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Impact & Meaning

Lesson 21 from: Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life

Bill Burnett, Dave Evans

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Lesson Info

21. Impact & Meaning

Summary (Generated from Transcript)

The lesson is about designing your life and finding meaning and impact in the roles you play. The instructors introduce a new module called "Impact & Meaning" and discuss the importance of understanding the fit of the roles we play in our work and life. They explain the three layers of the framework for designing your life: design thinking, discovery and support, and meaning-making. They introduce a new tool called the Impact Map, which helps individuals identify the type and point of impact they have in the world. They provide examples and ask students to map their own roles on the Impact Map. The instructors emphasize that there is no right or wrong place on the map and encourage students to reflect on their observations and insights. They also discuss the next steps, including prototyping and redesigning roles in place. The key takeaways from the lesson are to assess the type and point of impact, recognize that there is no right or wrong place on the map, and use the insights to redesign roles in place.

Lesson Info

Impact & Meaning

Hello, I'm Bill Burnett. And I'm Dave Evans. And we're glad to be back here at CreativeLive talking about how to design your life using design thinking. So, we're bringing some bonus material today. We have a whole new module for you. And so the first question is, is this module really for me? You're asking yourself, or you're watching this online. Should I stick around for this thing? Well, here's how you know. If you're like this young woman, if you're sounding at all like her and saying things to yourself, like, you know, is this really the kind of contribution I want to make, this thing I'm doing, you know, am I really in the right place? Do I really fit here? If you're struggling with that question, and we hear lots of people struggling with this question. This module came out of responding to dialogues we've had with literally thousands of people who are working on designing their life, and this is a question that comes up all the time. So, if that's the question you have, do I...

