Author’s Notes: From the Desk of Dr. Brad McLain

About the author: Dr. Brad McLain serves as the Director of Corporate Research at the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) and the Director of the Center for STEM Learning at the University of Colorado – Boulder (CU Boulder). Previously, he worked as an educational researcher at NASA and served two terms on the Board of Directors of the Jane Goodall Institute. Read his profile here.

A book, a framework, and more...

Leaders, trainers, and teachers are all tasked with creating and facilitating learning experiences, some of which can shift our sense of self and even the course and direction of our lives. To better understand how to intentionally craft experiences that encourage impactful personal transformation, Dr. Brad McLain established a framework named ELVIS – the Experiential Learning Variables and Indicators System. Using this tool, experienced designers can unlock enormous potential for transforming lives and empowering growth. Continue reading below for a full-page excerpt from the book, and details on how to connect with the author.

“What if we could become expert designers of experiences that propel the growth and transformation of others, whether we play the roles of leaders, educators, parents, artists, or friends? Becoming skilled at the art of transformation is to harness a life-changing tool that allows us, as Henry David Thoreau put it, ‘to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.’ That is what this book is about.”

Author's Notes from Dr. Brad McLain

Designing Transformative Experiences is a book 20 years in the making. In a very real sense, it represents a nexus in my life; a nexus of ideas, research, personal adventures, relationships, and life-changing experiences. It is tempting to say that it could not have been released into the world any earlier than now, because not only did it require the necessary time for the concepts I present here to ripen and mature, but also for the various disparate threads of inquiry and investigation to merge and coalesce.

Namely, these include experiential learning, leadership, the narrative study of lives, and identity theory. Fitting these together into a framework that actually simplifies their meanings in concert with each other is one of the greatest achievements I feel with this book. For this achievement, I must thank so many people I have worked with over the years. Perhaps none moreso than my “accountability partner” and best-selling author himself, Dr. Paul Marciano, who insisted I finish it and ensured that I did.

My dearest hope is that this book will be put to good use by leaders in the many domains of human life where they emerge. Wherever true seekers of life mysteries – both within us and beyond us – are opening their eyes to change leadership through experience design … this is where Designing Transformative Experiences will have found its tribe.

A Testimonial from Dr. Jane Goodall

Color photograph of Dr. Jane Goodall and Dr. Brad McLain sitting together and smiling toward the viewer.
Dr. Jane Goodall and Dr. Brad McLain.

"Everyone can make a positive difference in this world. Often, this requires us to change something about ourselves and the choices we make. This book will be especially valuable to those who are leaders, or aspiring leaders, in their field.”

Video: Experience Design Leadership

In this highlights video from the 2023 NCWIT Summit, Dr. Brad McLain presents Experience Design Leadership as he traces the path from life-changing events to personal identity growth and how leaders can harness this psychology to empower their teams and build more inclusive cultures. He also shares the ELVIS framework for intentionally designing transformative experiences and challenges us to a deeper understanding of the power of great leadership.

Engage the Author at Upcoming Events

August 29, 2023: Those near Boulder, Colo., can join Dr. Brad McLain for a ticketed event at Boulder Bookstore at 6:30 pm on August 29th. Tickets can be purchased online at

Social media graphic for the Aug. 29 book event at Boulder Bookstore with Brad McLain, author of Designing Transformative Experiences

August 31, 2023: If you’d like to ask Brad a question, NCWIT will host an AMA on Linkedin at the end of the month!. Follow NCWIT to participate and join us for a live, virtual, and interactive Q&A on August 31st, starting at
1 p.m. ET // 12 p.m. CT // 11 a.m. MT // 10 a.m. PT.

Book Excerpt: Page 2

Transformative experiences are the most powerful events in our lives. They shape and define us. They are what we secretly crave, what we strive for, and what we cherish most, both personally and professionally. They are the events upon which our lives turn and our destinies unfold. And through us, transformative experiences can change the world.

What if we could understand how transformative experiences work across a range of human experiences? What if we could use that understanding to intentionally design “the transformative” into our lives and the lives of others? And what if we could harness this understanding for leadership—designing transformative experiences to motivate, elevate, and inspire those we lead? Imagine the possi- bilities for leading the way to a more positive and inspiring world.

After all, this is how we describe our very best leaders—at work, in innovation, teaching, coaching, parenting, the arts, and every other domain. Transformative leaders seem to have an innate and ineffable ability to touch our hearts, provoke our minds, stretch us beyond ourselves, and conjure experiences that change our lives and make the world a better place.

Is there a code or formula for leading in this way consciously, deliberately, and strategically? Is there a body of knowledge we can harness to become masters of this art? How can we become trans- formative experience designers?

While there is no singular one-size-fits-all recipe for designing transformative experiences, there is indeed a research-based method, which I present here in this book as Experience Design Leadership using the methodology of ELVIS: Experiential Learning Variables & Indicators System. But before we get into all that, we must ground ourselves in a simple yet profound truth:

Transformative experiences do not happen to us, they are created by us . . .
whether we realize it or not.

Over the past two decades in my work as a social scientist, I’ve been exploring the nature and psychology of transformative experiences in an effort to understand what they are and how they operate. I have been extremely privileged to work with exceptional leaders en- gaged in efforts that shape our world and affect all our lives—from contributing to NASA and the Space Shuttle Program, to collabo- rating with Jane Goodall for over 15 years on her world conservation efforts, to leading cutting-edge education research for the National Science Foundation, to leading groups on international travel and other adventures, to directing three documentary films, to working on the psychology of leadership with some of the largest and most influential companies in the world.

This work has led to a fundamental understanding at the core of how transformative experiences unfold. People typically describe their most transformative experience as something that happened to them and over which they had very little control. But on closer investigation, these experiences—including what they mean in our lives, our capacity to fully participate in them, and their outcomes— ultimately come from within us, regardless of the external triggers or circumstances. The transformative in our lives is not simply waiting for us out there somewhere; its possibility and its potency are quietly waiting for us in here.

Why is this? How is this? And how can we unlock this latent potential? Imagine if we could understand how transformative experiences work and use that understanding to intentionally bring the extraordinary into our own lives? What if we could become expert designers of experiences that propel the growth and transformation of others, whether we play the roles of leaders, educators, parents, artists, or friends? Becoming skilled at the art of transformation is to harness a life-changing tool that allows us, as Henry David Thoreau put it, “to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” That is what this book is about.

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