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Leaps & Loops | Rethinking the Rhythm of College


Good news today. But in order for you to understand how good, I need to catch you up to speed…

The Problem:
For the past century, this is how we’ve seen learning:


We cram most of our organized, formative years of learning into the beginning of our lives. Then we’re supposed to go do great work. Forever.

This is almost as ludicrous as me suggesting that you should only exercise until your early twenties and then never work out again. Though some of you may have done that, it’s not advised.

This style of learning has gravely impacted higher ed and society as a whole:

  • Students lose focus on why they’re in college and how they’ll actually use their degree; which is one of the factors leading to a near-50% dropout rate among college students.
  • College is wildly expensive and any opportunity to work or leave campus is seen as extracurricular. Not only does that make working and earning money more difficult, there’s little opportunity to engage the world in an accredited manner – leaving students with massive debt and little direction after school.
  • Students leave college only to realize they’ve prepared for the wrong career. In fact, only about a quarter of graduates work in a field that was directly related to their major.

I know all of education could use an overhaul in one way or another, but Higher Education seems especially ripe for re-imagination. It’s our last time in the system before we’re supposed to be ready for the rest of our lives. It seems important that we continue to improve that system in creative and compelling ways.

Here’s an idea…
In 2013/2014, we spent time with our friends at Stanford’s d.school as part of their Stanford 2025 project. That project along with the groundbreaking SUES Report helped us to think about ways students can leave campus to travel, work, research, and study with the blessing and support of the campus. They call it Looping, we call it Leaping, but it’s the same idea: college shouldn’t just consist of primarily classroom learning crammed into four years.

Students ought to have time and space to design a season away from campus and engage the world as part of their degree. This would help students gain greater clarity for their next steps, build their body of work at a younger age, bring those experiences and lessons back to campus, and set the foundation for thinking about learning as a lifelong practice.


With that in mind, last Spring…

We started building a second program. Our 12-month graduate program focuses on three apprenticeships in a year (Fall, Spring & Summer) while taking a full suite of courses. But, what if we truncated that program into 3 months so students could leave campus to study, work, travel, and earn a full semester of credit?

Ei’s Leap Semester is just one version of the Looping idea. And thanks to our partners at Sage Corps who help navigate all of the ins & outs of international work placements, we can bring together the best parts of internships and study abroad into one, awesome semester. Now, we need to partner with colleges and universities.

Good news on a long journey…

The idea of actually partnering with colleges seems lofty. We’re told there’s too much red tape, bureaucracy, and too many decision makers.

However, all of this caught the attention of the Office of the Provost at Columbia College in Chicago. The effort we’d made to bolster our curriculum gave them enough of a prototype to share our program with their Business & Entrepreneurship Department. Their team was able to review our curriculum, meet with our partners at Sage, vet our entire idea, and create a partnership for Ei to launch a Leap Semester as a fully accredited program for Columbia students. Columbia College is even going to offer a full 12-credit transcript to any student from another school who participates in the program (ie: they’re acting as our School of Record)…meaning anyone, from any school, can participate this Spring.

In the future…

Obviously, all of this is just one version of the idea with one school. We’re exploring ways to create “Leap Years” for colleges to offer as an option for incoming students who want to take a year between High School & College. Or we may invite universities to bring all of their experiential offerings under one roof at their institutions so students can better design their undergraduate education through experiences that the campus offers. The list goes on…

What about us older folk?

I’ll write more about that next week. Stay tuned.

For today, know that colleges are interested in innovation, and companies are interested in exploring how to create more seats at the table for “Leapers.” It won’t happen over night, but things are shifting for the better. And I think that’s good news…for all of us.

Keep Leaping,

PS: Yesterday, we launched applications for the Spring Cohort Columbia College students. The invitation went to 8,000 students and we already have our first applications. If you know someone who should take their Spring Semester to join us, from any university, you can nominate them here: www.leapsemester.com/nominate. Together, we’ll build a great cohort of stellar college students. 

Where does it come from?


Creativity does not come from merely being busy, it comes from being.

