Making It Work at Work
We wrote a book.
Not this book, another book. Maybe you read it, maybe you didn’t. In that book, we taught people how to use design thinking to design their lives. We showed a lot of people how to get off the couch and prototype alternate versions of their lives and their careers. We’ve taught workshops based on the book, and we’ve met and heard from thousands of readers whose lives were changed for the better. They’ve shared their stories with us, and each of their stories is now part of our story. Many of the people who read and loved Designing Your Life
were people in transition: entering one of life’s many inflection points. They needed help with choosing their next step—where to go, what to do, and in some cases, who to be. Their work involved trying to imagine
a different kind of future or a way to make an unrealized dream real.
That book was about imagining.
This book is about making it real.
We also heard from people who said the Odyssey Plans we suggested were great and all, but it wasn’t feasible for them to run off and become a scuba instructor in Bimini because of, well, things like insurance, mortgages, utility bills, and the children who were still in school.
Those people asked us for a different kind of book.
They asked for a book that would meet them where they are now, and provide tools and ideas that would help them thrive at work.
Look, today’s workplace is in continual flux. As companies evolve to be more and more nimble and shift faster and faster to meet changing markets, the workplace is less and less predictable. Increasingly, it’s up to workers to define their own happiness and success in this ever-moving landscape. It’s also up to smart managers and companies to meet their workers halfway and offer resources (such as this book) that can help create a culture that allows their ever-changing workers to adapt to the ever-changing demands of the workplace as it adapts to the ever-changing demands of the market. Mostly, though, people need tools to invent their own success—over and over—as they change and grow as humans. (Doubly so for the growing ranks of us who are self-employed.) And it’s becoming clear that Millennials and Gen Z workers especially demand
a work experience that is meaningful and that gives them a sense that they are having an impact in the world.
We all want our days infused with meaning and impact.
Most of us spend most of our days at work. So it’s no surprise that the workplace is the number-one place we go looking to find meaning and impact. Yet most jobs are built around tasks to get done and transactions to manage, and most managers aren’t comfortable talking about meaning and impact. When you become the designer of your work life, you can help your boss and your company make your job the job you want. If you own your own business, you can invent it over and over again until it gives you meaning and impact. You can design your work life as an employee or a business owner. Design thinking is for people like you, whether you receive the paycheck or sign the paycheck. This book is full of ideas and tools that will help you not only create more meaning in your life, but also build more joy into each workday.
The workplace isn’t just changing—it’s restructuring. The Gig Economy, Artificial Intelligence, and The Robots aren’t coming, they’re already here and they’re poised to reshape everything we think we know about work. So smart workers need to prepare themselves to thrive in this new technological reality. We have lots of practical tools in this book to help you respond like a creative designer to this workplace of the future.
If you read Designing Your Life (DYL),
this book will add to your new design thinking mind-sets to help implement a joyful work life, whatever your Odyssey Plan. If you didn’t read our first book (or if you read the first book but didn’t do the exercises), this book stands alone to help you use design thinking to design in place, at work—so you can be happier and more fulfilled during those forty, fifty, sixty hours a week you spend working—without having to change jobs or careers, unless you really want to. If you do, we show you how to do that, too.
So it is time to get off the couch and get unstuck at your job. Mostly, it’s time to make work work for you! Something’s Not Right
Bonnie is thirty years old and has had five jobs since college. She always begins the same way—with optimism, with excitement, and full of expectations about how this job is going to work for her—but each time she ends up disappointed. The job—each job—lets her down, and she has no idea why. “It just didn’t work out,” she explains to her parents every time she has to borrow money to make the rent. Bonnie knows her reasons for quitting are vague, but for the life of her she just can’t get any clearer than “something is not right, but I don’t know what.”
Louis is a middle manager at a midsize company where he’s worked for fifteen years. Every day he takes the train into work and arrives at the office at exactly 8:15 a.m. He supervises a sales team that sits in perfectly lined-up cubicles, working in perfect disharmony. He’s supposed to manage and motivate them, but, day after day, Louis walks onto the sales floor and looks around as if he’s a visitor to a foreign land. This is not my company. None of this matters.