really fit here, the kind of fit we're talking about is the fit of the role I'm playing in the world, probably in my work, and is it meaningful to me or not? And that's a big question, the question of meaning-making and what my role means to me, and that's all part of this framework that our whole course is built on. We're now doing I think the 21st module today. And so, Bill, where does this idea fit in the framework? Right, so we have a framework for designing your life, which starts with design thinking. So that's the center of this, the idea of starting with, accepting the problem, having empathy for the world, maybe empathy for your own needs, and then going through the design process. We support that with what we call the discovery and support layer which is, you know, what are your practices, what's your community that you work with, who supports you, who mentors you, and then up in the top, the meaning-making layer, which is your point of view about things, your workview, and your lifeview. And what we're talking about in this module is the role you play, probably the role you play at work, maybe the role you also play at a non-profit or something that is not considered work but it's what you do. Anything you do out there in the human adventure. Yeah. And that's gonna be connected directly into your work and lifeview. But it's also connected to how you define your role, because in talking to lots of people, it turns out, you can redefine or define the role that you're playing in a way that is meaningful or in a way that is not. And so what we wanna do is encourage a meaningful role, fit and meaning, position. We have a model that says, the coherent life, the life where everything fits, is the one that you will experience the most meaning in. So the model says, if you can connect who you are, what you believe, and what you do, and those things are connected in a coherent way, all the research that we've seen from positive psychology and the students we've worked with, they all say, hey, my life is meaningful because I can connect the dots. And what we're gonna zoom in on is, in the previous modules, you did a lifeview, what's the meaning of life; you did a workview, 250 words on why you work, and that created your compass, your guidance system for life and for figuring out. So if you've already taken the course and you're coming back, then you're tapping into that exercise. You wanna actually go back and pull your lifeview workview compass exercise out, and if you're new, you're starting with us today, that's something you can look forward to. We're doubling down on that in particular, looking at one of these dots, which, what are we looking at, Bill? Well we wanted to look at what you do. What is your role in the world? And how does that role have impact? Because when we talk to people about what makes their job or their role in life meaningful, they say, you know I wanna have an impact on the world. I want my job or the thing that I do, I wanna know that it's impacting the world, it's impacting the world in a positive way. The big part of how we answer the question how's it going? It it working? Hey Kim, is it working? Well it depends on how you feel about your impact. So we've designed a new tool and it's called the Impact Map. The Impact Map, so we're gonna map our impact today. Well how do you map it? What are the coordinates of this map? I'm so glad you asked. On the X axis, you know the horizontal, we're looking at what type of impact. We think there's basically three different ways you can be making impact in the world, and they're qualitatively different, they're not better or worse. But they really do feel very different. So in the middle, are you sustaining and supporting things? Are you continuing to run the systems that run the world? There are people in the production booth right now helping run the way that CreativeLive creates this material. They're sustaining the system that actually allows this stuff to occur. Or I'm actually renewing or repairing things. I'm fixing broken things. I am getting rid of bad things. I'm sort of playing defense, if you will. Or I'm actually bringing new stuff to the world. Stuff that was never even there before. I'm changing the game, by bringing in new things. So I'm kinda playing offense, new stuff. I'm playing defense, fixing bad stuff. I'm playing support, running important stuff. And those are different kinds of roles. Now vertically, my point of impact. Not the type of impact, the place where I touch the world. Which could be near to me or far from me. By near I mean personal and by far I mean all the way out to global. And in between the personal, one-to-one interaction and the global me and Earth, along the way I go to small groups, to institutions, to a nation, or to a whole sector, all the way up to global, maybe even cosmic. So it depends on where I connect with the world. Now these are kinda strange ideas necessarily so let's give you some examples. Easiest way to understand this is give you some examples. So if here's a map and I'm mapping Bill or Dave, other kinds of people, let's say I'm an investment banking systems analyst. I work for a big investment bank in New York and I analyze companies according to our capitalistic system of evaluation, well what I'm doing is I'm operating at the sort of systemic or the national level. I work in entire marketplace areas, a vertical market, say healthcare or something. And I'm running capitals, I'm running capital market banking the way we always have, it's an important thing to do. So I'm in the sustaining and supporting role, at sort of the institutional level. Let's say now I'm the Gates Foundation Malaria Program Manager, my job is to rid the planet of malaria forever. So that's a big remediation. If I do my job well, something goes away. I install no malaria for everybody. Something bad goes away. Something bad goes away. I'm a brain surgeon. I'm all the way down here in the corner. I am removing cancer tumors out of people's brains. So I take a tumor out of your brain. I'm working at the individual level. I'm fixing something, I'm fixing your brain. I'm not really doing anything new, I'm not making you better, you're not smarter just 'cause the tumor's gone. If you're lucky, you sort of got back to where you started. So I'm over here. It's not scalable, but it's really important. One at a time. Yeah so very low scale. Maybe I could be ambidextrous and do two brains at once, we ain't even got that working yet. One brain at a time. I'm a homeless center chef, I actually work at a homeless center where we take care of people who are in real trouble and I feed them. And I'm dealing with their hunger. But I also train people, so all the staff are clients and we train them a little bit. So I'm working with a small group of people, just the neighborhood that our center services. I'm mostly fixing the problem of their hunger, but I'm moving toward helping support them to be capable to be self-sustaining. So I'm kinda moving that direction. I'm the Google Autonomous Car Development Program