There’s No “Right Answer”

A Key Aspect of the Design Mindset

A few days ago, I released my interview with Dave Evans, the founder of the Life Design Lab at Stanford University, about designing a joyous life. There is too much wisdom in this one short interview to discuss it all here — about life and about product design — but I find myself going back to Dave’s most insistent point, which is that there are no right answers. That we as humans and designers should be way-finders, not navigators.

I’ve also heard the same point from Kathy Davies, Dave’s collaborator at the Life Design Lab, in our wonderful conversation a couple of months back, in the context of why major career decisions are so daunting.

Having Faith in the Process

The more I sit with it, the more I recognize that at my best moments — way finding is precisely what I do. Accepting uncertainty and ambivalence and stepping into a new product adventure or a new project with faith that a solution can be found. It’s not unlike the famous expedition of Lewis and Clark: heading deep into uncharted and unknown territory, trusting in themselves, their team, and their equipment to see them through — being open to new experiences and tackling new challenges as they appear.

Compare this to how your GPS approaches driving your daily route — the contrasting example that Dave gave — it knows every turn, road, building. It charts the most efficient path through well-explored and understood territory.

“There’s no GPS for life”, Dave said, and indeed there are any number of things there’s no GPS for. Starting a business, creating a new product, writing a novel, launching a podcast. There’s no GPS because there are no right answers. There are only experiments, iterations, and localized challenges.

No Perfect Plan

As a product designer, I realize, this is often the number one point of friction with clients. Clients who come from more well-ordered fields either think they have the perfect plan, or think that I should have the perfect plan.

The greatest challenge is to get them out of this way of thinking entirely. When it comes to the massive complexity of humans, markets, and products — there are any number of wrong answers, but there isn’t a single right one. Only the next likely experiment, and the next good idea to try.

Design Sprints, etc.

I realize now that this is a major reason why I am attracted to Design Sprints as a methodology — sprints respect the complexity and interdependent nature of reality. No one person is assumed to have all the answers and all the relevant knowledge; no plan is deemed perfect — only good enough to test; No solution is considered by itself, in a vacuum, without many alternatives.

In life — there are moments where I am tempted to ask myself what’s the “right” decision: stay in Israel or move back to the States? Build a business or pursue a Phd? Write a book or launch a product?

I should consult my designer self about these matters. He’ll remind me to stop looking for the one right answer, and to get creative.

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