What Will You Be When You Grow Up?

SIX QUESTIONS . . . My goal is to leverage a renewed university culture to re-write the default perception of young adulthood in the culture at large—shifting it from a "failure to launch" critique toward a supportive nurturing of productive exploration.

September 19th, 2012

Dave Evans is a 30-plus year veteran executive of Silicon Valley. Prior to consulting, Dave was VP and Co-Founder of Electronic Arts, and led the invention of the computer mouse at Apple. He is a lecturer in the Stanford Product Design Program, mentors off and on with Stanford Graduate Students in Law and Business, and taught the undergraduate course on Finding Your Vocation at UC Berkeley for 8 years.





In your work, what are you creating, and what are you cultivating? (In Andy Crouch's vernacular, what new culture are you making, and what good culture are you conserving and nurturing?)

Dave Evans: I work in the Stanford Design Program where I teach an unusual set of classes focused on "using the innovative ideas and tools of design thinking to address the wicked problem of designing your life after college." In simpler terms, I teach students a way to figure out what to be when they grow up—and how to keep figuring it out throughout their lives. Culturally, I am trying to bring back to the university a way of investing in vocational formation as an integral part of the higher-education experience, not merely something students have to flounder through on their own without assistance from their institution. It's my contention that when you look back more than a century, you'll find that public, secular colleges and universities took their responsibility in facilitating formation (not just education) very seriously and naturally. It was a normative Enlightenment perspective. Over time as secularization, the scientific method, and specialization rose, formation withered. I'm working to reverse that trend and re-nurture a culture of formation-support that can meet the demands of a public institution to be both substantive and plurally inclusive.

Who is the "public" for your work—who is it for, and how does it affect the lives of those who engage with it?

I have at the same time one public, and a series of widening circles of publics. My primary public is students, specifically undergraduate and graduate students at Stanford. In the long run, these young adults and their peers worldwide are what it's all about. Selfishly, I'd be happy to spend all my time with my students, but more is required if cultural change is to happen. My next constituents are academic and administrative leaders at Stanford, who will decide whether this work and the goals it pursues will grow and become a part of how Stanford sees its mission to students. Without their participation and engagement, my work will neither outgrow nor outlast me. If our efforts succeed at Stanford (and it's going wonderfully so far), then the hope is to extend the work by invitation to other universities. The final audience would be the general public. There my goal is to leverage a renewed university culture to re-write the default perception of young adulthood in the culture at large—shifting it from a "failure to launch" critique toward a supportive nurturing of productive exploration during the Odyssey Years, from the ages of twenty-two to thirty-two.

Why do you do what you do?

I find myself torn between two types of answer: a strategic rationale or a narrative legacy. I've got them both, but I suspect the latter is more important. The truest reason for what I do is that I can't not do this work. It came and got me and I really have no choice. I think when the apostle Paul says, "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel," he's describing the experience of God bringing him to a place of "can't not," which is where I now find myself too. In my experience, deep call often rises out of one's narrative, and so it is with me. My father died when I was nine years old and I had to figure things out on my own. While in college, I was terribly torn about which of a number of directions to go, and I found that most of what little help I could locate was wanting, if not misleading. I imagine much of what drew me is rooted in my own pain growing up (though it took time to form, as this is my second career after over thirty years as a high-tech businessman).

What skills, proficiencies, and virtues does this work develop in you?

Well, it's certainly made me a better teacher and a more practiced listener. What it's also done that I wouldn't have forecasted is demand more prayerfulness and disciplined devotional life. I teach two classes a quarter, one of them every quarter, which means lots of repetition. While the material may repeat, the students' lives and hopes are always fresh and unique. I need to take good care of my own soul's house in order to bring my students a teacher who is fully present and able to receive them attentively and caringly. In this regard, it's the most demanding work I've ever done.

What five books would you recommend to someone interested in understanding or pursuing the sort of work you do?

  • Let Your Life Speak, by Parker Palmer;
  • The Way of the Heart, by Henri Nouwen;
  • The Will of God as a Way of Life, by Gerald Sittser;
  • Big Questions—Worthy Dreams, by Sharon Daloz-Parks (formerly titled The Critical Years);
  • Fabric of Faithfulness, by Steve Garber

What do you do for fun?

I spend a lot of my free time meeting up with people over a coffee or beer and discussing their hopes, frustrations, and dreams (apparently I just can't get enough of this). When it's time for something completely different, I enjoy cycling, hiking with my wife and our dogs, music concerts and theater, the beach where we live, and fixing things around the house.

 

Dave Evans is a 30-plus year veteran executive of Silicon Valley who offers a range of professional services to rapidly growing companies and personal mentoring to individuals. Since 1990, Dave has been assisting high-tech clients in strategic planning, sales and marketing, new business development, mergers and alliances, growth management, and executive development. Dave's client list has focused on early stage start-ups but also includes Fortune companies including such leaders as Veritas/Symantec, HP, Intel, and AT&T. (He's also negotiated fishing rights for the Inuit in Alaska—but that's a whole 'nuther story). Prior to consulting, Dave was VP and Co-Founder of software publisher Electronic Arts, led the introduction of the mouse and laser printing at Apple, and has held senior marketing positions with IBM/ROLM Corporation and voicemail inventor and manufacturer VMX (now Avaya).

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