person. And she is trying to change transportation for, actually not everybody on the globe because not everybody as a car or access to asphalt and roads, but a lot of people, a whole lot of people in the world, millions of them, maybe even billions, that would be a very new way of transportation to occur. So I'm over on the new side, pretty big in scale. Or I'm either Bill or Dave when we're teaching this class or teaching at Stanford, at Stanford there's a couple thousand people we talk to, we're doing a pretty new thing, the thing we talk about with life design at Stanford is pretty new, but design thinking is actually not new at Stanford, it's 57 years old. So it's a kind of avant-garde thing. But then, you know now we're spending time talking to educators all over the country. We run studios to train other colleges to do what we do. And in the educational world, it's pretty avant-garde. So it's a very new thing, life design as an idea in the college world is a very new idea. So we're thought leaders at a broader scale 'cause we talked to now multiple colleges, not just one. And we wrote a book, a best selling book. So hundreds of thousands of people have read our book. Now the book isn't as powerful as the class, what we're doing here is a little more personal. But a lot of people have read it. Literally over a third of a million people across 23 different countries in the world are reading Designing Your Life. So we've had a small global impact. So that's what it looks like, but notice Bill and Dave are in three places at once. We have a job in the life design lab at Stanford that brings us here today, in which we have multiple roles. Almost everybody's job, I bet all eight of you have jobs with more than one role in it and you sorta hang out in that neighborhood, that little boomerang-shaped thing is kinda the neighborhood we hang out in. So that's what it looks like. Does that make sense? Are we clear, kinda what we're doing? By example, great. So Bill, about time for us to do this. Yeah we don't like to do a lot of lectures, design is a contact sport. So let's actually do this mapping of your roles in the world. The first thing to do is list about four to six of the possible roles you have. And remember, your job might have multiple roles. You might be a production assistant and a planner and on the corporate culture committee or whatever it is. So make sure that you list all the roles that you have and you can list roles you had previously. In fact it's probably a good idea to think about historically what other jobs have I had? And where do they fit? And you may even think of some things that are future roles that you've been imagining having. So the first step in this-- By the way, if you're about to take the course, when you get to the Odyssey planning exercise or if you're coming back and picking up this new material, you could go back and pick up your Odyssey plan, your three completely different variations of the coming five years of your life. And there are roles embedded in those plans, you can pick off some of those future roles and put those on here too 'cause that would be interesting to look at. So the first heads down activity is see if you can come up with four to six different roles. Just put them in the list, and we'll give you about five minutes to do that. Do throw one or two future possibles in there. Even including wild ideas, like at some point I'd like to be a therapeutic clown in a children's hospital. Now the next step, obviously, is to locate those roles on this little two-by-two. And remember, we're very clear, there is no good quadrant. A lot of times when you see something like this you think oh the top right, that's the best one. Big and new is so much better. No it's not. I mean ridding the world of malaria is as a big of impact as creating the next generation of autonomous vehicles. Being a brain surgeon really mattered to the person whose brain you fixed. So there's no good place on the map. But probably every one of your roles will find it's part somewhere. Remember this is sort of renew and repair, sustain, something new. This is that homeless chef who's actually handing the bowl of soup to the homeless person, that's one-on-one. Or maybe you're up here raising money for homeless. Writing policy in a windowless basement office at the UN would be up at the global level. So they're all good spots, there's no bad spot. But you'll probably discover that there's some pattern to the roles you've had. So see if you can plot those roles on this two-by-two. Again we'll give you about five minutes. And yes there's more than one place you could describe a role and put it, there's no right answer, there's no wrong answer, it's your answer that matters. So the way you think about what that role means, the way that role feels to you on that map, that's where it belongs. Now in every one of these modules for designing your life, you'll notice we ask you to do something and then we ask you to reflect on it. 'Cause I think, trying to understand what did I just learn or what did I just map, what does that mean to me? So the reflection typically starts with simply well what did you notice? Maybe all your roles are in one quadrant, or maybe they're all over the place. What did you notice? And does that generate any insight about the kinds of roles that were good fits for you? You may have had a role that you placed somewhere on the map and you were like I never liked that job. Or you have another role that you didn't think was as important, and you realize now that you placed it on the map, you're like oh, that was actually one of the most satisfying things, I think I had the most impact there. So what did you notice? What insights did that generate? And does this bring up any questions for you? Like oh well how come all my stuff is over here or over there? So we'll give you again, a couple of minutes to just write down a few observations, insights, what did you notice about whatever this mapping now reveals to you? And again it's quite common to notice oh the job I hated, all the jobs I hated are all in one quadrant. Or all the roles I had that I thought were, I felt, impactful, are somewhere on this map. So look for patterns. Or the lack of a pattern. Both would generate an insight. Or changes over time, like that used to be cool, and then it wasn't anymore. Maybe my relationship with this shifted when I wasn't looking, And you're not a static object, as you grow into roles, your needs change. The way you perceive impact changes. Okay looks like most people have a few observations down. So one of my other principles of life design is it's hard to do it by yourself. We always do it in communities and we always have conversations about the things we've observed. So now what I would like to do is put you into pairs, I think that'll work best for this group. So if you'll slide around into the pair formation so that you can actually talk to each other. I'd like you to share, I'll give a couple minutes for each of you to share here's my map, here's what I noticed, and here's the