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Build to Think | A quick guide & worksheet on Prototyping

08/16/2017

Two weeks ago, we hosted an event called Build to Think.
Nearly 30 freelancers, executives, and educators gathered for an evening workshop focused on how to solve problems visually and tangibly. The Ei team and our friend Megan Bhatia designed a simple worksheet and process to guide participants through a few helpful steps with a partner. The night was teeming with energy and discussion as a group of strangers dove in together.

We learned, once again, how helpful it is to step back and gain a new perspective as you navigate your work/life’s biggest challenges.

But stepping back isn’t quite enough. Asking helpful questions and paying attention to the right things will help you see more clearly and take your next steps with greater confidence.

Try it for yourself!
You can download a blank worksheet for free here.
And below, you can read through a step-by-step guide how to use it.

In any case, if you’re curious about the process of prototyping and exploring ways to navigate a complex personal or professional challenge, we hope this offers a nudge in the right direction.

Thanks for reading.
Have a great Wednesday!
Victor

After you’ve downloaded the worksheet, use the steps below to guide you:

1) Get ready. Get some sleep. Then, do something active, eat a good meal, and drink a lot of water. And turn off your devices. Doing healthy things helps you think in a healthy way.

2) Team up. Find someone you trust and whose opinion you respect. Ask them to join you for the rest of this.

3) Take Inventory of the good things. Before you begin, jot down a few places where you’re not stuck. Home? Work? Health? Style? Money? Etc. Name those things and smile. They’re in a good place.

Great.

4) Jot/Sketch. Pull out your Build to Think sheet. Start at the top. Write down the biggest challenges you’re facing. Here are a few examples of things we’ve heard in the past
+ Our office space is distracting and I can never get anything done
+ I’m not sure how promotions work at my company and I’m losing motivation to work hard
+ I have an idea for a new product, but I don’t have the resources to bring it to life
+ I can’t find a steady workout regimen

The list can go on forever. Start with your top three.

5) Review the list & pick one. Choose the one that feels most compelling to apply a new way of thinking and doing to. Think about the thing occupying your mind the most. Write that one on down and why it’s such a grand challenge.

6) Share a story with your partner. Discuss when that problem faced you most recently. Talk about what happened, who was involved, and how you felt at the end. The more details the better.
And when you listen to your partner’s story, be sure to ask “Why” (as in “Why did it make you feel that way?”) a few times. It’ll help you peel back the layers. It may even help you discover that the real problem is something totally different.

You’re doing great. Now’s the fun part.

7) Idea Storm
Pull out a pad of post-it notes or any sort of scrap paper. Both of you should quietly focus on one partner’s problem for 2 minutes. Think about all of the possible ways that problem could be solved and write one idea per note/piece of paper. Do this quietly at first.

Oh, and don’t restrict yourself at all. In fact, the more wild the ideas, the better. Go for quantity too. The more the merrier here.

8) Discuss your ideas. After the 2 minutes are up, quickly share your ideas with one another add any new ones that come up as you discuss.

Take a sip of your water/coffee/tea and then do the same exercise for your partner. Now you have some momentum! Awesome.

9) Narrow! After you have a table/wall full of ideas, narrow them down to the top 3-4 based on which ones feel like the biggest breakthrough, or the most delightful, or the most feasible.

Now, let’s make.

10) SHOW your idea.
Take one of those ideas and envision how you could bring it to life in a really simple way (the simpler, the better.) Use anything except words – draw an image of the idea. Or use whatever objects you have in your office, home, or apartment to build a low fidelity version of it. This shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes. The rougher, the better.

And the idea doesn’t have to solve the whole challenge. It just meant to help you get unstuck so you can take your next step.

11) Decide
Is this something worth trying? What can you do quickly to learn if this idea is worth taking to the next level?

12) Next steps
If you found something that could have energy or work, jot down the next steps. Who should you talk to? What should you make next? When can it happen?

By now, you should have a few ideas for getting unstuck, and you should have a clearer picture of what you need to do next OR what you don’t need to do next – all within a short amount of time.

That’s a tiny glimpse into the big idea called prototyping. We like thinking this way around Ei and we think it might help you too.

