Rotman Management Magazine - - CONTENTS - In­ter­view by Karen Chris­tensen

Ingo Rauth

Your course, De­sign Your Life, helps MBA stu­dents do just that, with a fo­cus on their ca­reers. Which as­pects of this are re­lated to in­no­va­tion?

Many of them are, but to un­der­stand this, one has to de­velop ‘in­no­va­tion lit­er­acy’. In­no­va­tion lit­er­acy is the knowl­edge and com­pe­tence re­quired to bring some­thing new and use­ful into ex­is­tence, and it is a skillset that can ben­e­fit us in just about ev­ery as­pect of life. There are two key parts to it: con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing the thing you want to ac­com­plish or cre­ate, and then tak­ing ef­fec­tive ac­tions to bring it to life. This can play out at the level of the in­di­vid­ual, a team, an or­ga­ni­za­tion or at a so­ci­etal level.

Of course, pro­fes­sional de­sign­ers have been con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing things and bring­ing them to life for a very long time. How­ever, even they can’t do it alone — they need to col­lab­o­rate to get feed­back and to scale the thing they’ve cre­ated and bring it to a wider au­di­ence. For me, in­no­va­tion lit­er­acy is about un­der­stand­ing your role and how to col­lab­o­rate with oth­ers to make things hap­pen for your­self and oth­ers.

When it comes to de­sign­ing your life, you need to un­der­stand two things re­ally well: where you cur­rently are and what your de­sired fu­ture state is. Once you have that knowl­edge, it’s all about de­sign­ing and im­ple­ment­ing cour­ses of ac­tion that can help you get from where you are to where you want to be.

You have said that de­sign­ing one’s life in­volves ‘re-fram­ing’ and open­ing up new so­lu­tion spa­ces. Please ex­plain.

If you think about it, ev­ery job is re­ally just a pre-con­ceived pat­tern that we try to match some­one up with. When you look at ev­ery­thing out there as be­ing cre­ated by hu­mans, it be­comes clear that ev­ery job or role has been framed in a cer­tain way — and that it can be re-framed. If you ac­cept that, is up to you to take steps to proac­tively cre­ate the re­al­ity that you want to live in.

Yale’s Amy Wrzes­niewski and Univer­sity of Michi­gan Pro­fes­sor Jane E. Dut­ton have found that re-fram­ing your work or ‘job craft­ing’ in a way that is line with your life’s mo­ti­va­tions can be a pow­er­ful thing. De­sign Your Life takes a more holis­tic ap­proach, ex­tend­ing the idea to life be­yond the work­place.

To re-frame a key part of your life, you need to un­der­stand who you truly are, what you value, what ful­fills you and what mo­ti­vates you. Then, if your job is the fo­cus, you can start think­ing about and ques­tion­ing the pre-ex­ist­ing job pro­files that are out there and use your creativ­ity to re­frame them so they fit your fu­ture pro­file. By do­ing this you are open­ing up a new so­lu­tion space that can en­able you to find a fu­ture that is both ful­fill­ing and mean­ing­ful.

Talk a bit about how Pos­i­tive Psy­chol­ogy fits into this pic­ture.

The tra­di­tional ap­proach in Psy­chol­ogy has been to fo­cus on mak­ing peo­ple healthy or ‘nor­mal’ again. The ques­tion that Martin Selig­man and oth­ers have asked is, Why can’t we fo­cus in­stead on help­ing peo­ple to live more ful­filled, mean­ing­ful lives? This ap­proach fits very well with the idea of chang­ing cur­rent sit­u­a­tions into pre­ferred ones — which is what de­sign is all about.

Bill Bur­nett, co-au­thor of the book De­sign­ing your Life, teaches a sim­i­lar course at Stan­ford. He re­cently said: “A lot of what we do to make our­selves happy is ac­tu­ally wrong.” Please ex­plain.

For a long time, there was this idea of seek­ing ‘the plea­sur­able life’. In a way, most of in­dus­try is built around plea­sure and en­ter­tain­ment. But the type of hap­pi­ness we get from such con­sump­tion is short-lived, as we now know. When you post some­thing on Face­book and you get a ‘like’, it gives you a quick hit of dopamine; the whole con­cept of gam­i­fi­ca­tion is con­structed around giv­ing play­ers short bursts of sat­is­fac­tion. But these things do not ful­fill us over the long-term. The ques­tion for each of us is, What will give us that feel­ing over the long term?

