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Taking a Break


Hey, I just wanted to say thanks.

2016 has been a roller coaster, and this little outlet to write about life, learning, and the making of Ei has been a simple way to stay connected to remarkable friends and acquaintances from around the world.

I’m really grateful to be doing this work with and for you. Thank you.

And, now for a little break…

Each December, I take a pause from writing and social media. It gives me a chance to clear my head and plan for the coming year. And it gives you one less message to read during the crazy season.

But before I go, could you share where you are in your life through this short survey? It’ll only take a few minutes, I’ll keep responses entirely confidential, and you can remain anonymous if you choose. This is just a simple way for me to learn more about you and explore how to create more helpful things in the coming months.

So, enjoy December with family and friends. I’ll see you next year.

Your Wednesday Writer,

Take me to the “Where I’m at” survey.

What to talk about this Thanksgiving


I’m currently on a road trip with two hilarious and delightful people. The three of us love Thanksgiving as much as the next high-metabolism-home-cooked-meal-eating-young-adults.

But we agree that there is a sense of collective national trepidation walking into Thanksgiving conversations. Kids are worried about traveling home. Parents are worried about extended family members making outlandish claims. And everyone just wants to make it through the rest of this week without any relational casualties.

Wherever you stand on the issues, chances are you need other things to fill the time besides discussions about politics and the state of our future. So, Miranda, Jay, and I have created a short list of topics that aren’t quite as heavy or contentious – all of which has been compiled and delivered from the back seat of a light gray, 2012 Honda CRV while driving along Highway 55.

Thanksgiving Topics:
What should Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year have been? 2016 was Post-Truth.

What’s going to happen in the next season of Stranger Things?

How about the next season of West World?

Why did Kanye West cancel his world tour?

Would you have applied for Mars One?

Re-watch the Cubs World Series…especially Game 6 and 7.

Mannequin Challenge youtube videos.

Discuss which podcast are you listening to right now? If you’re listening to political podcasts, move on.

Google everyone who was just given a Medal of Freedom by Obama. Inspiring.

Teach everyone at the table how to Dab.


Whatever happens, don’t forget to simply share how grateful you are for the people and moments you hold most dear. Relationships are the most powerful engines for change. Be good to those closest to you and that goodness will spread.

Thanks for being good to me.

Happy Thanksgiving.

From the back seat,


How to Make a Decision


Because of the nature of my work at Experience Institute, I spend a lot of my days around people who have to navigate an array of decisions. They want to grow in their career, learn new skills and mindsets, or change something important in their life. In other words, there’s a lot of:


And thanks to the internet, everyone is comparing their life to someone else’s. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) used to just be a phrase used when missing an event. Now it feels like something used for life as a whole.

Ugh…I wish I would have gone to that Coldplay Concert.
Ugh…I wish I would have become an Engineer.

If you’re facing any type of decision, here’s a short list of things that may be helpful:

1. Trust your gut.

I know it seems ridiculous to turn to your stomach for a big decision, but it’s a great place to start. It’s not like your brain that’s trying to process a gazillion things all at once. Your gut relies on intuition. It takes all of your subconscious experiences and, when faced with a fork in a road, gives you a simple yes or no.

Is that too simple for you? Alright, fine. Keep reading.

2. Play out the scenarios quickly.

Take yourself through each decision, all the way to the very best possible ends. Write or draw them so you can see them in one glance.

Next, imagine a big magic button appearing next to you. Pressing that button would fast forward to one of those ends without any of the pain or challenge of getting there. Which decision would you choose?

Go with that one.

Sure, that perfect ending may not happen, and it certainly won’t happen without overcoming grand challenges along the way, but if that’s what your subconscious mind is thinking about, you’ll start steering towards that end once you make that decision. Even if you don’t reach the perfect conclusion, you’ll be on the right path.

Still stuck? Awesome. Let’s keep going.

3. Research.

This is a more advanced version of the previous route. Instead of you playing out all of the scenarios, find a few people you admire who’ve had to make a similar decision. What did they do? If anything has been published about their stories – articles, biographies, videos, etc – devour them.

You’ll never be in the exact position as someone else, so you can’t transfer everything perfectly. But you’ll find similarities that may help you make your decision.

4. Look inward.

Think through the last time(s) you’ve faced a similar decision. What did you do? Were you happy with the outcome? What would you have changed? Take time to reflect and write about your past experiences. Compare those moments to your current situation and let them help you navigate your tricky situation.

Another way to look inward is to lean on a few close family members, friends, or colleagues. Take them out to coffee and share what you’re thinking. Ask them for their perspective. And be sure to give them the brutal, honest facts. I’ve known too many people who use conversations with others as a way to validate a pre-made decision. If you have someone who truly wants the best for you, be open and let them into the entire situation.