Return to this mindset often and let us know if you change or add anything along the way. We’d love to see how you make this your own! (say hello at –> hello [at] expinstitute [dot] com)

Writing a Children’s Book

08/09/2017

I finally get to share something that’s been in the works for a while – a project that’s really near & dear to me.

Over the past two years, I’ve been working on a children’s book project with one of my friends and heroes, David Kelley. We’re getting closer to launching the book and now we need your help. Here’s the scoop.

A book about a shapeless shape

The book is a simple story about a school of shapes. Circles, squares, and rectangles go to this school to learn what they can become. But there is one shapeless shape that doesn’t fit with any other shape. He can never make his lines just right like the squares, or make perfect points like the triangles, or create smooth curves like the circles. The story is about a journey he takes to find his place in the world.

Writing the book

For those of you who don’t know David, he founded IDEO, the world’s most well-known innovation consultancy. He also co-founded Stanford’s Institute of Design (the d.school). We first met in 2013 during a project at the d.school and bonded over our passion to reimagine learning and help people flourish. The project became a simple outlet for us to make something together.

Making the book

Thanks to Edu Sanchez, the artist behind the illustrations, we decided to build each illustration out of wood. We took the idea and artwork to Matthew Hoffman‘s studio and he worked his magic. The book will be a series of photographs of the wooden shapes with text added to each page.

Awesome! What’s next?

If all goes well, the book should launch on Kickstarter next month. If you’re interested in receiving a first look and helping us spread the word, simply leave your email address here. I’ll reach out with more specifics as we get closer to launching.

Thanks for being part of this project. We’re excited to share the story of the shapeless shape.

Warmly,
Victor

Get a first look by signing up here: bit.ly/shapelessshape

Under Pressure

08/02/2017

This weeks’ words were written by my partner at Ei and one of my favorite people on the planet, Aaron Wilson-Ahlstrom. Enjoy the story…

“I’m so nervous I’m sweating. I want to leave. I don’t think I can do this.”

I stood next to Geralyn to offer support. The presentations were just about to start. She was sweating. Profusely.

“I’m serious. I don’t think I can do this.”

She was serious, but she was also looking for encouragement, for reassurance that it would be OK. She was at the edge of what felt like a cliff and wanted to take a leap, but she just wasn’t sure she could reach the other side. She was afraid of the fall.

For the past year now…
We’ve been offering a 60-day professional development opportunity at Leo Burnett, a world-renowned creative agency in Chicago. The program, entitled Leo Leaps, helps people choose and pursue a question or project that is meaningful to them. The Ei team teaches skills and mindsets from design thinking, and builds a community of support and accountability to help participants complete their projects while absorbing helpful content they can apply to the rest of work & life.

The program culminates with a Storytelling Night, where participants share their learning with friends and colleagues in a 4-minute presentation (think short TEDx Talks). In a program where learning projects are self-directed and range from learning French to re-designing the company’s on-boarding experience, Storytelling Night serves as a common deadline for getting work done.

Back to Geralyn…
She had already cried and vomited earlier in the day. We reached out to encourage her and she wrote back:

“I’m so nervous. I really hate public speaking. I don’t know how people do this…I almost didn’t come to work today but then I knew all of you would be disappointed. I would’ve been disappointed in myself. I just feel ill.”

It was her turn to present.

She walked up to the front, took a deep breath, laughed nervously, and began. She talked about how much she loves meeting new people, how she always knows what to say.

Recently her best friend had started dating a man who is deaf. When she was with him, she didn’t know what to say. She felt awkward, and sad.

So her leap was to learn sign language. She took a class and was slowly learning some basics. And then, right there, on the 21st floor of a massive high-rise in downtown Chicago, in front of her peers, Geralyn taught us how to sign: Pizza. Beer. Toilet.

She nailed her presentation.
Afterwards she was gushing.

She couldn’t believe she’d done it. A week later, when we sent an email to alumni of the program asking who was interested in being a coach for the next group of leapers, she was one of the first to sign up.

We’ve now run the Leaps program with a half-dozen cohorts in 3 different companies. Every time, the importance of the Storytelling Night becomes more clear.

