Life Design Class


Imagine taking college courses titled, “Bruce Springsteen’s Theology”, “Demystifying the Hipster”, “What if Harry Potter Is Real”, “Simpsons and Philosophy”, and “Calvin and Hobbes”. That could potentially be the greatest semester of my life. And while there is no one college offering all of those courses, those are all real courses that have been offered in the past few years at a variety of colleges.

What inspired my search for such courses was an article I read this past week which profiled several business school faculty who were bringing their passions into the classroom and creating projects or courses where they got to share that passion with their students. As I read the description of each course, it made me want to be a student in each of them.

So it made me realize that there are probably dozens of unique and innovative courses around the world that I would find fascinating. While I wouldn’t actually enroll in the courses, a simple email to the instructor asking for the syllabus would probably enable me to find out what the course content is and what the required readings are. Then at that point if the topic caught my interest, I could just teach the course to myself. While I would be missing out on some valuable interaction with the teacher and other students, I would certainly be enhancing my knowledge of the subject matter.

My next thought was that it may be helpful to share what I find with others, and so my plan is to dedicate one of my daily blog posts each week to taking a closer look at courses that are fascinating, bizarre, popular, or inspiring. These won’t be your Principles of Economics or General Psychology type courses, but rather courses such as “Exploring Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “The Religions of Star Trek”.

So for this week I thought I would write about a course that was featured in the previously mentioned article about innovation in business education. The course was developed in 2010 by David Gould, a professor at the University of Iowa.

The name of the course is Life Design, and is designed to help students use higher education as a means to discover their passions by drawing upon the works of Seth Godin, Tony Hsieh, Ken Robinson, Daniel Pink, and others. When I saw that list of names I immediately thought this is my kind of course.

Biz Ed Magazine describes the course as “A kind of introspective laboratory where students identify their passions and discover paths to life-sustaining careers, Life Design meets twice a week and includes inspirational readings and reflective writing assignments on students’ core aspirations.”

Here’s a sampling of some of the assignments:

– Ask yourself the following question – “If I could select anyone in the world to learn from, who would I pick, and what would I ask?”

– Look at the page before the Table of Contents in most books and you’ll typically find a dedication. If you were to dedicate your college education to someone, who would it be and why?

– Kids have the luxury of calling “do-over!” when things go wrong. Why can’t we? What are your biggest regrets, and if you could, how would you re-do them? Moving forward, what can you learn from these experiences?

– Hoping to define a unique approach to higher education, and with the help of some friends, I have started a set of “Ten Life Commandments.” I have four remaining, and need your help. If you were to add one commandment for today’s university classroom, what would it be and why? Are there commandments on my list you would change?

and some  of the suggested readings:

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose” by Tony Hsieh

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel H. Pink

Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell

The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything” by Ken Robinson

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?” by Seth Godin

I don’t know about you, but just seeing that list of assignments and readings gets me motivated.

The general web site for the course can be found at 

and if you want to see the detailed syllabus from the past Fall semester, here is the link:

I plan to get in touch with David this week to learn more about the course and to see if there is possibly a way to integrate such a course into our curriculum. If you would like to contact David, his email address is

Next week, a look at one of the most popular courses in the history of Harvard University.

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