Listening to an album in its entirety.
Cooking a new dish.
Writing a piece of prose or poetry.
Sketching or drawing something you see often.
Writing a thank you card to someone who’s impacted your life.
Paying attention to the mistakes you’ve made and apologizing for them.
Traveling to a foreign place.
Celebrating someone else’s success.
Being surprisingly generous.
Taking a few extra minutes to hear about your neighbor’s day.
Going the longer way on your next bike ride or run.
Sitting on the couch with a journal or book and no plans for the evening.

You can add to this list. You probably know when you are most you. Those moments can be as frequent as you allow them to be.

And with each event, you’ll plant the seeds for your most human, thoughtful, and creative work.



I recently ran into a great friend. She’s the kind of friend I know really well, but rarely see. She’s an incredible picture of leadership, kindness, and creativity.

To my surprise, within the first few moments of our conversation, she said, “You’re so good at doing your thing. It seems like every time you start something, you really do it.”

I was taken back. I quickly tried to hide behind the kind words with an overly humble response, “It’s easy to say that when you can’t see the graveyard of my work.” 

“But you keep…making.” she replied.

Those words have stuck with me for the past several days. They meant a lot.

It’s important to grapple between how much we should create versus how much we should consume.

Society celebrates the creators and makers – engineers, entrepreneurs, artists, developers, etc. But it also tries to convince us that the more we consume, the more special we are.

Excess has become synonymous with security, and what we purchase has come to define our identity. But those mindsets stunt our development, cognitively and socially.

When you focus on consumption, you are at the center. Your world shrinks and your ability to relate to others atrophies. When you focus on making, your object or audience is at the center. The very nature of making helps you see beyond yourself. It gives you a new perspective on your world and surroundings.

So one of the greatest and most tangible signs of growth is when you learn how to make more of the things you consume.

This is why you enjoy seeing a friend trying a new recipe, or celebrate when you see someone perform something they’ve been practicing, or why you feel great when you finish working on an idea you conceived.

Making is a sign of progress.

Of course, you will also consume. A lot.
Food, music, books, technology, films, furniture, clothes, and so on. But the more you make, the more you see those things differently. You choose more carefully knowing that everything has a maker.

Three things to remember as you start making more:

GO. Get started on the hardest parts. Right now. Just do it. The sooner you start, the better.

BURSTS. You can’t always be making. Working longer doesn’t equate to better work. Schedule short bursts of time. Work hard. Then go do other good things to fill your head & heart.

SHIP. Set the deadline and the audience and then send your thing(s) into the world. Do it often. Even if it’s not perfect.

Alright, keep…making.

A Challenge: New Year’s Letter


In just a few days, on October 1st, we’ll begin the final quarter of the year. If we were running the mile on our high school track, this would be the last lap of 2016. And per usual, these final months will go quickly.

Seasons will change.

Kids will get inundated with activities.

Goals and quotas will stare you in the face.

Holiday plans will be discussed.

Family will come and go.

Before you know it, it will be January 1st, 2017.

But before the pace quickens and we get there, I’m going to ask you to pause.

In fact, I’m inviting you into a new small challenge called New Year’s Letters. The challenge is simple:

Handwrite a letter to yourself that you will open on January 1st. The letter is due by the end of day on October 1st. Seal it in an envelope and keep it somewhere safe.

That’s it.

Well, mostly. Here are a few more details to help give this some shape:

1) Schedule time to write the letter between now and Saturday. 30-60 minutes should do.

2) Handwrite the letter. Get off your computer/phone. Grab a pen and piece of paper. Handwritten letters are always more fun, especially when it’s your handwriting.

3) Place your letter in an envelope. On the front of the envelope, write Dear ____(your name)______. And the words “Do not open until January 1st, 2017.”

But what should I write about?

There are no limitations here. The audience is you. What do you want to remember about your year thus far? What have you seen? Who have you met? How have you changed? What do you wish were different? What have you celebrated recently? Where do you hope to be this time next year?