observations that came up for me. So just have that conversation with your partner. For those of you taking this online, whether you're with somebody right now as you're doing this or not, this is really a great platform for a conversation. You know we've found lots of people who have gone off and used this worksheet, just theirs to talk with a friend or hey would you like to do this with me? And we can have a conversation about what's going on here. There was a college president we actually introduced this to and he said this worksheet allowed me and my 22 year old daughter to actually figure out, there was a conversation we've been trying to have for three years, it was never getting anywhere. We worked this through and we finally had the conversation we wanted to have. So we're trying to help people articulate things that we all care about, but often don't know how to talk about. That's what we're doing here. (audience chatter) And then future I wrote potentially a video host of sorts and kind of bringing those two worlds together of acting with social media. That's something I've been thinking more about. And then I was thinking of something that's more one-on-one and I was like oh well being a mom's a role. Yeah. And so, future. So that one was down there, but most of them I felt like they all lived around here. So I was like oh I guess I'm attracted to things that are global reaching and more new, and my question from that was just because I'm attracted to that, does that mean that I'm better at that stuff? Or could I also be, like just because that's my past or what I'm noticing a trend in, and I'm attracted to that, does that mean that's what I'm meant to do? Or am I just kind of following? Maybe it's your interests. Right. Like the things that you like just happen to be global, like I don't think you're actively trying to-- No 'cause I was like I've never thought of it that way, ever, and I feel like my favorite thing is being one-on-one with someone. So it is interesting. Interesting, yeah. The company has maybe an unreached goal, but the way I see it's kind of like I'm supporting this company. And so yeah that's what I found. They're all kind of like on this line, kind of very around here. I used to be a program manager. I probably could shift this even further to the right. 'Cause we were working with other companies developing technology, interior designs. But I always felt like it was having very small impact, like a small group of people I was interacting with. One program, one or two programs, so, yeah. In terms of whether I like this job or not, I don't really see it had anything to do with that, right? I kind of enjoyed it, but I wouldn't think, I didn't really look at it from this perspective. This is always the interesting part because you guys look like you were having a very good conversation with some really interesting information. I'm guessing you weren't talking about menu planning. No, yeah, can you give us some sense of, yeah what came up for you in this exercise? Yes? I was kind of talking about how I noticed there was more variation than I initially anticipated. So you're in more parts of the map than you thought? Yeah, I think when you guys started talking about this I kind of envisioned myself being in one or two quadrants but as I was going through the exercise, I noticed that I'm actually a little bit more scattered throughout all four, which was kind of an interesting takeaway for me. Or even you can say I'm a little more diverse than I thought, 'cause even the word scattered has a little bit of a valence on it, like you don't know what you're doing. You're actually just a broad person, not a scattered person. Just a little bit more diverse. Language matters. That's true. Great. Others? What came up? I noticed that for myself, I was mostly on the bottom right corner. And for most of my roles. And one of my future goals ended up being more towards the global and top left, closer to the origin. And the question I came up with was am I in the bottom right corner because that's where I feel comfortable and am I trying to push myself into a non-comfortable situation? Or am I trying to push myself into a comfortable situation? Right, or am I starting out here and maybe growing into this position? Remember the brain surgeon can become head of surgery and then become the chief administer of the hospital and then as your career develops-- You have to go back to the operating room. Yeah, you may discover that moving up towards bigger systemic impact is where the next step for impact for me will be. But it is a good question to ask yourself whether you're pushing yourself there 'cause you think you should or because it's a natural progression. We don't like shoulds. We don't do any should-ing in the class. Yeah we're on about the ninth version of this, by the way. This was again, an exercise that came out of the lives of the people we work with. They kept asking this question, we thought they needed more help, more of a tool. Again the overall goal of designing a life is to enable you through design thinking to grow a conscious competency in life and vocational way-finding. To be good at and know how to be good at figuring out how to do this thing called making up your life as you go along, life and vocational way-finding. So this is a tool to get clear on what does it mean to me? And we have found people, there's just should all over this thing. Even am I trying to grow into that position? i.e. that position is better than this position. Well am I trying to just acquire the skills that are commensurate with being there instead of there? It's just different, not better. So you get to have a bias. If you think up and left or down and right is better, that's totally your call. But the diagram doesn't care. Other thoughts? What else came up? One of the things that occurred to me was all of mine seemed to be grouped together towards the bottom, a little bit to the right, even though I've held a lot of different types of jobs. And so what I noticed, was that my perspective on it seems to be regardless of what the job is, this is how I view it. Is that it should be in this particular quadrant in this particular area. And so one of the questions that that raises is, how can I use that to set it up for future success? Where I'm in this particular position and I see it in this particular quadrant, should I start thinking of it, and there's that should again, should I start thinking of it in a different way to be successful in the future? Or is there a way that it fits in here, which, well you know, is good for success. Yeah and remember the whole idea of this is to determine hey is my point of impact meaningful for me? So if it's meaningful for me today, like we never thought we'd write a book, we just thought we were teaching classes. It was meaningful for me in a classroom situation to impact the 20 or 30 or 60 students that we were talking to. But when we had the opportunity to take this idea to a broader population and to put it on CreativeLive and have more people experience it, I