5. Advise a friend.

Sometimes, these things are way too emotional. And emotions can cloud your judgement. So give  the decision to a friend and remove yourself from the situation. If you were in the role of an advisor, what would you say?

6. Exercise, Eat, Sleep

These are three very good decisions. Not only should you be doing these regularly, but doing them amidst times of uncertainty will give you clarity of mind. And the momentum of doing a few simple, good things will help carry you in the right direction.

In fact, if you haven’t done these three things recently, you probably shouldn’t decide anything important at all.

7. Flip a coin three times.

Because if you’ve gotten to this point, one flip won’t be enough to satisfy you.

Just pick something and go all in. You’ll be ok.

Really. The secret with most good decisions is that they have little to do with external factors. They’re dependent on YOU and how you move ahead. If you work hard, stay positive, stay empathetic towards others, take care of yourself, and put yourself around others who do the same, you’ll be fine no matter what you choose.

The worst thing you can do is make a decision and then second-guess yourself from the moment you make it. That constant, nagging question of “What if?” is the thief of all joy, happiness, and sanity. The only way to put that to rest, is to stop looking back, and go all-in with the decision you’ve made for a period of time. You can always revisit it later. That’s normal. But after you make it, put it to rest for a while and go full steam ahead.

Overtime, you’ll get better with making decisions. You’ll become more wise, patient, and confident in your ability to make the best out of any situation.

So keep going. And if you need a coin to flip, I got you.


PS: This list is by no means comprehensive. If you have something you think I should add, send me a note on the internet. If you’re reading this, I’m sure you’ll be able to find me.


Getting Lost


I took another left turn. Everything looked the same, farmland for as far as the eye could see.

The sun was setting.

I was looking for a street sign with a mix of numbers and letters. But signage wasn’t a priority in this little community.

Another left turn. I felt like I was driving in circles.

Night had officially fallen.

The event was supposed to start in thirty minutes and I was supposed to be on stage shortly after. I wanted to drive faster, but I had to do the opposite.

Then cell phone reception dropped. No GPS. I drove with two hands on the wheel, as if I was trying to feel my way through the night.

I was so lost.

I happened upon a sleepy little gas station. Two pumps. One bathroom. And a gray-haired attendant. He could tell I wasn’t from the area.

I explained the place I was looking for. He had heard of it!

We shared a quick laugh about how hard it is to navigate these roads.

He gave me my bottle of water on the house, along with a map where he’d handwritten my directions.

Within twenty minutes, I saw the gleaming lights and heard chattering voices.

I’d made it.

Being lost always comes before finding your way. There’s no telling how long it will last, but move slowly – pause if needed, take care of yourself, be surprisingly kind to others…and keep going.



At one point or another, everyone questions if what they’re doing is right or good.

Whether you’re selling cigarette ads or raising funds for an orphanage, you have to decide why that matters to you. Maybe selling those ads affords you a life that can support a good family and you believe family is most important. Or raising funds for the orphanage leads to better lives for those kids, and you believe every child deserves a chance at a good life.

What you believe about your world, your work, and yourself will determine what you do and how long you do it. Your beliefs push you through challenges and help you navigate countless decisions.

In the words of Lin Manuel Miranda from his musical about Alexander Hamilton: If you stand for nothing, what’ll you fall for?

A couple of years ago, the Ei team and I wrote the seven beliefs below. Doing so helped us frame this grand and nebulous world of education and experience. They drive our work, our relationships, and they keep us centered on the days when things go awry.

Here they are:

1. Experience is for everyone.

This type of learning is not limited to certain ages, socioeconomic classes, or seasons of time. Experience is for anyone, anywhere. It is the great leveler of society, excluding no one and understood by everyone.

2. Experience is transformative.

One of the most powerful ways to learn is by doing – by placing ourselves in the situations and with the people who are aiming to solve real world challenges.

3. Experience can be designed.

Learning through experience is not accidental, it’s intentional. Rather than choosing a major, experience begs us to choose missions that are sparked by reflection and rooted in goals.

4. Experience necessitates risk.

Many of life’s transformative lessons come from being in a new situation – where you don’t know the right answer or there isn’t a right answer. Those are the places where you’ve taken a leap over the unknown and are aiming for a better place. You have to have faith in yourself and the things that moved you to take that leap.

5. Experience requires reflection.

We don’t only learn by doing. Reflection is the fruit of action – it’s what we take away after planting that nourishes us and those around us. Our ability to examine where we’ve been shapes our ability to see where we might go.