Compile all of those memories, thoughts, and bits of wisdom before the year speeds to an end. Use the sunlight of the Summer and the freshness of the Fall to capture important words before the cold takes over and the noise of “resolutions” rises. Then, as you start 2017, you’ll have your own words as clues and guides for your next step.

If you choose to participate in this little experiment, can you leave your name/email address here: bit.ly/newyearsletter? I’ll send a quick reminder this Saturday and again on January 1st.

Alright, schedule those 30 minutes.
I’ll be doing this one with you.

Speed Kills


I used to work with a tall, slender communications director and business consultant who always seemed to be calm and collected. He and I would often spend our lunch hours together. One time, we were playing pool and each of us had one ball left on the table. After he missed his shot, I was perfectly set up to tap my last striped ball into the pocket and finish the game with the eight ball. My target was so close to the edge, a gust of wind could have blown it in.

Instead of tapping it lightly, I reared my pool stick and gave it a confident and unnecessarily forceful thrust – so hard that when the cue ball struck my striped ball, it quickly dribbled back and forth between the edges and never entered the pocket. I couldn’t believe it. When I looked up at Steve, he simply said one of his most famous lines: Speed kills.

I’ve never forgotten that moment, or those words.

We live in a fast-paced world where speed is celebrated in everything from technology to service to food. But I think what makes things truly great isn’t speed, it’s momentum.

Speed is about pace – the rate at which you move.
Momentum is about activity – the quantity of motion.

If you want to do something fast, don’t spend a lot time on it. Rush it. Move from one step to the next step quickly. You will be speedy.

If you want to build momentum, do a lot of something. Spend time with it. Try it in different ways. Learn how to do it well and then do more of it. You will build momentum.

In business…
You can grow fast, which is often celebrated.
But businesses that last and make an ongoing impact, are more concerned about momentum – adding well-researched updates, features, campaigns, gatherings, teammates, messages – that delight their community again and again.

In health…
You can’t get fit really fast, no matter how many pills you take or diets you attempt. But if you go to the gym regularly and for a while, you build momentum. Your physique changes, but so do the rest of your habits.

In daily life…
Speed leads to forgetfulness, accidents, fines, and frustration. But a speedy day is different from a full day focused on the right things. The latter leads to peace of mind and productivity.

In relationships…
New friendships, teammates, significant others that spin up within a few moments may seem magical; but they need time and activity to truly blossom. The amount of energy and commitment applied is what builds lasting relationships.

In art…
You can’t create a body of work quickly. It needs thoughtful and consistent action. The results of that action need to be shared over and over again. As you create more work, styles are defined, patterns emerge, and a community will inevitably form.

Momentum needs time. Speed doesn’t.
Yet, momentum inevitably leads to speed, just a healthier kind. Speed is what I do when I hurriedly ride my bike home through traffic at the end of the day. Momentum is what I experience when I peddle quickly for 30 miles along the lake at the break of dawn.

And of course, there is a place for speed. Trying new ideas quickly and simply can save you loads of time and resources. Quick tests create space for learning important lessons early. So yes, there is a place for speed, but I’d say, it’s in service to momentum.


Aaron & Access


Last night, I spent the evening with one of our partners in crime at Experience Institute, Aaron Wilson-Ahlstrom.

Aaron is in his early forties and one of the most interesting men I’ve ever met.

A son of an architect and an educator, Aaron has traveled the world and studied multiple languages. He is well-versed in art/culture/music, can facilitate dynamic workshops with everyone from educators to designers; is good at math, athletic, introverted, and able to hold a conversation with anyone of any background. When he’s not working at Ei, he leads anti-racism workshops and participates actively in his local community.

I think this is where I’m supposed to use the hashtag, #mancrush.

Aaron is married to a beautiful woman (Hi, Alicia!) and together they have three incredible children: Langston, Malcolm, and Mayana.

Last night, Aaron and I left work early just to go rock climbing and share a meal to discuss life beyond the fast-paced work of building Ei.