When learning a new skill or taking your next step, There needs to be a concrete, public deadline, a stake in the ground that will not move. A goal that needs to be reached. A reason for making time to work on your project today, and then again tomorrow.

For us, Storytelling Night serves that function, providing the healthy pressure that people need to stay accountable to their own goals, especially when they have to pursue them outside of normal business hours.

So far it’s helped people learn sign language, record their first podcast, organize a community garden, and re-design how HR helps people understand their benefits.

So if you’re looking for the most beautiful parts of your work, it might be time to apply a healthy dose of pressure.

Have a great Wednesday,
Aaron

Careers

07/26/2017

We often make the topic of career more complicated than it ought to be.

What you – or any of us – needs is to find one or two things we can become really good at making or doing. And then do a lot of it.

Sure, you can push yourself to try new things. That’s how you expand. And those new things may even become your main thing. But first, you need to start with something.

Finding that thing can be hard. It usually requires a lot of trial and error, and a few outside voices to affirm you’re on the right track. You also need an expert or two to bring the very best out of you.

And finally, you need to practice. A lot. More than you think.

That’s why education is so important. Helping people learn what they’re good at means they start doing it sooner. And the sooner they start, the sooner they grow in their confidence and understanding of that craft, themselves, and even their world.

More importantly, if we can teach people how to find what they’re good at, they learn to adapt as the world around them changes.

That’s why experience matters. That’s why community matters.

So if you’re stuck, pay attention to what you can do well and how you can continue growing. And if you need help defining that, come hang out with the crew at Ei. We’re here to help.

Happy Wednesday,
Victor

PS: One of the things I continue to hear is the need to connect with other bright people interested in learning together. So we just launched two evening events and created a 25% off code (MAKE) if you snag your tickets by Friday:

August 2nd | Build to Think: How to approach your biggest problem through prototyping (tickets here)
Sponsored by WeWork & Bridge International
&
August 8th | Design Your Career
Created in collaboration with our friends at Lost Arts (tickets here)

My Little Brother pt 2

07/19/2017

Last year, I wrote a letter to my little brother. Experience Institute was about to pilot a brand new 3-month program for college students and Johnny applied to join the very first class.

Our team was thrilled. The program would have been perfect for him. He was a pre-med student heading into his senior year. He was unsure about what he wanted to do after college. And he was hungry to learn about how his skills fit into other industries.

But then our dad was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer and Johnny couldn’t spend the summer away from home. And in December, our family helped dad pass from this life to the next.

Since then, we have spent a lot of time together as a family to find our footing — meals, theaters, museums, discussions about our future. In particular, our older brother, George, and I have shared countless conversations about what Johnny could do after college.

Last spring, he told us about a company he’d been curious about for years. His friend’s father was the owner. The company specializes in creating people-centric solutions to other companies’ biggest challenges. But Johnny was getting his degree in biology and chemistry. What could he possibly offer? Working with them seemed like a long shot.

As spring approached, we brainstormed if and how he could pitch the small team for an internship right after he graduated college in May. He decided to give it a go.

For the next several weeks, Johnny and I chatted about the details of his proposals and interviews. I was so proud of the way he was navigating the ups and downs of the process. We discussed helpful digital tools for him to learn and I introduced him to a few thought leaders in the areas of Design Thinking, Lean Startup, and Storytelling.

Finally, at the beginning of May, Johnny received a note inviting him to join the team as an Engagement Coordinator Intern for the summer. He was so excited.

Now, Johnny is in the middle of his internship. We’ve been sharing calls and emails regularly. He’s even taking Ei’s online course in Design Thinking and we’re treating him as part of our program.

All of this has felt like an amazing second chance for us to team up after last summer. And seeing him fly has made our team even more impassioned to support college students and recent grads in gaining meaningful experience that helps them reach their full potential.

