New Designing Your Future Debuts

In early January an article appeared in the New York post entitled “Design Thinking for a Better You.”  It could not have been more timely.  After testing some of the concepts in my course last semester (details here), this semester I’m going all in.  Fifty students are embarking on my journey, DesigningImage result for virginia logo Your Future, a for-credit, graded course in the College of Arts & Sciences at UVA.

What excited me last semester was how students embraced the core concepts:  that figuring our your life is a big, hairy problem without much guidance.  I recently heard an insight into this generation that so resonates with me and with them:  for eighteen years, many of these high-achieving students and their support systems (family, teachers, guidance counselors, private college consultants) have had one goal in mind—to get into an elite institution.  Mission accomplished.  But now what.  Their support systems no longer know what to help them focus on, and they themselves may start to feel aimless.

This class and the design thinking methodology helps them articulate the problem, brainstorm possible solutions, test assumptions, create learning plans, and just jump in head first to start experimenting.  Last semester 76 students wrote our version of the “Odyssey Plan,” the name borrowed from the Stanford course designed by Bill Burnett.  As i read them, some made me laugh, some made me find someone in the hallway to “high-five,” some made me cry as I felt the emotion they build into their plans.

I learned that these tools work for these students and this problem.  So this semester the course started this week with 50 new students and a new manual I wrote as a companion to Jeanne Liedtka’s book, Designing for Growth.  I’ve learned so much, and still have so much more to learn, about how these principles apply, and I’m excited to take this journey with these outstanding UVA students.

Design your life

Can design thinking really work for designing your life? It is working at Stanford apparently (Fast Company article here).  And our Liberal Arts and the World of Work class at UVA is pioneering the concepts as well, primarily using the work of Jeanne Liedtka from her book Designing for Growth.

Source: Jeanne Liedtka, Design Thinking for Business Innovation

What is? helps students define the problem and examine themselves and the world of work.  In the What if? stage students brainstorm possible lives and use the lives of alumni as possibilities as I parade speakers before them.  What wows? is a tough stage for this generation—narrowing down to a few possibilities, making tough choices, and prototyping (actually trying things out).  Finally, in the What works? stage, students will write a plan as their final project to test their concepts on the world.

What matters most here though is not the final 3-4 concepts that they develop in the What wows? stage, but that they learn a process—a process that they will need to repeat several times over the next four years.  What wows them today may not be what wows them tomorrow, but if they have learned a new way of thinking about their future, then we have accomplished something big, and proven that design thinking can really work for designing your life.

New Version of Liberal Arts and World of Work Debuts

Design thinking, wandering maps, world of work panels, more alumni guests, career counselor engagement—all new features of the new U.Va.. Liberal Arts and the World of Work class.  Enrollment has also expanded—from 30 to 77.  The class is now in its third week.  Students are advancing from the research phase and the “What Is?” of design thinking to the “What If?” stage.  Over the next few weeks they will here from speakers from Wells Fargo, MADabolic Fitness, U.Va. College of Arts and Sciences, Scout Guide, T. Rowe Price, Capital One, and the U.S. Federal Government—just to name a few.  They will start envisioning possible future selves and determining how to try a few things on. 

These guys are amazing, just saying.

It’s About the People and Our Mission

The UVA Career Center’s re-launch is underway.  I recently blogged on the Career Center website about all the changes:  new name, launch of Career Communities, Internship Center launch, expansion of Graduate and Professional School Advising, launch of new website, growth of Virginia Alumni mentoring, pilot of global career support, staff-lessyellowand improved employer relations, just to name a few.  Click on any for details.  But the most exciting part of the re-launch is the team.  Our success is defined by our people and our commitment to our mission.  Our new mission, which took us over a year to solidify, points us the right way and keeps us on track:

“The University of Virginia Career Center fosters holistic career development and facilitates connections to educate, inspire confidence, and empower all students to launch professionally and personally fulfilling lives.”

Waking up everyday knowing that today I need to:


Inspire Confidence

Empower all students

is quite the responsibility that we all take seriously.  I am so proud to work with this incredibly talented group of professionals on this mission.  It is going to be an exciting year.

IT is within reach

IT might be a career, might be a gap year, might be grad school, might even just be the first job.  It just is IT.  IT is what you must do when you graduate in May.

Have you started thinking about IT?   Have your parents asked about IT?  Are your friends avoiding IT?  No matter, because in the next 2.5 or 3.5 years, IT should start to invade your subconscious. 

When i think about IT, I believe that IT requires three things between now and graduation:

1.  you must figure out what IT is.

