Designing Your Life with Dave Evans and Bill Burnett: PYP 243

Dave Evans and Bill Burnett are co-authors of the New York Times bestselling Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life. You may not have heard of them, but their design work has almost certainly touched your life. You know Dave's work if you've ever used an Apple mouse or laser printer. And Bill's designs include the hinges on Apple's Powerbooks and the original Hasbro Star Wars figures.

What do these guys have to teach us about being healthy and happy?

As it turns out, plenty.

Faculty members at the famous Stanford (d. is pretentious for “design”), Dave and Bill are adherents of the Design Thinking approach to life pioneered by their mentor, past podcast guest and co-founder Bernie Roth, among others.

The basic idea is, we don't have to live a default life not of our own choosing. And we don't have to take wild risks into the unknown when we need a change. Instead, we can apply the same principles of user-centered design that produce successful products and systems to own our lives. We can use a proven process to build, rather than just imagine, our ideal lives.

Dave, Bill, and I had a lovely Skype conversation about their bestselling book, Designing Your Life, and how we can apply design thinking not just to our careers, but to our lifestyles and diets as well.

We covered:

  • the vital importance of curiosity, and how it helps you become lucky
  • developing empathy for others and yourself
  • “reality is where all the cool stuff happens”
  • why drowning ourselves in “shoulds” isn't helpful
  • we live in a body and we are a body
  • the choreography of thought
  • “reasons are bullshit” (courtesy of Bernie Roth)
  • there's no bad or good news, just truth
  • you can't operationalize “mostly plants”
  • how to develop failure immunity
  • why partial credit counts when you're trying new things
  • being honest about the secondary gains of your failings
  • developing a bias to action
  • reframing problems so they can be addressed
  • the difference between actionable problems and “gravity problems”
  • the danger of working on a really good problem that's not the right problem
  • the life assessment dashboard
  • the difference between designing your life and obsessing about your life
  • identifying and disputing the dysfunctional thoughts that keep you stuck
  • the deadly pull of “anchor problems” and the value of prototyping
  • the promise of endless do-overs
  • and much more…

Enjoy, add your voice to the conversation via the comment box below, and please share – that's how we spread our message and spread our roots.


Designing Your Life

The Designing Your Life Workbook

The Designing Your Life website

Bernie Roth on the Plant Yourself Podcast

The Stanford

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Josh LaJaunie and I are looking to take the Big Change Program into organizational settings. We’ve run 3 cohorts of individuals through the program, and want to increase its reach and impact.

There are tons of “wellness programs” out there, where employees get rewarded for getting a physical, enduring a mammogram or thyroid cancer screening, joining a gym, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, choosing “lean” cuts of meat, and trying to quit smoking. As you might guess, these programs are spectacularly ineffective in reducing disease, and equally dismal in their return on investment (ROI) to the employer. A 2013 report by the Rand Corporation found that only smoking cessation produced a positive ROI. (

We’re not interested in vague recommendations or tiny behavior changes that lead to marginal results (what David Katz, MD, refers to as “tiny parachutes”).

We want to show that significant behavioral shifts by groups of coworkers can dramatically reduce the costs of health care in organizations. (For evidence of this, check out my interview with actuary Ken Beckman.)

And beyond that, we want to demonstrate that the current model of “cost-effective disease management” is aiming way too low. Who wants to manage a shitty disease like diabetes? Who wants to manage their heart disease? Who wants to manage their breast cancer?

Let’s eliminate those suckers. Let’s prevent and reverse disease, not manage it.

We’re partnering with WellStart Health, a telemedicine platform with the same goals: to reverse, not manage, chronic disease. And we’re looking for a few enlightened workplaces to let us do our thing.

If you know of anyone we should talk to – an owner or senior executive in a self-insured company, for example – I’d really appreciate an introduction.

And if you happen to be in a position to introduce us to your organization, that’s cool too 🙂

Email me at and we’ll find a time to chat.

Ready to embark on your Big Change journey?

Are you tired of knowing what to do, and still not doing it consistently? The Big Change Program, led by Josh LaJaunie and myself, will help you take the steps to finally live according to your knowledge and values.

Join the Plant Yourself mailing list (top right of this page) to learn more, and to get notified about the next Bobsled Run of the program.

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The Plant Yourself Podcast theme music, “Dance of Peace (Sabali Don),” is generously provided by Will Ridenour, a kora player from North Carolina who has trained with top Senegalese musicians.

It can be found on his first CD, titled Will Ridenour.

You can learn about Will, listen to more tracks, and buy music on his website,


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