I so enjoy hearing him talk about his three kids. Mayana (3) loves to read and is learning how to spell. Langston (8) loves soccer and is really excelling on the team (that Aaron helps coach. Sheesh!) And Malcolm (10) is finding his place among the gamers, makers, and inventors.

Most of my friends have kids and I’ve spent a lot of time with families. It’s one of my greatest joys. But something struck me last night as I listened to Aaron.

He and his wife are doing an incredible job helping his kids access an array of amazing, new experiences – everything from sport’s teams, to Chinese language camp, to raising chickens, to a monthly subscription for inventive puzzles.

With each new experience, his kids’ lives are always changing for the better. Their minds are expanding and they’re gaining an ever-growing picture of what’s possible.

It was a reminder that learning anything new starts with access – the ability to see, touch, and interact with things that are entirely foreign, yet exist in the world around us.

As I rode my bike home after the conversation, I began to think about how different the world would be if each of us opened our doors a little wider to those who were curious & helpful. How might our communities and relationships be stronger if we invited people to travel into our spaces and embark upon new experiences by learning what we do, exploring our challenges, and contributing to the solutions?

Yes, it takes time and it may even cost something, on both sides. But the return on that investment goes far beyond monetary value. It propagates curiosity, courage, creativity, and action.

Experience is not just for parents and their kids, or employers and young adults, it is for anyone of any age. It does not require a classroom or an exorbitant amount of money. It begins with a question, it needs a community, and it should always lead to action and reflection.

That’s for all of us. That’s for you. Today. Always.

So, what do you need access to in order to learn and grow?
And how can you open your door for others to experience your work and world?

Have a great Wednesday,

PS: We just welcomed 14 amazing graduate-level students into Ei’s 2016-2017 Leap Year Fellowship. If your company or organization is interested in remarkable talent for 3-6 months apprenticeships, just complete this short form. Thanks!

Life. Work.


The words unexpectedly left my mouth…like a boy saying “I love you” out of impulse.

I could tell my good friend, a man in his late fifties, was surprised.

I don’t know many people your age who would use those words about their work.

It had been a long few days full of teaching, meeting with students, producing videos, preparing for last week’s graduation.

When my friend asked me if I was enjoying all of it, I didn’t say yes or no, I simply said, “It’s been my life’s work.

I know. I know. That was a slightly dramatic response. I’ve barely started my thirties and I’ve only worked on Ei for a few years. It’s been a blink.

But over the past month, our team and I watched the third class of amazing individuals finish our year-long Fellowship. Their stories are incredible. Then last week, we welcomed this year’s new class. The first few days together were packed with meaningful learning and growth. All the while, our team is leading three new group experiments around the intersection of education and vocation. The past few weeks have been an exciting time around Ei, to say the least.

But when did this go from an idea…to work…to sputtering the words “life’s work?” And is that a good thing??

Life. Work.
It used to be that your family and location determined your vocation. Only in the past century, and more specifically the past fifty years, have we been afforded so many opportunities at every turn. Now, those opportunities present themselves every single day, multiple times a day. At the drop of a hat, you can switch from a barista, to a software developer, to a cobbler, to a the founder of your own company.

Opportunities are great, until you have too many. Then they can become haunting, nagging, joy-stealing ghosts that follow your every commitment. The number of vocational/life options combined with a world that’s advancing and changing rapidly makes it daunting to determine what work you should do and for how long you should do it.

There is no formula for landing in the “right” life & work. But I’ve spent a lot of time with people who are at points of transition. A few patterns continue to emerge:

Values: This takes some soul searching. What do you care about? Deep down…what matters most to you? It doesn’t have to be every major global issue. Start by examining where you spend most of your time or money. Pay attention to what things catch your attention regularly in the media. As those things surface, ask yourself “Why?” A lot. You’ll find your values in that exploration.

Energy: What activities energize you rather than drain you? When do you get lost in time because you enjoy what you’re doing so much? If you haven’t felt that, try different things for short periods of time and see what sticks. It may be working with your hands, creating art, raising a family, counseling others, etc. As soon as you experience that kind of energy, call it out.Remember it and tell someone you’re going to try focusing more time there. Then, start spending more of your days doing those activities for something you value.