Of course, we’re still learning how to grow as a team and company. But every story matters… Kali Lewis. Paul Girgis. Stephanie Kang. Joe Burgum. Christopher Carter. Carisa Leal. Dane Johnson. Muffadal Saylawala. William Ferguson. Batmanli. Alifya. Anna. Johnny…. The list goes on…

Whatever you’re working on today, there’s a good chance you have a sincere desire to improve peoples’ lives — people with real challenges facing how they see the world, make a living, and do their very best work. Just remember that impact starts with one person, and then moves to the next. And that very story is a glimpse.

Happy Wednesday,
Victor

PS: In the coming weeks, we’ll be bringing our community together for a few helpful events around learning and growth. Our next is called Build to Think and will be held at WeWork on August 2nd. Snag your tickets here.

What I learned about learning from 250 people in two weeks

07/12/2017

Two weeks ago, I sent a short survey called Gut Check. Over 250 of you replied.

That’s awesome.

Why? Because this summer, we’ve been taking time to make sure we’re building things that are truly able to improve people’s lives through education. Your feedback goes a long way in making sure we’re on the right track.

One thing that caught our attention… 
Even though “not having enough time” was the most common barrier to learning, it was the time-intensive learning models that you mentioned as your favorite way to learn (ie: in-person and apprenticeships/group projects).

It confirms what we’ve been seeing and hearing in different ways this year — that learning together, even when the learning is self-directed, is crucial. Support and accountability is more valuable than speed.

For those of you who love digging into numbers as much as we do, here is a closer look at the other things we read and lessons we learned:

What stage of life are you in?

92% of participants were career professionals (whoa!). The majority were either early or mid-career. And 49% identify as working at an established company.

I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised here. We sent the survey via email — during the middle of a summer day — which isn’t exactly the best way to reach high school and college students. Still, it was a helpful reminder that a lot of you have either just begun your jobs or are graduating to a new level in your careers.

Also, only 10% identify as being a student but nearly 20% feel like they’re in a place of transition.

What are you most interested in learning?

The three most common areas people wanted to learn more about were:

  • Business (Finance, Data, Sales, Launching & Leading a company, Change Management)
  • Software Dev (Coding, UI/UX, Unity)
  • Personal Growth (Peace, Wholeness, Time Management, Travel, Language)

Other interesting fields included Cybersecurity, Film, Writing, Community Health.

Biggest Hurdle?

Time was the #1 biggest hurdle for ongoing learning.

Again, no surprise. People are busy. Especially people around Ei. They’re bold, working on big initiatives, and working to serve a lot of people. So time is tight.

What was surprising, however, was how many people noted the need for a community or accountability. Which tied into the next question:

Which method do you most enjoy for learning?

Nearly half of participants’ favorite way to learn was in-person — which is presumably the most time-consuming way to learn…but the most transformative.

Also, nearly a third of you mentioned apprenticeship/shadowing or guided individual projects and that the role of an expert/mentor is important.

I care most about the future of…?

37% Learning in the workplace
26% Future of Higher Education

Even though the majority of the participants are in a relatively traditional workplace, there’s a surprisingly strong interest in the future of formal higher education. Most of you have been down that road, and you want to see it change.

Where do we go from here?

Here are a few threads we plan to follow…

  • Programs for career professionals: Many of you know that your future is only as bright as the light you shine on it. And that light is learning. So, we’ll continue improving our 60-day program for career professionals. We’re also curious about ways to bring you together for shorter “pop-up” classes for you to meet one another and learn something helpful and meaningful, together.
  • Working with college students and universities: Life during and after college without real-world experience is a sort of the Wild, Wild West. Meaningful experiences are what give students the confidence and the ability to launch into their next step. So we want to continue infusing college with more opportunities for student-guided experiences outside of the classroom. Currently, that’s a work/study program during college. But we’re curious about other “bridge” opportunities right after college graduation. More on that soon…

Thanks again for being part of Ei. We love this work and hope to continue serving up helpful programs and tools for you and your community in the coming months.

Happy Wednesday,
Victor

Gut Check

06/28/2017

Hey, I’m working on a couple of new projects for Experience Institute and they’re taking a lot of energy and thought. Before I continue, I need some help to make sure I’m on the right track. Think of this as a sort of gut check.

Can you help by taking three minutes to complete this short form?

You can remain entirely anonymous if you’d like. Your response will be a simple way to hear more about you and your current stage of work & life.

