefs, my personal favorite which is are you being the best version of you. Are you sure, is this really it. Is this thing you're doing, is this it? Is this it, is this the one, or was it that other one? You know, cause you're not settling are you? Are you settling, settling? Oh god no we don't want to settle. No, all the cool people don't settle you know. But here's the problem with this idea. Have you heard this kind of thinking? Anybody been besettled by is this really the best version of me? There's a common comment in the modern culture. The meta-narrative we live in includes this dialogue a lot. But here's the problem, there's no such thing as the best you. There's lots of versions of you. One thing Bill and I have noticed with thousands of people we've been working with, is almost everybody seems to agree that they have more aliveness within them than one lifetime will permit them to live. There's more than one of you in there. Now if there's more than one legitimate version of the way you could live your life that's truly authentic to you and it's noble in the world, and it's allowed. I mean, there's not just one exact, you write your life view and your work view it doesn't give you an immediate action plan. Lots of ways you can still be authentic within that framework right? So if that's true, then there is no such thing as the best you. You know in business you often hear this line, "Well good is the enemy of better, "and better is the enemy of best, "how are you being your best?" Are you really going for it? But a best is a singular, exclusive outcome. It requires one set of criteria by which you judge everything. Look, I'm 63 about to be 64, I've got four grandkids now. Is my grandfather self better than my educator self? Is my teaching Dave better than my start-up Dave? And they're all still running by the way. You know how do I compare start-up Dave to grandfather Dave? Who we call Poppy by the way. Well, you know Luke, my grandson, doesn't care about CEO Dave at all, these are not comparable. The problem is the rest of that little allegory is and the false best is the enemy of the available better. If you're stuck on this problem, you decided you have to be your best self and there's not just one, you just decided to be unhappy for the rest of your life. Don't sign up for that. So the reframe is look, there are lots of great yous. It's never too late to get going. You know, so the reframe is let the odyssey continue, the odyssey of our lives. If we want to get down the road and have this adventure continue, then how do we do that? Well, we gotta do that, first we gotta answer a question. What's the question Bill? Well, this is a little weird, but I want you to do a thought experiment with me. I'm gonna ask you in a second to shout out a number of how many lives are you. Dave just said, we have more aliveness in us than we can possibly ever live. There's more than one of you in there. Here's the thought experiment. So down at Stanford we have the linear accelerator. It's a two mile long accelerator, used to be the biggest one and then some Europeans built one that's bigger. But it's still pretty cool, and we've actually come up with a way of putting you in the accelerator tube, firing you down two miles, accelerating you almost to the speed of light, at which point you would experience what the physicists call a multiverse, that there are many, many universes all right next to one another. And in those multiverses, you could be your I wanted to be a garbage man when I was little, I'm a garbage man, I'm an astronaut, I'm a teacher, I'm a whatever, you can have as many lives as you want. And because of this experiment, you would actually be aware of each life. Each life could unfold, and each would be wonderful, exactly the way you wanted it to be, you can have as many as you wanted. If some lives are so cool, you'd love to do them over, you can have do-overs. My daughter Elisa rode Dumbo 42 times one day. You can have three versions of the exact same thing. But you can have as many as you want. The only problem is that accelerator time is expensive so you need to tell me, I gotta reserve how many multiverse slots you want, okay. So that's the thought experiment. You can have as many parallel lives as you want, you'll experience all of them and know how wonderful they all were. You don't have to make any compromise in this model. You can be the ballerina and the astrophysicist, fine. And the circus clown with Cirque de Soleil, which I always now want to be cause that seems like so cool. You can consult with all, Bane, Deloyd, Mackenzie, and do 'em all. Yeah, you can have 'em all. So on the count of three, just shout out your number. How many slots in the multiverse experiment would you like to hold for the lives that are inside of you? Are you ready? One, two, three. (group responding) 14. 17, 14. Eight. Eight. Infinity. Infinity. Every time we do this we get slightly different numbers. This group seems like there's a-- It's kinda high. There's a high maximum of like 12 is an average, 12, 14. Okay, so the point of this, actually if I put you in the accelerator and fired you to the end of the thing, your body would compress into an infinite mass, and you would explode. We died. That's not true. No, you get one. Plus it's a vacuum, you'd be dead before you got to the other end. But it's really interesting that when you start thinking about it like, well how could there be one best because the path that got me here is reasonably random. I made some decisions, but a whole bunch of other things happened that allowed me to make those decisions. The path forward is probably going to have the same level of intentionality and uncertainty. So I can optimize a bunch of different versions of myself.

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Ratings and Reviews


A fantastic class for someone seeking to optimize their life for a greater sense of satisfaction and especially for someone who is considering a career transition. We are taught effective methods for brainstorming, examining, and prototyping our options, and we are given an approach for the hardest task of all: how to make a choice when faced with multiple good options! Also great tips for networking and getting your foot in the door. This class was very timely for me as I've been struggling with making a decision on what my next career was going to be. I now feel equipped with tools that will help me make that decision with less agony and more fun! Also, I'm a huge fan of design thinking, so it was great to see how that methodology could be applied to making one of the most important decisions in our life.

Karen Vitto

Great course! Great for who like me is on their 30's starting life in a new country with a new language and have been out of the industry for 4 years. Designing new goals, making new networking and starting a MBA for some updates on my carrear. Really helped with some focus. Super recommend!


Loved this class! It was high energy, fast paced and well organized, as well as inspiring. It helped me to make more concrete things I've been thinking and dreaming about. I'm so glad I took it. I made great contacts and will definitely use this material in the future!

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