Community: Who inspires you? Who do you respect? Find ways to work with or for them. They’ll teach you new things and validate your progress. You’ll need to do the same for them. Create a rhythm of producing work even when its not perfect, helping others in similar areas, getting feedback from people smarter than you, and sharing what you learned after a project is finished. You’ll find that your community is where you’ll feel the fulfilling switch from “student” to “doer” to “teacher” and back again.

Resources: What are your most important needs? Make sure they’re met and do your best to keep your desire for “More. Bigger. Better.” in check with your values. If money was one of the major things you value (which is totally ok), that may determine much of what you pursue next.

And remember… life’s work doesn’t mean you have to do it forever, nor does it entail quitting your job tomorrow. It’s something worth putting your life into – your best time, energy, and resources – for a consequential period of time.

That’s when you’ll find yourself doing work that gives you life. And living a life that works.

Looking Up



Last weekend, I was such a kid.

The air and water show was taking place in Chicago and it was a perfect day. So I grabbed a few snacks, a water bottle, called my friend Zak, and made my way to the beach.

As we arrived, the entire lakefront was packed from end-to-end – picnic blankets, tents, lawn chairs and the most diverse audience imaginable filled every square inch of the lawns and beaches. Kids sat on parents’ shoulders while young couples sat hip-to-hip. Groups of friends clanked their drinks while families prepared their picnic meals.

The one thing in common?

Everyone was looking up.

Planes of all shapes and sizes were flying past us at an unusually close proximity. The old carriers flew low to the water and shared their deep groans, while the smaller trick planes flipped and zipped through the air like circus acrobats.

We. Were. Mesmerized.

Zak and I spent most of the day with our arms outstretched, pointing at spectacular moments and laughing at the amazing sounds and sheer power we were witnessing.

But why? Why are we so drawn to amazing feats?

As I began to listen more closely, I heard a local radio station announcing the show. The broadcasters were speaking like sports announcers, going into great detail about how difficult the maneuvers were. They were painting a picture of what each pilot was doing – stepping on rudder pedals, yanking side sticks, keeping their bearings at breakneck speeds and multiple flips.

Then it hit me.

There is something special that happens when you know that there is a person, a real-life-human-being just like you, in the cockpit. You don’t just see a plane, you think of someone who has spent their life getting to a place where they can do something so difficult so well. I sincerely believe the show would be way less interesting if the planes were simply computer programmed drones.

The story is in the people – doing something they love and believe in – in a new, creative, and courageous way.

That’s what makes us look up.
That’s what makes us gather, point, and cheer.

The same goes for the Olympics. Simone Biles. Usain Bolt. Katie Ledecky. Michael Phelps.

They made us look up.

I’m not sure about you, but there are a lot of things happening in the world that make me want to keep my head down and just get through the day. But I think we’re better with our heads raised, looking to the horizon and seeing what’s possible. If you’re reading this, I have a feeling you do to.

What do you believe in?
What do you love?
What should you attempt to new a new height?

Sure, you may not flip a plane through the air or break an Olympic record; but if you do your thing with curiosity, energy, and commitment, you’ll be infinitely better for it.

And so will we.

Up you go,

PS: This Saturday, August 27th at 11:30am, we’re holding our annual event for Experience Institute. EXPO is a chance to gather our friends, families, peers and mentors to celebrate the past year of incredible learning and growth of our graduating Fellows, all while welcoming the incoming class. This year, the event will be held at City Winery in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood. Lunch and wine will be served. Stories will be shared. And Ei’s dear friend, Katherine Darnstadt, will be giving a closing address. There are only 34 spots left. We hope you can join us.

I promise…you’ll look up.

Save your spot here: https://ei-expo2016.eventbrite.com.



The greatest gift you can give someone is the belief that they can be great.

Support that belief at all costs – when they’re building, when they’re down, when they’re successful – and they’ll pass it on. It’s contagious.