Also, after completing the form will get a code for 15% off any item from our store and your name will be entered in a drawing for a Learning Box – a one-of-a-kind package with books and treats handpicked by the team at Ei.

Thanks ahead of time for diving in with me.

Have a great Wednesday,
Victor

Gut Check Survey

So you have an intern

06/21/2017

A few months ago, a friend asked if Experience Institute had any open spots for an intern. Typically, we don’t work with interns because we reserve those spots for our own Fellows. And with a small team, we only have so much focus and attention.

But this summer, all of the current Ei Fellows were heading to other places. So we agreed. And On Monday our new intern, David, officially started his 6-week stint with us.

David just finished his junior year in high school, so we thought things might be slightly different working with him rather than the college or post-grad students we normally work with.

I know it’s only Wednesday, but we were wrong. David is sharp, driven, and a quick study for anything we’ve thrown at him thus far.

Still, I’ve been reminded that having another person working within our walls is something not to be taken lightly — for our sake and for David’s. So, here are eight lessons from past experience that our team and I hope to remember this summer:

Start well: Celebrate their arrival and make sure to go over any office rhythms, systems, tools, and traditions. We recently had lunch with David and invited him into our weekly Monday Morning Stand to kick off his time with us.

Set clear goals: Take some time to share one another’s goals for the internship. David was open to doing anything, but he really wanted a to chance to own a project or two – and specifically projects that could have clear metrics. So we’ve set up a project for him to re-think how we market and fulfill Ei’s physical products. There are other things that we can’t quite share, but each project has clear weekly goals and can be done within the timeline that he’s here.

In short, give them a clear and unambiguous explanation of what you want them to do.

Provide ample resources: Once you have clear goals, make sure they have the resources to complete them. That may entail technology, software, space, a team, etc.

Set the space: Speaking of space, set a space where they can interact with others. Even if they’re working remotely, consider where they can go (digital & physical) to engage, connect, and banter about their work. Part of David’s compensation this summer is to give him a desk at our WeWork office and it’s been great to have him around so far.

Define consistent checkpoints with a teammate: Here’s the hard part: hold them to what you both agreed upon. This is hard because schedules and goals change throughout a project. So, make sure there’s a clear point person and a clear time to check in weekly. Though I’m working with David, I’m actually not his direct report. One of our other teammates, Katie, has taken that role because she’ll be closer to David’s work.

Give autonomy: Once you give them clear goals, resources, and checkpoints, let them run. Even if they’re not doing it exactly how you would do it, let them finish before you critique/adjust the work.

Ask for feedback: It’s not going to be perfect. Set a time about mid-way through to check in on how things are going. Give them space to talk about what’s working well, and also what’s been disappointing. Having an honest conversation can be tough, but also an opportunity for really rich learning, and talking things through at the midway point gives you time to enjoy the fruits of that learning.

Be generous with encouragement: A lot is about to happen in a short amount of time. Celebrate the progress on the projects AND the person. Kind words, high fives, notes, and quality time go a long way.

Those are a few things we hope to remember.

What would you add?

The Struggle With Struggle

06/14/2017

I know most people, deep down, want at least some comfort, stability, and certainty.

Sometimes, I want want those things too.

But I’m often reminded that hardly anyone remembers the comfortable stories. The ones that stay with us are ones that entail overcoming struggle.

Here’s a glimpse…

Exhibit A:
Michelle graduated High School right on time.
She went to college and did well in school.
After receiving her degree in business, she found a good job at a local consulting firm.
She got married.
And settled down in her hometown.

That’s a nice story. But it’s missing…something.

Exhibit B:
Michelle came from a well-educated family.
The one thing her parents wanted for her was to get an ivy league education.
Her mom even purchased a Harvard sweatshirt as a Christmas gift during Michelle’s Sophomore year of High School.
But Michelle wasn’t sure what she wanted to get out of college. So after she finished high school, she took money she’d been saving and spent a year traveling and volunteering. She even found a short-term role with a small tech company.

She became wildly curious about technology and had an interest in helping infuse technology with a greater understanding of things like heart, soul, and passion. She enrolled in college to study Computer Science.

