September 04, 2019

Face Syndrome

When you’re building something new, it’s easy to get caught up in Face Syndrome. You see this often:

Elon Musk is the face of Tesla

Mark Zuckerberg is the face of Facebook

Steve Jobs was (still is) the face of Apple

Face Syndrome is simple.

Our brains like to make big, complex things easier to understand. One way we do that is by turning everything into a story. We understand beginnings and endings because everyone lives and dies. We understand progression because everyone grows older. Everyone understands stories, because a life (and a face) is one, big story.

So, when we see a complex idea, we take one person and let that person be a stand-in for all of that complexity (ie: Henry Ford for the modern assembly line manufacturing process, MLK as the entire Civil Rights Movement, etc).

The media LOVES Face Syndrome

It's way easier to report about one person than a complex system or community. Especially if there’s drama (scandal, surprise, suspense). But doing so spreads the idea that the world is and should be run by a handful of individuals rather than by teams of hardworking, thoughtful people.

It’s one of the things I struggle with at Ei...

Because I’m the founder and I show up in your inbox every week, many see me as the face. In fact, in just two weeks, you’ll see my goofy mug on a brand new campaign for the deck of cards we’re making.

But we’re not one person. We never have been and we never will be. There’s a growing crew of inspired, talented people working their magic across Ei’s projects in K-12, higher ed, and the workplace. Most of them work in a part-time capacity while building other things they care about. The breadth of experience and goodness combined here is immeasurable. It’s mind-blowing.

So, two weeks ago, we hosted a chill happy hour

And we brought some of those people together. Several of our teammates and friends aren’t in Chicago, but we invited them anyway. To my surprise, a few actually flew in for the event and stayed through the weekend.

Over the course of the next few months, I’ll highlight some of these people, but here are a few I’d like to share today:

This is Aaron.


(The fella in the middle) He's been my partner in crime since nearly the beginning. Last month, he officially became a part-owner of Experience Institute. He’s one of the best guys I know.

This is Matt.


He founded a company called Sage Corps and he’s one of the co-creators of Experience Lab. He’s the kind of guy you want in your corner through thick and thin. We’ve been trying to join forces for years, and the program at UC Berkeley has finally made that possible.

This is Megan.


She makes everything better by thinking about big ideas in small experiments and a data-centric iterations. We’ve known each other for a little while, but she officially began supporting Ei last spring and helps lead everything related to our education programs for teams and companies.

This is Zak.


He graduated from our year-long fellowship in 2015. He recently stepped onto the team to make sure every dollar and cent is going to the right place. He also helps manage our physical products + the Ei store. When Zak is building, he thinks like a craftsman: calculated, patient, and meticulous.

This is Melissa.


She's been one of our closest advisors — offering counsel on everything from managing operations, to personal health and wellness. Which is pretty incredible considering she's worked with some of the largest companies and teams in the world throughout her career. Sharing dinner with Melissa and her husband Brian is one of my all-time favorite things to do. They are overflowing with goodness and knowledge.

This is Dane.


He’s one of the founding five students in Ei. He’s a talented writer and strategist who's worked with startups and organizations around the world. He’s in between jobs right now, so we convinced him to help us be more thoughtful about how we communicate our ideas and projects across various channels. Glad to have him back!

Lots of other amazing alums and teammates (old and new) joined us, too. I could go on about each of them — but you’ll be seeing more of these folks in the coming months.

The truth is, nothing great or longstanding happens by one person.

Yes, one person can create a lot of change. But Face Syndrome puts too much attention in the hands of too few people. If we can educate and train people to work from their strengths and then celebrate their progress, companies will grow, positive action will spread, and people will gain confidence to tackle pressing issues.

So whatever you’re building, remember you’re not doing it alone. If you’re part of a team, think about...

  • How might you bring the people you’re working with together?
  • How might you show gratitude in a simple, delightful way?
  • How might you celebrate where the team has been and share where you’re going next?

Whatever thoughts come to mind, act on them soon. It’ll make for one of your sweetest gatherings of the year. Trust me…

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