I know because several of you have done that with me over the past year and I’m incredibly grateful. Thank you.

To everyone who’s coming into our world as we end one amazing year at Ei and start another, know that our community and I hope to do the same with you. And cheer you on as you do the same for others.

Keep Leaping,

ps: The final day to register for our new guided online course is this Friday. I hope you’ll join us: www.LeapCourse.com.

Learning to surf


I’ve always dreamed of surfing.

My first attempt to learn how to surf was in 2012. It was an impromptu trip with a few experienced surfer friends. I spent the entire weekend wrestling the board as they did their best to shout advice. Every once in a while, I’d look up to watch them effortlessly glide across the waves, in slow motion.

By the end of those two days, all I’d learned was how to sit on a board in the middle of the ocean and watch the sun set. I was sore and dejected – but I loved the moments of nearly standing up. And catching those sunsets on the water made the pain worth it. I was determined to try again someday.

Finally, a few weeks ago, I booked a short personal retreat to the Bay Area and decided to give it another go. This time, I did some research, scheduled a surfing lesson, and convinced a couple of friends to venture to Santa Cruz with me.

Two weeks ago, on July 29th…
After squeezing into our wetsuits and learning a few basic steps, we grabbed our boards and started walking to the water. Along the way, I began chatting with one of the instructors, Richie. He happened to be the son of the owner of the surf school. Richie had recently graduated high school and was about to take a year between high school & college as he considered his next step. Obviously, we bonded quickly.

Before wading in, we spent a few more minutes on the beach learning where to lay on the board and how to pop up into proper surfing position. The steps were simple and familiar, but hearing Richie’s analogies and trying the steps before we got into the water were surprisingly helpful.

Finally, it was time to surf.

As soon as the first wave rolled in, all of the lessons we’d just learned were forgotten. We fought the swells and flailed with our boards.

Richie and the other instructors were patient and reminded us of the basics. At times, they even positioned us just right to catch the wave.

One by one, each of us eventually stood up on our boards and surfed all the way to the beach. It was almost more fun to watch my friends and the rest of the students get the hang of it as it was for me. Almost.

Along the way, I was reminded of a few helpful tips for those moments when you’re considering learning or attempting something new.

  1. Try it quickly and cheaply. You’ll probably fail, but make sure you like it enough to give it more effort and resources.

  2. Do it together. If you decide you really want to learn, team up with a friend or two interested in learning the same things. They’ll make the process way more fun.

  3. Learn from someone. It doesn’t have to be in-person, but you’ll learn faster if someone who’s experienced truly wants you to succeed.

  4. Start with the basics. Even if you think you know something. It doesn’t hurt to repeat what you know. Repetition reinforces what’s most important.

  5. Stay close. When you’re in the middle of it, keep your friends nearby. They’ll reiterate the things you forget and share a few laughs about the falls.

  6. Celebrate small victories. When other people start to get it, celebrate! It’ll keep you in the right frame of mind. Then, when you get it (and you will get it), also celebrate!

  7. Then, decide. After you start to get it, decide how deep you want to go. You don’t necessarily have to become the next surfing champion, but if you like it enough – start learning more and consider your next step, trip, or move.

Wherever you are, if you need a few friends and instructors along your journey, we’re starting a new course on August 23rd. Registration is open for another week. Learn more and join us here: www.LeapCourse.com. We’ll begin together in just under 2 weeks. And if you’re not sure, meet us on Friday for a quick chat about the course (more details below).

In any case, don’t wait much longer. The tide is low and the swells are just right.

Back in Chicago,

In any case, don’t wait much longer. The tide is low and the swells are just right.

Back in Chicago,

PS: This Friday, August 12th, at 2pm we’re hosting a live broadcast to discuss the Leap Course – our new mini-experiential masters without the massive debt. We’re using a nifty tool called Crowdcast so you can join us for free from anywhere in the world.

If you’re interested in learning more about Leap Course or about navigating your next career/life move through meaningful experiences, click here. The conversation will take place at 11am PST / 1pm CST / 2pm EST.

See you then!

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