realized wow, that's a different kind of impact than just one-to-one teaching. So it's not necessarily better, but it was, I think, something that we thought was important. So you can decide in the next role you have or the role you already have, you can shift the impact of the role you already have. You can redesign in place. You don't need to change your job, you just need to change how you decide the impact is important to you and to others. There's a concept called job sculpting that is without changing your job, there's lots of different ways to do the same job. There's many different ways to think about the same job. And how you do it and how you think about how you think about it is entirely up to you, and that have an outside effect, like it makes me more effective or more impactful and an inside effect, it actually resonates more coherently with me. So when I drew our thing, I said we're becoming educational reformers. We both just spoke at really big educational conferences. Now I described that as educational reform, and so I put it more on the new side. Now the program we run to train other universities to develop their own program, it's not teach ours, we don't say here's how to do exactly what we do, we say here's how you could do something inspired by our work, but you do your own thing. There's another member of our team who, that enablement rather than franchising approach to things is really, really, really important because it acknowledges the autonomy and the uniqueness of each institution that we support. So we're just supporting you being you with a little more design thinking. So she might think about this, the exact same thing I'm thinking about, I think of as reform, because now colleges care about the formation of your life not just the information in your brain, that's like a big shift and Dave cares about that. But Gabrielle might care more about we're really empowering and supporting you being you. So she draws the same thing probably in a different place and that matters and you're in charge. One thing, just to make sure we clear up any confusion, any questions about how this tool works? What would be the next step beyond this? What would be the next step? So Bill mentioned we, eschew should, we don't want it. Well the next step would be, let's say if you've got a question, you wanna ponder that, ask that, think about that, if there's an inside, some of the outcomes here might be simply on I'm gonna start reinforcing and catching myself in the act, yeah that's exactly the kind of impact I'm looking for. Or but there's (stammers) I would like more impact over here who's only been the lookout. Yeah typically the next step is a prototype. If you've done the rest of the online class, what we'd say is hey, that question, do I wanna move up to more global? Or the question hey is the job I've got exactly right but I need to redesign my relationship to the impact? Or I wanna go back down and get my hands more person-to-person. Yeah so then rather than I quit my job or I suddenly changed my life, we'd say you run a prototype. And the prototype could simply be I'm gonna go have a conversation with somebody who's already doing that at the global level or at the universal level. And just kind of see what's the quality of their life like? And see if that resonates with me. Or I could just go talk to my boss and say hey I'm thinking of changing the way I have impact around here. Yeah, change it up, changing the way I have impact. Let's have a conversation about that. And let's try a week of me working in a slightly different way, and see how that works for the organization. So prototyping is almost always our next step. Yeah if you're doing the whole course, go back and take a look at the Odyssey planning module 'cause there'll be some ideas there, and then from those Odyssey plans, you can jump into prototyping, that's another module, and those things would be the places you would go. Okay so let's wrap this thing up. In terms of the takeaways, what we're really recommending you walk away with today is assess both type of impact and point of impact. Get articulate about what impact means to you. Everybody says oo I wanna make an impact, what do you mean by that? So let's get smarter about it. Really there is no right or wrong place, there are lots of things to do in the world. The question is fit and coherency for you. You could probably fit in more than one place, you wouldn't think people are single locational. There's no right answer, even for you individually. And then use the insights to redesign in place the thing you were just talking about. You can actually use these insights right away to make more out of what you're already doing. So as we finish up just as you guys walk out the door, so what did you get today? You have some things you talked about, so what do you actually get? What's one takeaway you got today? An insight or a question, something you wanna followup on? One takeaway I had was the future goal that I had set out for myself was something that I had thought about when I was really young, and totally forgot about it until I actually did this exercise. Ah, okay. So something that was latent in my memories, suddenly got kind of brought out and I discovered it again. But it's always been there. We've noticed that also when people do their Odyssey plan. That a lot of times, there was something they were thinking about when they were 20 or something, and then life happened and now they've got a job, and wife and kids, and whatever. But those identities that we could have played out, those lives that are still in there, they're active. And sometimes these tools just surface that information and then you can decide what you wanna do with it. My day job isn't necessarily the only place I'm making an impact. And there are ways to think about, you know, this and this connects to something else that connects to something, I'm part of a bigger system of things going on. And so how I deserve to think about where these things go in my life and what they mean and what am I doing on the side and how do I compliment the whole portfolio of things I do in life. 'Cause again I'm designing a life, not just a job. So just again, the whole idea of this tool is to give you a way of thinking about something a little more articulately, that probably matters to you. Because most people think the impact of my life, that really has to do with whether or not my life is meaningful, 'cause we're all trying to answer that question, how's it going? And we hope that with these tools, it's going a little bit better and you're making more of the kind of impact that you really care about. So thanks for your time today, you guys did a great job, and give yourselves a hand, you did really good work today. (applause)

Class Materials

Free Bonus Materials

Designing Your Life Homework
Designing Your Life Worksheets

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Impact Module Worksheet

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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