While in school she fell in love, but her partner graduated first and moved home to help with the family business. Eventually, their relationship fell apart.

She finished school and worked to launch her own business right out of college. Her college even helped her incubate her idea. But after two years, she realized she’d rather have the experience of growing within a company rather than continuing her own pursuits, so she put her project on hold. Thankfully, while working on her business, she met a few influential individuals who helped her find a job in her field of study.

Her parents are proud of the woman Michelle is becoming. And though she’s still finding her way, she knows herself better than ever.

___________

Did you feel the difference?

Adventure
Love
Loss
Coming of age
Risk
Failure
Resolution

You don’t need to manufacture struggle. You don’t even need to seek it out. The more true and honest, the better…the ones that surface when you are driven by conviction to make a change or when you face an unforeseen situation with courage.

So if you’re struggling to create, build, or just survive – know that this is part of the story. Move through the struggle boldly and share the ups and downs openly.

Chances are, the best parts are just ahead.

31 Lessons in 31 Minutes

06/07/2017

Over the past few years, around my birthday, I’ve set a tradition of reflecting on the previous year and writing helpful lessons from life/work.

This year, just before I made another lap around the sun, I added a new constraint by setting a timer and not editing or touching the content once the timer finished.

So here are thirty-one lessons written in thirty-one minutes from my last hours of being thirty-one:

31) Friends are more important than money.

30) Money is just a resource. It is renewable.

29) Time is not renewable.

28) If something temporal is stressing you out, cut it. Life is too short.

27) You can skimp on space only for so long. Make your home and office as comfortable and inspiring as possible.

26) Inspiration is like food. You need it to be full. Consume it in all its forms. And often.

25) A few nice things are more valuable than a lot of not-so-well-made things.

24) No one cares about you and your work as much as you do. This is liberating.

23) People do care about how much care you show. Listen. Respond. And show up.

22) Life is going to take shots at you. From all angles. Keep a thick skin and a soft heart.

21) The way to keep your skin thick is to only have a few close friends who know all aspects of your life. Just a few.

20) The way you keep a soft heart is by spending time with a lot of different people and placing yourself in their shoes as you listen to and work with them.

19) Try to make important functions of life automatic. Auto-withdraw money into your savings accounts. Go to sleep at the same time every night. Wear as simple of clothing as possible – consistently. Routines make space for the important things.

18) Spend a lot of time with your family. Especially your parents. They won’t be around forever.

17) Buy the nicer versions of the things between you and the ground (ie: shoes, mattresses, and tires).

16) Don’t be afraid of saying, “I don’t know.” But try to follow it with a helpful question or a possible solution.

15) Even if you don’t think you’re a writer, write. Getting things on paper is how you learn how to decipher between the shitty thoughts and the truth.

14) If you think something won’t work, test it in the quickest way possible. If it’s not working, don’t force it. Let it go. If it’s still on your mind months later, revisit it. Time away from things creates fresh perspective.

13) Take at least one day a week away from screens. If you don’t know why, you should probably take several days away from a screen. Because chances are, you’re losing touch with what matters.

12) Find one or two things you enjoy doing that has nothing to do with productivity. Get lost in them.

11) The world is messy and kinda scary. But you don’t have to be that way. You can control the way you engage it.

10) Move forward despite your fears and you’ll inspire others to do the same.

9) The best form of revenge is to continue.

8) The best way to honor those who’ve gone before you, is to continue with integrity.

7) You can’t do everything well. Ask for help. The sooner you ask, the less desperate you’ll be and the more others can truly be there for you.

6) When you travel, use packing cubes. They make traveling a cinch.

5) Plants are the best roommates.

4) Just because a leader is loud and brash does not mean they are good and right. Learn to lead with soul and conviction. You’ll know you’re doing this well when those whom you lead begin to hold you to your word and even add their own soul and conviction.

3) Keep good friends close for a long time. They get better with age.

2) There is no perfect formula for dealing with loss. But nature is part of every version of that formula.

1) If you’re unsure of what to write, set a timer and a theme. Then write until that timer goes off.

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