Stanford d.school's Bernie Roth recommends a bias toward action

In his new book, Roth says he believes that people can lead more fulfilling lives by actually doing things, instead of merely trying to do things.

Bernie Roth

Bernie Roth, academic director of Stanford’s d.school, applies design principles to life in “The Achievement Habit.” (Image credit: Natalie Whearley)

When he joined the Stanford design faculty in the 1960s, Bernie Roth crossed paths with many Silicon Valley engineers who dreamed of starting their own companies. But for many, it was just talk – they continued to work for large tech companies.

Some did try to start companies.  But trying and doing are entirely different actions, according to Roth, a founder and the academic director of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, known as the d.school.

“When you try to do something, it may happen, but once you encounter an obstacle or two, you’re going to stop,” said Roth, who is also the Rodney H. Adams Professor of Engineering. “Doing is when it doesn’t matter if there are obstacles – you’re going to do it anyway. If you look back at your life, the only way you got where you are is because you did something.”

This is why Roth believes that finding reasons, even good ones, to justify a failed plan or unmet goal is self-defeating. “If something is important,” he said, “you’re going to do it,” regardless of the reasons the task might be difficult.

Roth’s mantra, “Doing is Everything,” is rooted in design thinking, a problem-solving method he has been teaching in and out of the classroom for more than 50 years. Any kind of issue, whether a concrete challenge or a personal goal, can be approached with design thinking, he said.

“Design thinking is to not have a fear of failure, to have a bias toward action and empathy toward who you’re designing for,” Roth explained.

Roth elaborates on how these design thinking principles can help readers create new habits for a more fulfilling and productive life in his new book, The Achievement Habit: Stop Wishing, Start Doing, and Take Command of Your Life (HarperBusiness, 2015).  Beginning with “a bias toward action,” these habits include improving self-image, finding strategies to overcome obstacles, and building genuine relationships.

In turn, doing – and achieving – can become a habit itself. According to Roth, habits, good and bad, form through repetition and reinforcement. “A habit becomes the way you are,” he said. “You can either be stuck with that and say, ‘That’s the way it is,’ or you can do something about it.”

Roth said his emphasis on action is the same theme that he uses to teach students in his highly popular course, The Designer in Society. He originally wrote The Achievement Habit for instructional use in this class, which he has been teaching since the 1970s.

“I feel it’s the best thing I teach at Stanford. It deals with people’s lives. It deals with what people want to be … for some people, it alters their course,” Roth said. “And I feel really good about what it’s done for them.”

Christina Dong is an intern at the Stanford News Service.

Media Contacts

Bernie Roth, d.school: broth@stanford.edu, (650) 319-5435 (mobile)
Debbe Stern, d.school: (650) 274-7000, debbe@debbestern.com
Dan Stober, Stanford News Service: (650) 721-6965, dstober@stanford.edu