Louis leaves for home on the 5:15 p.m. train. He has two kids in middle school. His mortgage is a third of the way paid off. On the train ride home, as he leans his head against the glass window, watching the world pass him by, the lyrics to a Talking Heads song play over and over in his mind. And you may ask yourself, well How did I get here?
Marie is a successful physician, at the top of her field, who is absolutely bored but isn’t about to walk away from a successful medical career. Rajeev is in a job he loves, but there’s too much to do and not enough time to do it. Even his overwhelm is overwhelmed. Bruce drives for an app-based car service and does some gigging as a side hustle. While he loves the freedom of making his own schedule, he doesn’t love not having a steady paycheck, a clear path to advance his career, or a “real job.” Jennifer heads Human Resources at a hi-tech company, and knows the employees are disengaged and underperforming, but nothing in her training has taught her how to help them, so she files away one poor performance review after another.
All of these people we know are unhappy at work. And each has an unhappy story they tell about their job. It’s not working for me. I don’t fit at this job. It’s too hard to change it, or fix it, but I don’t know if I should stay or quit. What should I do next? Dysfunctional Belief: It’s not working for me here. Reframe: You can make it work (almost) anywhere. Disengaged at Work
If you work forty hours a week, fifty weeks a year (with two weeks off for your skimpy “American” vacation), for forty years—you will have worked 80,000 or more hours. Many of you reading this will average more than fifty hours a week and work well beyond fifty years—which puts you over 125,000 hours. Almost nothing in your life takes more of your time and energy than work.
And yet, in poll after poll, Gallup indicates that approximately 69 percent of American workers are disengaged from their work (a percentage that includes the plain “disengaged” and the angry and resentful “actively disengaged”). Globally, the number of workers unhappy at the place where they spend most of their lives is an astonishing 85 percent. These workers do not go to work with a smile on their face. They often talk about their work as “dreary and boring.” And we aren’t just talking about people with mundane office jobs or blue-collar workers doing repetitive manual labor, or fast-food workers doing the same at your local burger chain. In our many DYL talks and workshops around the country, we’ve heard from teachers, CEOs, coaches, doctors, dentists, farmers, bankers, barbers, private equity gurus, librarians, army helicopter pilots, physical therapists, truckers, government bureaucrats, and lawyers (actually, from lots of lawyers), and from men, women, young, middle-aged, old, single, married, divorced—you name it—people, all saying the same thing. I don’t like my job!
As we said, worker disengagement is a global issue, and it is even worse in other countries. More than 93 percent of Japanese workers report themselves in the disengaged category. The Japanese even have a variety of special names for these extra miserable jobs: a shachiku worker (社) translates to “corporate livestock” or “corporate slave worker,” and kaisha no inu (会社の犬) translates as “dog of the company.” There’s even a word, karōshi (過労死), which can be translated as “death by overwork,” and there have been numerous high-profile suicides by workers who could no longer tolerate their long hours and harsh working conditions.
So count your blessings, it could be much worse. I mean, who wants to feel like corporate livestock?
The reasons people are not happy at work are many. It’s my job, it’s so boring . . . It’s my boss, he’s such a micromanager . . . It’s my company, I never get any feedback on how I’m doing . . . It’s my career, I think I picked the wrong one . . .
We hear you. And we are here to tell you that it might not be as bad as you think. If you have a job, that’s a start, and you should count yourself as one of the lucky ones. At least you have a little security, a little income, and a place to start your redesign. Lots of people are living gig to gig, and some people are living in the “chronically unemployed” category of labor statistics, and that’s a tough place. Fortunately, there are ideas and tools in this book that will be helpful for everyone, no matter the situation.
If you don’t have a job yet, there are a lot of great tools in this book to help you find a good one, and also to help ensure that your future job is a place where you can learn, contribute, and grow into who you want to be next.
Our philosophy is that YOU are the designer of your life and your job, and with design thinking, you can make it much better. You can change how your boss reacts to you, change your experience of work altogether, and maybe even have an impact on your company’s culture. We believe that we can all learn to design a way to thrive at work and create a workplace that’s better for everyone. And the good news is, it’s not going to be that hard. Dysfunctional Belief: I am a cog in the machine. Reframe: I am a lever that can impact the machine. Bonus Reframe: I’m a human, not a machine, and I deserve a creative and interesting job.
Copyright © 2020 by Bill Burnett. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.