For ex­am­ple, re­search shows that en­gag­ing in ac­tiv­i­ties where you ex­pe­ri­ence ‘flow’ ac­tu­ally makes you feel more ful­filled. When this hap­pens, there is an ab­sence of ‘want’: You just com­pletely en­gage in the ac­tiv­ity — whether it be paint­ing or gar­den­ing or work­ing — some­times for hours at a time. Com­pared to short-lived dopamine hits, this is a much bet­ter thing to strive for, be­cause it tends to only oc­cur when you are do­ing some­thing mean­ing­ful. De­sign­ing Your Life is re­ally about mak­ing your life more mean­ing­ful.

I imag­ine some peo­ple have un­re­al­is­tic goals. What roles do self-aware­ness and hu­mil­ity play in all of this?

I ac­tu­ally think there is a beauty to un­re­al­is­tic goals, be­cause they can pro­vide mo­ti­va­tion or a ‘North Star’ to aim for. When my stu­dents say they want to con­trib­ute to world peace or be­come the leader of the free world, I al­ways say, ‘In­ter­est­ing. Tell me more’ or, ‘What mo­ti­vates you to want to do that?’ An­swer­ing these ques­tions can help you dis­cover a lot about your­self.

On the one hand, be­ing overly am­bi­tious can be an ob­sta­cle to un­der­stand­ing who you re­ally are. And with that, you might end up be­ing dis­ap­pointed about what you’re ca­pa­ble of achiev­ing. On the other hand, be­ing un­der-am­bi­tious can stop you from try­ing things that would make you happy. Con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing a ‘life pro­to­type’ — con­sis­tently try­ing things out to see how they make you feel — can help you de­velop the self-aware­ness nec­es­sary to bal­ance hu­mil­ity with courage.

Chang­ing cur­rent sit­u­a­tions into pre­ferred ones is what de­sign is all about.

Pro­to­types are a big part of the de­sign think­ing process, as is ob­tain­ing feed­back and in­cor­po­rat­ing it into your next it­er­a­tion. How do you em­brace these prin­ci­ples in de­sign­ing a life?

There are two ways: Talk­ing through things with other peo­ple and tak­ing ac­tion, and there is value to both. The most im­por­tant thing is to do some­thing, to en­gage in some way in or­der to learn and in­form the next step or it­er­a­tion.

In terms of en­gag­ing, there are some great ex­am­ples out there of peo­ple start­ing to ‘play a role’ to see how cer­tain sit­u­a­tions or roles fit them. It could be as sim­ple as shad­ow­ing some­one on the job or en­gag­ing in an in­tern­ship. There are also some ex­treme cases of peo­ple ‘slip­ping into roles’ — like Alexa Clay, who dressed up as an Amish per­son to dis­cover New York City from that per­spec­tive; or A.J. Ja­cob, who lived for an en­tire year ac­cord­ing to the life­style de­picted in the Bi­ble. In these ex­am­ples, in­di­vid­u­als have em­braced a new ‘frame’ to see what a dif­fer­ent life would feel like, and gath­ered ex­pe­ri­ences to help in­form their fu­ture.

On a smaller level, you could just in­ter­view some­one who has a job or pro­fes­sion you think you might be in­ter­ested in. What is the job re­ally like from day to day? What was the per­son’s jour­ney like? Then, see how this new knowl­edge in­forms your gut-feel, your de­ci­sion-mak­ing and your am­bi­tions.

What is your ad­vice for read­ers who are ea­ger to progress to the ‘2.0’ ver­sion of them­selves?

Whether I’m work­ing with stu­dents, alumni or pro­fes­sion­als, it has be­come very clear to me that most peo­ple do not un­der­stand them­selves very well — and this leads to a lot of con­fu­sion, chal­lenges in de­ci­sion-mak­ing, and in­se­cu­ri­ties that af­fect the in­di­vid­ual as well as those around him or her.

To get to ‘you 2.0’, I would first en­cour­age peo­ple to un­der­stand their 1.0. — their cur­rent self — and em­pathize with that self. Then, iden­tify what is im­por­tant to you and where you want to go next. We all ex­pe­ri­ence tran­si­tion points in our lives, and we’re con­stantly de­vel­op­ing. We used to be­lieve that we get one ca­reer in life; but that is sim­ply not true any­more. If there’s one thing that I would en­cour­age peo­ple to fo­cus on, it’s de­vel­op­ing an abil­ity to con­cep­tu­al­ize their fu­ture and act on that con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion. As in­di­cated, that re­quires in­no­va­tion lit­er­acy. In the end, the only true fail­ure in life is set­tling for a life that makes you un­happy.

Ingo Rauth is a post-doc­toral re­searcher at the Rot­man School of Man­age­ment, where he is study­ing how to fos­ter in­no­va­tion in large or­ga­ni­za­tions us­ing de­sign and be­havioural science. He is also an ad­junct pro­fes­sor at IE Busi­ness School in Madrid, Spain.

The only true fail­ure in life is set­tling for a life that makes you un­happy.

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