Bias to action: why it’s so important in 2020

by May 11, 2020

From a young age, friends and family have always called me a doer, a mover and a shaker. As a child I remember every night I would ask my mom where we would be going the next day. I needed to plan out my morning accordingly. Depending on her answer, I would decide how many pictures I needed to draw based on how many stops we made each day. This was because I liked to hand out pictures to complete strangers in the shops in addition to any family and friends I might see. So I would wake up each morning, eat my breakfast as quickly as possible to get to work drawing my pictures for the day.

When we returned home from the daily errands, it was time to starting planning the nightly entertainment show. Once the performance ideating was complete, I would brief my younger brothers on their roles for the evening and let my parents and grandparents know when they could expect the show to begin. I would hand out tickets to our guests upon arrival and begin our acts. Somehow I also managed to juggle fishing, ballet classes, jazz classes, piano lessons and gymnastics classes in my busy schedule.

University, graduation and the Global Financial Crisis (GFC)

Fast forward to university and not much changed. I decided to double major and complete 5 internships, in addition to working at least 3 casual jobs at any given time. One of my internships was nearly a two hour drive from my house and it was unpaid. I graduated during the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in the USA. Not one of the companies I interned with offered me a job. They all said they would love to take me on, but just didn’t have the budget. I was banking on one of those companies hiring me. That was my plan.

I was living in Florida at the time and working as a waitress during university. One of my customers happened to own a boutique digital advertising agency in Washington D.C. and offered me a role. So I packed up my things and left my beach town for the city life. A few months into the role, they had to let me go due to a massive loss in business.

I applied for at least 10 jobs a day for the next year and half, in every state in the USA. I never received one call or email back. I ended up utilising my network and got a role at Enterprise Rent-A-Car. I worked 6 days a week for $27,000 a year. Keep in mind, this role required a university degree. I had to wash and clean cars wearing business clothes in the middle of Florida summer. I also had to pick people up from their homes. This was not the communications related corporate job I dreamed of as a university student.

I managed to make a move internally into the insurance arm of the business. It was basically a call centre. I was the person that answered the phone to help people secure a rental car after they had been in a car accident. These were not happy customers. During this time, I continued to apply to 10 jobs a day all over the country and still never managed to secure an interview.

So I figured, it was time to try something else! I began to apply to jobs in Australia. A week later I managed to secure an interview and booked a one way flight, never looking back. I successfully secured that role I interviewed for in Sydney. Although this role was somewhat related to my degree, it was definitely something left of field that I would have never considered pursuing during my time at university. But I ended up loving it and it lead me to secure Australian citizenship!

Fast forward to adult professional life and I’ve been steering myself towards roles which allow me to wear many hats and offer the fast paced environment I thrive most in. I love a good challenge. For example, I even thought it would be a great idea to plan my wedding in a small town in southern Italy despite the fact that I do not speak Italian and they did not speak a word of English. It all worked out in the end. Looking back, I loved that year! Balancing a busy year at work, exercise, social life and pulling off an Italian wedding.

Last year, I had the privilege of attending Stanford’s Life Design Studio for University Educators. Basically I got a 4-day crash course in Stanford’s most popular 10 week elective called ‘Design Your Life’. The class is based on taking a design thinking approach to build your way forward in your life and career. It’s also become a New York Times bestselling book called ‘Designing Your Life’.  During the class I learned that designers think differently and there are 5 key mindsets they use on a day-to-day basis. One of my favourite mindsets is called ‘bias to action’.

What is bias to action?

Bias to action means to take action and to try stuff! Stop sitting down and thinking about what you are going to do, just do it! Designers try things. They fail and they solve.

“When you have a bias to action, you are committed to building your way forward. Failure is embraced in Design and often leads to a great outcome. Your life is no different. Each action is a step in the direction of a more joyful life. You are a designer if you take the making of your life into your own hands!” – Bill Burnett, Co-Founder of Design Your Life

As I went through the program, I realised how lucky I was that I’d been inherently blessed somehow with a bias to action mentality since I was a child. It’s so easy to connect the dots looking back on your life and your career. But I found myself sitting in the program realising that my bias to action had led me to every positive and rewarding moment in my life.

Acceptance, gravity problems and moving forward

The point of this blog is two-fold. One to encourage others to have a bias to action mentality in their lives and careers. And two, to give some advice to those fellow movers and shakers on getting through this COVID-19 period.

A huge component of Design Your Life is focussed on the notion of acceptance. There are absolutely problems in life and your career that you can solve with a bias to action. But there are other problems, called ‘gravity problems, which you just have to accept as they are and move on from them. Gravity problems are unchangeable, irreversible, and long-lasting, just like gravity. The only way to handle them is to accept the situation for what it is or reframe the way you think about it. Some people spend years of their life fighting gravity problems that there is truly no solution to. COVID-19 is a big fat gravity problem. It’s here, it’s changed our lives and careers.

As someone with a natural bias to action mentality, I was initially feeling frustrated by my inability to do do do, go go go, plan plan plan. I realised this frustration was bringing me down so much that some days I could only manage to complete one thing outside of work. That one thing might be literally just one call to a friend, or one load of laundry, or simply making my bed. As someone who could typically complete endless amounts of tasks in a day, I found it shocking that I had all this extra time on my hands (no social life or commute to work) yet I was still struggling to complete more than one thing a day.

Then I remembered what I had learned in Design Your Life about acceptance. I’ve now accepted that we are all going to get through this differently. There is no one size fits all approach to take. You might need to even change your approach every week. It’s simply about accepting how you are feeling and what you need each day. It’s also about accepting that the economy and our careers might be impacted by this. All we can do is have a bias to action and focus on what we can get done, what we can control, what we can achieve in this very moment. Planning is everything, but the plan is nothing without action. You can’t plan your way for it, you have to build your way forward. You have to do things to get forward. Thinking leads to more thinking… don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis or overthinking. Activity leads to activity! So I encourage you to have a bias to action and don’t fight gravity problems.


Featured image courtesy of Unsplash

By Steph Miller

By Steph Miller

Alumni Career Coach

Steph Miller is an experienced recruitment professional and the Alumni Career Coach in UTS Careers. She helps alumni meet career goals through career facilitation and recruitment guidance one-on-one providing resume development, personal branding, networking, negotiation and interviewing techniques while staying up on the most recent career trends.