Aron Solomon introduced me to Victor Saad and that was all it took. Victor has hacked his MBA and learned more than he would have in school. Victor’s Leap Year Project “Masters Program” is the wave of the future. Get on board - start by reading the book (use the code FRIENDS for free shipping), listening to Victor’s TEDxWindyCity talk and checking out his new “school”, The Experience Institute.
I. From patients to students
I’ve always been hopeful. It probably began at an early age when I saw my family’s relationship deteriorate through a divorce and subsequent challenges. However, a group of teachers, mentors, and friends in my small town of Nixa, Missouri became an incredible support. Their influence was so great that I wanted my career path to follow their footsteps. I told my Middle Eastern parents that I wouldn't be pursuing the traditional routes of doctor, lawyer, or engineer and left home to pursue a degree and work in education.
I began working for a student program at a church in the west suburbs of Chicago and for the next five years, I served on a team focused on building a 40,000 sq. ft. student community center, complete with a theatre, cafe, and hangout space.
In the meantime, my parents began spending time with the same hopeful individuals who had invested in me, because they were curious about why I had changed so much. As those friendships deepened, my mentors counseled and wooed my parents back together. After six years of divorce, my parents remarried.
It was the most impactful event in my life, and it cemented in me the power of relationships and the hope that brings people together by repairing what seems too broken.
II. Risk: From students to self-made education
My work with students and the building project made me curious about further education in business, design, and social impact. Over time, the idea of an MBA surfaced. But the more I studied for the GMAT and researched programs, the more I wondered if the options and price tags fit.
I was curious: could I create my own education? How would I do that?
I started my research by interviewing hundreds of friends, family, peers, college students, and professors, asking droves of questions about learning methods, practices, ideas, and personal dreams.
When I explained I was thinking of creating my own education, people were partly intrigued and perplexed. All of that changed, however, when I ended the interviews with one final question: "If you were me, what risk would you take on something in your life, your community, or your world?"
The question led to several incredible conversations around creative projects, personal goals, family events, and community endeavors. It caused me to wonder what would happen if more people embraced risk to pursue their passion.
I took my findings from the conversations and created a simple format of learning based on spending time in the spaces and with the people I admire in design, business development, and social change: 12 experiences and apprenticeships in 12 months.
I also carried that final question about risk-taking throughout the year. After countless interviews of interviews, I had a system and structure to learn on my own, and a community of people to learn with. I gave my self-made experiential education and the community project a title: The Leap Year Project.
III. Learn: From self-made education to Prototype
I started by a helping Chicago-based design agency, Doejo, explore how to be more involved with cause-based organizations. Then my journey led me all over the world: a journalism trip to Cairo, a stint on the Community Management team at Threadless with the founder Jake Nickell, a startup ad agency with advertising guru Alex Bogusky, an Experience Design Apprenticeship with an architecture firm in Seattle, a business trip to China with a socially conscious clothing company, and so forth.
All of this helped me to learn practical skills in marketing, business development, project and client management, and community building, among other things. I shared valuable experiences with a wide network of like-minded individuals, several of whom are now friends and mentors. And I learned more about myself than I imagined. My hopes turned to action and my convictions matured and grew into values. Afterwards, I staged my graduation at TEDxWindyCity and compiled our community’s leap stories into an end-of-project book.
Throughout The Leap Year Project, I began hearing feedback from employers, mentors, and friends that my self-made experiential education could become a helpful model for others. There is a general, overarching understanding that real-world experiences are incredibly valuable to one’s learning objectives and personal formation, but there are countless questions surrounding how to evaluate, assess, and guide the learning process within such an organic structure. The feedback became so prevalent that, rather than accepting one of several job offers, I’ve decided to explore how experiential education can become a more prevalent and highly regarded route for students ranging from high school to graduate level programs.
Experience Institute is that effort.
The mission is simple: establish experiences as a credible form of education. I believe that people who master this type of education can and will gain the tools necessary to transform our world with an inventive spirit.
The game plan is even simpler: begin with a pilot class of ten students this fall.
I’ve teamed up with industry leaders and partner companies to invite a small group of students interested in design, business development, social innovation, and technology to execute a one-year experiential education. We’ll begin by learning problem-solving processes that we can apply to our apprenticeships, and then prepare to execute three key components that I learned throughout my Leap Year:
Establishing a community and a series of experiences with partner companies.
Documenting experiences through photography, video, newsletters, and blogs.
Presenting lessons and projects through a final product, presentation, and/or portfolio.
As the first class combines a series of apprenticeships around their learning objectives, we’ll research what is missing, what is most valuable, and who benefits most from this type of learning process.
Together, we'll join with others in elevating real-world experiences to be seen as a valuable form of education while providing companies with fresh insights and ideas. I believe this will open the doors for students of all ages and types to find their place in this world in a way that is affordable, helpful, and transformative -- all while building meaningful relationships.
In the words of Eric Hoffer:
The central task of education is to implant a will and a facility for learning; it should produce not learned but learning people...
In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.
- Reflections on the Human Condition (1973)