6. Experience supports story.

Our actions set the stage for the compelling stories we share with friends, family, peers, and heroes. Those stories define our future relationships, careers, and perspectives on the world and ourselves. If we take the time to craft and tell them well, they lead to our very best places.

7. Experience is better together.

Community multiplies the lessons we learn. With every new set of eyes, our experiences become exponentially more meaningful, both personally and to those around us.

These are a few things that have been guiding us at Ei, but if you want to geek out about both the history and future of experience and learning, check out this summary from Deloitte, this article from Harvard Business Review, or John Dewey’s classic text on Experience and Education.

How about you?

If you had to list all of your beliefs, what would they include?

Try writing everything that comes to mind. Anything goes. Then start narrowing them down to the top 5-10 beliefs. Sit with them for a while. Post them somewhere visible. Talk about them with your team and friends. See how they stick.

And when you come to the point in your journey where you’re not sure which way to go, let them guide you.

Try it again


On Thursday, one of my colleagues and I received an interesting invitation.

We flew to Bend Oregon to present at the annual Bend Design Conference. The gathering ended on Friday, but we decided to stay until Sunday morning so we could enjoy Fall in the Pacific Northwest. We asked around for advice on what we should do while in town.

One of the conference organizers, Cassondra, happened to be an Expert Mountain Biker. She and her husband own one of the town’s premier bike shops.

“Would you like to go mountain biking on Saturday? We’ll take care of everything for you. I really think you’ll love it.”

At first, we were unsure. There were a slew options for our short time in Bend. Mountain Biking sounded interesting, but we had no experience and no idea what to expect. But after a little research we learned that a local trail complex, Phil’s Trail, includes some of the best trails in the country and it was only 20 minutes away. It would have been foolish for us not to go.

“We’re in.”

On Saturday, we stopped by Sunnyside Sports to pick up our gear – top of the line Mountain Bikes and helmets. Mike, Cassondra’s husband and the shop’s co-owner, suggested  the best route for us to take in the Phil’s Trail Complex: Ben’s Trail + Lower Whoops. Since we didn’t have a truck, we had to ride from town to get up to Phil’s. That was more challenging than we’d be expected. We were tired before we even began the actual trails. Still, we couldn’t wait to begin.

We caught Ben’s trail, and quickly found ourselves facing steep climbs, hairpin turns, jagged rocks, and narrow pathways between trees. With each new obstacle we learned how and when to shift and how to trust our tires in tricky situations. It was nice that it had rained the day before. The dirt was perfect: tacky and tight so there was no dust. Mountain bikers call it Hero Dirt…because you ride like a hero.

The last bit of that half was especially steep. It was the section directly before Lower Whoops. We kept panting and breathing hard. At times, I could tell Aaron was really struggling, and vice versa. In those moments, we paused, drank some water, peered at the amazing forest, marveled at the moment we were sharing, high-fived, and kept riding. Though the ride was arduous, our spirits were buoyed by the beauty of the terrain and the overall wonder of the experience.

Lower Whoops

At the end of Ben’s Trail is the famous Lower Whoops descent. It’s entirely downhill and full of jumps, table tops, turns, and challenging situations. We were advised to lower our seats, stand on our pedals, lean back, and hold the brakes. I listened to most of that, except for the last part.

What happened next changed my life.

As I began the trail, I realized I was entering the mouth of a monster. I was about to be swallowed by the mountain. The jumps were some of the most most aggressive things I’d ever experienced. Several times, I mishandled a landing and thought I was going to flip or face-plant into a tree. Every time I made it past a jump or a turn, I was faced with two options:

  • a) Be grateful I made it through the challenge and then slow waaaay down.
  • b) Be grateful I made it through the challenge. Think through what worked. Try the next iteration on the next jump.

I went with “b.”

Aaron popped out shortly after me. He’d felt the same incredible rush and was glad to have to made it through in one piece.

I’d wanted to try it again, but it seemed crazy. The trail was way above my skill-level and I was exhausted from the day. But when someone offered to take me and my bike back to the top in their truck, I couldn’t resist.

Before my second descent, I remember considering the same options as before: Be grateful & slow down/stop? Or go for it?

There’s something powerful about that moment – choosing to re-face something that scares you. In the words of Nic Lamb, a world-champion Big Wave Surfer,

“Pushing through is courage. Pulling back is regret.”

I did it again, this time with more confidence. There were a few hiccups, but I made it to the bottom, fairly unscathed and challenged by the speed, views, and thrill of the ride.

Wherever you are, there will be times when you travel through challenging and uncertain situations. If you make it through in one piece, maybe you should just be grateful and move on – never to look back.

Or maybe, you should try it again.

PS: Here’s a video of Lower of Whoops taken by another rider: https://youtu.be/bdlJJWHnAR4

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.

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