May 14, 2015

Hi, IDEO: Collaboration between IDEO CHICAGO & Ei

I was one of those kids who thought superheroes were real.

Capes. Tights. Feats of wonder. All of it fascinated me.

And I’d be lying if I told you I’ve totally moved on from that belief.

As I grew older, however, I began looking beyond laser eyes, super strength, or teleportation. Instead, I became fascinated by individuals who were the rare mix of hopeful problem solver, nerdy engineer, savvy business person and remarkable storyteller.

As I searched for that type of hero, I learned of IDEO – a small but mighty firm that’s brought together several of those people in one place. Then I began stumbling on others – frog, gravitytank, Smart Design – and I wondered if/how I might contribute to their work.

Then, two years ago, when I began working with Stanford’s, I had the privilege of sharing conversations about higher education with David Kelley, the founder of IDEO himself. Throughout those conversations, a part of my childhood merged into my adulthood. David wasn’t a superhero...he was simply a good man with a sharp mind, a hopeful spirit and an inviting nature.

In March of this year, one of the current Ei students, Melanie Kahl, introduced me to one of her dearest friends, Jessica Herman, a writer at IDEO Chicago. Jess and I met for coffee to discuss potential intersections between IDEO and Ei.

From the second I sat down, the conversation was lively and full. I learned of Jess and IDEO’s hopes to make their walls more “permeable” as they sought to engage Chicago’s diverse and growing entrepreneurial community. She suggested that I connect with Megan Weibler, IDEO’s Senior Talent Lead, about the idea of Ei Students gaining experience within IDEO’s walls.

During my two-hour meeting with Megan, I could tell I was in the room with a force. As a seven-year IDEO employee, she has seen incredible people find their place and impact the world from within IDEO's offices. Our conversations about Higher Education, ongoing learning and personal growth were intense. At times, I felt as if I was being interviewed by Megan; but most of the time, I felt like I found another kindred spirit.

By the end, we had a whiteboard full of lofty ideas and a few concrete next steps. Thanks to Jess’ handiwork, the immediate of those steps was a chance to share my story at May’s all-staff Lunch ‘n’ Learn at the Chicago office.

When I asked Jess if I should highlight anything specific, her exact email to me included the following words:

“...a little about your background, how you decided to do what you do, how you run the business side of things, and you know, designers love a good ‘what I learned from this failure’ anecdote.”

“Great.” I thought to myself.

Share my failures in front of my heroes. Why don’t I just strip down to my underwear and pirouette while trying to sing Sound of Music? That might be easier…

When the time came to stand in IDEO’s lively and playful gathering space earlier this month, I was as nervous as ever. A group of brilliant engineers and analysts who’ve worked on some of the most remarkable initiatives on the planet are not easily moved. Still, a few honest minutes later, the room was full of thoughtful questions and feedback. I was grateful.

A few days later, Megan, Jess and I met to move the relationship to the next step. For now, that entails officially offering a six-month apprenticeship to Ei Students who can make it through IDEO’s onboarding process.

Here’s what this means for you:


  • In order to have this opportunity, you need to apply for Ei’s 2016 class.
  • If you are accepted into Ei, you’ll need to pitch IDEO for the apprenticeship. We’ll help you prepare, but the final decision will be in their hands (as is the case with all of our host companies). We highly encourage you to come to Ei if you want to design your year…not if you just want to work with/for IDEO.
  • Applications close May 22nd.
  • Finally, though we love our Ei Host Companies, apprenticeships are only one way to design your set of experiences at Ei. Students have used our framework to incorporate everything from collaborative projects, to research projects, to entrepreneurial endeavors.


  • Ei will work with you to learn what needs you have and how you might want to engage with an Ei apprentice. Though students have been embarking upon three, three-month terms, we can adjust to an experience that’s mutually beneficial for both student and your company.
  • There’s no cost for the relationship. All we ask is that, if a student sees a potential fit of their skills and aspirations with your company’s needs, you would share an informational call with them. Then, if there’s synergy, review a proposal of how they might add value to your work.
  • The experiences are hugely valuable to both the students and Ei Host Companies. They lead to real-world learning and hands-on skill development for students while providing your company with a thoughtful and eager contributor to your work processes.

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