State of the Union 2020
Wins, challenges, and where we're going next.
Every year for the past 5 years, I’ve written a State of the Union to share an update about our work at Experience Institute. But don’t let the title fool you, this isn’t meant to be “presidential.” It’s simply a way to invite you into our successes, challenges, and next steps. So let’s get started, shall we?
As a quick reminder, Ei’s mission is to establish experience as a credible form of learning and equip individuals to transform our world with an inventive spirit. We do that by designing curriculum, programs, and products that help individuals and teams leave the “classroom” and engage real problems.
WHAT WENT WELL IN 2019?
Workplace: Our Best Year Yet
Three years ago, we began delivering our experiential learning programs inside companies, and as a result, we’ve had the chance to work with incredible leaders across Chicagoland and beyond. Nearly all of our workplace partners have continued their journeys with us, which is truly awesome and validates our belief that the acts of learning and working are a continuous loop.
In 2019 we added several new partners, making it our strongest year yet. Because of that, our team has grown and so has our confidence in being able to help companies retain great talent, support their leaders’ growth, and empower employees to develop innovative solutions from within.
College: First University Partner and First 17 Students
In July 2017, we joined forces with our friends at Sage Corps and began conversations with a team at UC Berkeley. They were interested in our idea to help college students launch into their careers through apprenticeships after college. This past fall we welcomed our first class of students to our newest program: Experience Lab. And this week, we met our Spring 2020 cohort. Applications for our fall class are also now open.
Oh, and we’re continuing to teach a class at Stanford, Design Summer, which has been a meaningful experiment in helping current college students make the most of their summer experiences.
Physical Products: What’s Worth Doing Funded on Kickstarter
Last January, we decided to begin working on a new card game designed to help people discover their next step after high school, college, or throughout their careers. We launched the project on Kickstarter in September and were funded within 2 days. The new product should ship by the end of February, just in time for February 29th, Leap Day!
WHAT DIDN’T GO WELL (& WHAT DID WE LEARN)?
Over the past couple years, Experience Institute has transitioned from a single, year-long, higher ed program, to an education “studio” with multiple programs. Because of that, the way we build our teams, market our work, and invest our resources is more complex. This year, we’re working to be hyper clear about how we measure and achieve success. We’re leaning on the book Traction for helpful ideas in this area.
Early on in 2019, we nearly joined forces with a large company to help lead a nation-wide learning and development project. Unfortunately, funding got pulled and we lost months of prep-work. Oof.
2019 was a great year for our K-12 work. We worked with 46 teachers to help them create new curriculum for student-directed, experiential learning and over 600 students are benefiting from that curriculum today. But with other areas of Ei picking up speed, we’ve decided to pause this work for 2020.
I’ll be the first to admit that I drive myself really hard. And though I’ve gotten much better at balance and taking breaks, I have a tendency to focus on my mistakes or shortcomings more than anything else. Working from a place of “I’m not good enough and I need to get better” is very different from a place of “I love and accept myself and I’m curious how I can grow next.” That will be some of my work this year.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2020?
2020 is a Leap Year — a throw-back to our beginnings! We’ll be exploring ways to start connecting our community through local events, dinners, and building better bridges online. Which leads to the next place we’re going:
Last year, we began testing online tools that support our in-person workshops and experiences. The tools help participants connect, find resources, and re-engage with what they learned. In other words, it’ll be a place where you can find what you need, when you need it. We’re excited to continue that exploration this year.
Clearer Divide Between College & Workplace Programs
In 2016, we launched our Workplace Learning programs. As those programs have grown, we’ve essentially been running two companies under one umbrella: College & Workplace. But in 2019, we began the process of pulling our college programs into their own stand-alone company (in partnership with our good friends at Sage Corps). We’ll continue that work in 2020 to create a better sense of focus for our team and better products/programs for participants on each side of the company.
Team. Team. Team.
We have an incredible network of people who make Ei fly. We’re a mix of designers, facilitators, writers, administrators, and strategists. These people live and work around the country. In 2020, we’ll be working to bring those people together more often, and explore ways to create a stronger culture and bond, even though we’re in different places working on various projects.
THE BOTTOM LINE…
As much as I love building Experience Institute with our team, I know we’re just one tiny organization in the middle of a big world. And right now, it’s hard to look around and feel good about everything that’s happening globally. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do what we can and use what we have to make things better.
I think the best place to start is actually taking care of ourselves: our minds, hearts, bodies, and homes. If we care for ourselves well, we can care for others well. If we learn to be gracious with ourselves, we can be gracious with the people we interact with every day. Ei is our small way of helping with that — teaching how to engage the world, create new solutions, and be thoughtful leaders along the way.
We have lofty goals of growth and change, but we know the future is impossible to predict. So for now, we’re just glad to be here with you. That small connection means a lot to us. So thanks for being part of this.
ps: Special thanks to Paul Jarvis and Jason Zook for sparking the idea of this work with their own writings.