2. You must create a narrative that enables you to accomplish IT.

3. And you must get started toward IT in order to reach IT.

So, first, what is IT for you?  What is your objective of these four years?  Where does all this lead?  You may have heard of politicians talk about the one percent.  You know, those 1% of  people that have 40% of the wealth, while the rest of us have, well, have the remainder.  Well, you are the 1%.  Image result for 1%Take the approximately 130 million babies born in 1997.  The US is about 4% of the world population: that’s 6 million babies in the US in 1997.  What percent of those 6 million get to attend a top university like UVA.  Let’s say 4000 x top 20 schools, 80,000 students, divided by 6 million, is about 1%—so, yes, you are the 1%.  So, if you are the 1%, what are you going to do with this opportunity?  (Have you heard that question before?) You may have goals:  make a lot of money–heck, just make some money; maybe solve a world’s problem; maybe help others; maybe just move out of your parents house (on not).  But to achieve these goals, you’ve got to figure out IT.

So, how many of you know what IT is right now?  Whoa, from my meetings with students, not too many.  Well, if you don’t know what IT is, then how will you figure IT out?  aking 3-4 four years to figure IT out is a luxury, but this is the one time in your life that you will have that much time to think about it.  So, take this time, now.

Now, once you know what IT is, then you want to get IT, so how will you?

Well, three-ish years from now, you’ll have to sit down in front of an employer, admissions officer, parent, dean, senator, doctor, or lawyer and tell them why IT is what  you have wanted to do since you were a kindergartner at  Barneys Kindergarten for Gifted Children.  You will need to tell them a story, I call it a narrative, that will justify, rationalize, make sense of most of the big decisions you will make in your college years.  You’ll want to tell them why you came to UVA, why you took the Media Studies class, Shooting the Best Western Movie or Religious Studies In Defense of Sin; why you chose a sorority; why you chose what you chose to be involved in; why you volunteered at Madison House; and why streaked the lawn when you were a fourth year.  Okay, maybe you can leave that last part out. 

Your narrative is not just a rationalization, it is both an exploration and an exercise in skill building.  First, your narrative allows you to explore.  Maybe you didn’t take In Defense of Sin because you want to be a nun, maybe you took it to explore the idea of a possible career serving prisoners.  Part of building a narrative is exploring your options.

And maybe you didn’t take In Defense of Sin to rationalize your weekend behavior, maybe you took it to build the skill of defending an argument.  Part of your narrative is the skills and competencies you develop through the activities you choose.

So, you see, your course selection, as one example, is not random—it is part of your narrative, which, when you deliver it three years from now, in pursuit of IT, will help the employer see the what and the why of your four years at UVA.

Then finally, by reading this, you have chosen to no longer procrastinate your pursuit of IT.  But for those of you sitting out there thinking, “I can’t think about IT just yet,” I implore you to get started now.  Just start thinking about IT.  And here’s how?  Pull out a piece of paper.  Write down the following:

What questions do I need to answer to figure IT out? 

Take only 1 minute, write at least one question.

Now, with that one question, you’ve started your pursuit of IT.  The first answer will be the first paragraph of your narrative. 

Facing Decisions

“As a first or second year student at U.Va., what’s the toughest decision you’ve made?” I recently asked my Liberal Arts and the World or Work class.


Guest lecturer Lily West, Director of Sales and Marketing at The Scout Guide, challenged Lily Westthe group with ethical dilemmas she has faced in her career. Lily engaged the students and forced them to think about their decisions and the ramifications—I enjoyed how she toyed with them, as she took the opposite side of the decision when a student had the courage to take a stand.  I saw them stretching and learning.  Here’s a few responses from their blogs:

I found the ethical decisions that we had to debate in class to be a little overwhelming.

This class has made me realize that I’m not the one who screwed up, the other person was and at the end of the day if I can go to sleep with a clear conscious at night that’s all that really matters.

One of the biggest takeaways I received from the class was that it is possible to follow your own moral code and achieve success in your career.

All of this being said, I don’t think there is a cut and dry answer.

So when I prodded on the “toughest decision” question, eventually someone acknowledged that choosing a college was a tough decision, or choosing a sorority recently was tough. We discussed how they made those decisions, who were the stakeholders involved, why the decision was tough.

But when I read the blogs, I learned that a few if these students have already faced tough ethical decisions, and that while difficult, making ethical decisions is not optional for these guys. Which makes me proud to be a part of their lives and growth and development.  And which challenges me to grow and develop along with them.

Who are you?

