Disrupt Yourself or Be Disrupted

Disrupt or be disrupted

My book, Exponential Theory: The Power of Thinking Big has been a journey of over fifteen years of research, innovation, and leadership to define what it will take to be a leader in the future. Follow me to learn more and grow yourself personally, professionally, and organizationally.

My journey to discover the exponential theory began when I was 20 years old. I dared to sneak into the University of Notre Dame’s Career Center in hopes of landing an interview for a Chicago internship, even though I didn’t even attend the university. However, while at Notre Dame I discovered a poster of Semester at Sea and fell in love with the idea of traveling around the world. That day, I didn’t get the internship, but I started on a new adventure.

Less than a year later, I left home to circumnavigate the world, venture into the unknown, understand the world, reinvent my potential, and expand my own self-limiting box. I flew to the Bahamas and boarded the SS Universe, a 554-foot ocean liner built in 1953. As I departed, I knew I would not be in a familiar environment again until I had it made it all the way back around the world. At that point in life, I didn’t know a single person who had traveled outside the United States, let alone any of my fellow travelers on this voyage. I stepped into a new world and began challenging myself in new ways every day.

This was my first step into exploring the uncomfortable, with no safety net. My greatest period of growth began by boarding the SS Universe that day. My growth came when I realized I was all alone, and I continued onward and chose growth over comfort. I was already a thousand miles from home, and still headed further away. I wonder if an astronaut headed toward the moon might feel the same way.

The excitement was subdued by the FEAR (False Evidence Appearing Real) I was experiencing. The expedition moved me in and out of 12 cultures on three continents over 120 days. Nearly half of those days were spent in the open waters in a giant social experiment, while the other half was spent exploring new countries, people, languages, and cultures. Every day opened my eyes to something new. New places, new situations, and new people, all forced me to continuously rewire my brain and grow. In doing this, I started to open up the limited beliefs from my modest midwestern upbringing. I was recreating my worldview and I was doing it quickly. My dreams got bigger! Suddenly, for the first time I believed that I could accomplish great things and make a difference by stepping up to challenges that presented themselves. My path had been forged and unfolded in front of me as opportunities magically presented themselves as my thoughts began to play out in the real world. I started developing my purpose. I started attracting the people and opportunities I needed into my life. The path becomes clear when your purpose is clear.

However, past anchors and conditioning prevented my box from expanding too quickly. For example, my high school English teacher had said to me, “Aaron, you are never going to amount to anything,” and I believed her. My confidence had been shaken. I graduated in the bottom half of my high school class, with colleges only interested in my ability to play soccer. Soccer was my chance out of a career in construction, a likely profession for a midwestern high school graduate. Thankfully, I was recruited by many colleges for soccer, ultimately making the safe choice to stay home and attend the school that my high school soccer coach started coaching. I thought that was the best option for me at the time.

In college, my thirst for knowledge accelerated. I graduated with honors in three years. I continued to graduate school to earn a degree in Latin American Studies as I continued to see a bigger world. This would open the door to my ultimate education goal, getting my MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management. I achieved that 10 years later. Looking back, I now realize that intelligence has nothing to do with formal education or a classroom. Ironically, I found I learned more about life, and about how to excel in a life, in my time spent outside the classroom. As Elon Musk has said on many occasions, “Don’t confuse schooling with education.”

While these experiences served me well, I recognize that this is not everyone’s experience. My experiences built the necessary confidence for me to open the door to many opportunities, including becoming the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Thunderbird and eventually this experience opened the door to many other Universities and eventually led me to Singularity University at NASA Ames campus in Mountainview working with some of the most exponential entrepreneurs in the world. It also opened the door to facilitating innovation around the world with companies like WDHB, Hyper Island, and Kaos Pilot. Just as a shark will only grow to eight inches in a fish tank but will grow to more than eight feet in the ocean, I was soon swimming in a much bigger world.

I was obsessed with learning. I was curious how the world works, entrenched in a world of innovation with some of the best companies in the world. I also took nearly every course I could find, and rarely turned down any opportunity presented to me to explore new ways to think. I continued to expand my beliefs, purpose, and vision. I traveled, explored, and put myself into challenging situations. I wanted to see who I really was and what my potential could be. I grew my confidence to lead and leaned into difficult conversations. I continue to challenge myself to take on more.

For years, I looked for a sign from the outside world. However, it wasn’t until I started to take a deeper journey within that I realized I already had the answers. Through a series of leadership development courses, I stopped looking to the outside world for validation. I learned to say “no.” This helped me to avoid burnout and led me to take an introspective journey, which led me to Bali, Indonesia to spend time with some of the world’s great energy healers. My energy needed recharging. I spent a day with a laughing Shaman, fasted for two weeks, and I spent time in a Buddhist monastery in silence. I also spent time in isolation in the wilderness. I realized my own self-love and self-worth were only set by myself. I became mindful and embraced the joy of missing out (JOMO). I shed excess ownership, weight, and simplified my whole life. I finally found freedom, living by my own terms.

I continued to travel, learn, grow, and educate myself, to learn how to talk to myself, to innovate myself, and to reimagine myself. As the world is a perfect picture of our own imagination, I became aware of my own intentions and my own fears holding me back from becoming everything I wanted to be. I was free to just be myself, and I accepted that I was good enough. I stepped into the present moment for the first time.

My new identity was set. I continued to create my future in a push and pull between my growing and limiting beliefs. A tug of war that with some positive self-talk, led me to personal, professional and organization growth. I became an adventurous paratrooper that dropped into companies to solve incredibly difficult problems with facilitation, design thinking, and systems thinking. I designed the perfect role for myself, and over time grew into thinking big and I stepped up to any challenge presented to me.

I began to embrace the powers of exponential theory, before I had a theory for it. I took responsibility for the creation of my outcomes. In my career, I’ve created a dozen companies, three non-profits, a half-dozen education programs, and three accelerators. I lost people money, made people money, and exited several startups. I continued to fail forward, learn, make mistakes, and grow.

On the journey, I become a global innovation facilitator working with companies like Daimler, Coca-Cola, and Google, learning and growing from some of the greatest corporate leaders in the world. I worked on projects that created billions in bottom line revenue. I travelled to all 50 states and over 90 countries. My limiting beliefs faded, and I found myself in the middle of wickedly complex problems and began to dismantle them and create solutions with relative ease. I began to impact the world in an exponential way. I found my purpose-to inspire those that I crossed paths with to think big and find their purpose. I began to surround myself with the right people, and I made sure they looked at the world the way I wanted to see it: as an optimistic, big thinker. This led to the writing this book.

Download a free pre-release chapter or pre-register for our Exponential Theory course, and be part of the first group we help reimagine the future of leadership through exploring exponential theory.

In addition to the book, at Exponential Theory we have several other ways that we can help you implement big thinking into your ventures including workshops for your team, strategic planning facilitation for your leadership, tailored speaking engagements for your conferences, executive coaching for yourself or your leaders, join our exponential accelerator for innovators and entrepreneurs, and our online courses, Exponential Theory, and the XMBA, eXponential Mindsets, Beliefs, and Attitudes.