What a great question to ask first and second year students at U.Va.! And here’s the catch–no words allowed, only pictures. The ensuing activity, and then discussion, was fascinating. Not only is it difficult to determine who you are, and to illustrate it, it’s difficult to listen while someone tries to interpret your sketches. But the more important point, as led by guest lecturer, Lindsey Helpler, associate director of U.Va. OpenGrounds, is that it’s questions, not answers, that motivate us to action. In the next exercise, every student wrote a question with which they were wresting: the range of questions included “How will I make sure I live a life worth pursuing” to “Who should I ask to my upcoming date function, and the all important, and what should I wear.” Then students walked around and read each other’s questions, and placed their email address next to questions that they too wrestled with, presumably leading to connections and conversation. Class certainly left me pondering: what questions am I facing. I guess that’s why I love this class.


Take 2: Liberal Arts and the World of Work

So I had great aspirations of blogging every week about my new class semester. I think I made it four weeks, maybe five. New Years Hope (that’s instead of New Year’s resolution): that I blog every week.  Shorter posts maybe. Really insightful.

I have 30 new first and second years. Three are weak ties as I knew their fathers in business school. Two are related to members of last year’s class. One is daughter of one of our guest speakers. Weak ties are powerful, as we heard from Dr. Meg Jay’s Ted Talk yesterday. I think her headline, “Thirty is NOT the new twenty,” might have scared a few of them. That’s okay though. Every student spoke in the first or second class. If they didn’t speak about identity capital (see here), then maybe they spoke about Jimmy Buffet (only three had ever been to a Buffet concert—what a travesty!) and whether they consider his life a success.

But I hope all of them thought about what success will look like for them.

What’s your definition of success?

Career Vision

Liberal arts students just need vision. Did you know that if you put a hungry frog in an aquarium full of dead flies, the frog will starve?  Frogs only see four things—including rapid movement.If the flies don’t move, image the frog won’t see them.  UVA Professor Denny Proffitt spoke to Liberal Arts and the World of Work undergraduate seminar last week—his lecture entitled “The Ecology of Vision.” The frog was just the beginning. He got me thinking though—liberal arts students just need career vision. One of my mentors, Sally Robling, also spoke last week. Sally is living what another mentor calls “a life of variety” now—she’s consulting to non-profits, mentoring women in business, and assisting start ups. She challenged the class with decision-making by demonstrating how she relied on the decision-making principles defined by great leaders in history.  Her vision was through the lenses of history.  Professor Proffitt’s was through the lenses of cognitive science.

Career vision—where does it start? I think it starts with getting to know yourself. The course started with each student writing his/her life story.  I find this exercise provides significant insight into who you are. Next week students get the results of their Strong Interest Inventory and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Two more glimpses into who they are. I hope by the end of the course, students career vision will have a kick start—that they’ll have new insights into who they are.  Perhaps through the lens of their own history, and the lenses of liberal arts from some of UVA’s best professors, they’ll have a clearer look into their own future.

Der Erlkönig: Parents as Career Protectors, or Monsters

Would you believe my Liberal Arts and the World of Work course featured decorated UVA professor of German, Gordon Stewart, facilitating a discussion on Der Erlkonig, a famous German poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe?    What, you ask, are the lessons about the world of work in Der Erlkonig?  Well, none I thought.  The purpose of the class was to expose the class to German literature through an outstanding professor who loves German lit and his craft of  teaching. Additionally, through a short assignment and class discussion, students might be exposed to and required to exercise the critical liberal arts competencies of critical reading, analysis, research, and written and oral communication.

The bonus extra was a few students ability to connect the dots in ways that perhaps von Goethe and Gordon Stewart had not imagined.  Here are a few quotes:

I think that as we get older and seek desperately for stability and safety in economic ventures and lifestyle choices, we lose more and more sight of the childhood dreams. 

The future wants outside the box thinkers who see magic where others see a pen and paper

One should never dismiss the observations of another, no matter how impossible they seem.

The boy as his own life to live and his father cannot make all of his life decisions with the security of his own hands.

Throughout the college years, young adults will experience outside forces that will add stress and frustration to the journey, such as tests or the pressure of graduating with an admirable resume.

The poem suggests that we never truly know what obstacles may stand in our way.  We are often unsure of our futures and what lies ahead (i.e. our careers), so we should be prepared to act on any opportunities or deal with any obstacles that may arise.

Often times risks lead to break out opportunities in which case the risky choices actually become the safer choices because they lead to better opportunities. 

When finding a career and establishing adulthood, it’s important to take control of the situations you are in and not to depend on others to take you through the journey with them. 

Wow, that last quote gives me hope that we are making progress.

Even more importantly: parents, read the poem.  Who are you in the story?  Are you allowing your student to explore, make decisions, fail occasionally?  Or are you helicoptering?  What’s your intended outcome? And what is theirs?