Often, what keeps us from achieving our goals is thinking small. We get stuck in a rut—worrying about things that haven’t happened yet and limiting ourselves from what we could do. It is time to break free from that! In this episode, Penny Zenker invites a guest to take us from small into big thinking. The creator of XMBA and bestselling author of Exponential Theory, Aaron Bare, shares how we start becoming exponential thinkers in this flat-thinking world. He provides great examples of leaders who show that thinking big can only lead to big things. Giving actionable steps, Aaron shares some exercises to get into exponential thinking. Join today’s conversation as you learn to reach your goals sooner, compounding time by thinking big!
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Compounding Time With Aaron Bare
I’m excited to talk about big thinking and exponential theory because when we think bigger, we approach things differently. The small stuff falls away because you get more focused and clear on what is going to get you to a bigger place. We are going to talk all about that with Aaron Bare. His life’s purpose is to create one million exponential leaders. I love that there is a big goal behind that. I’m curious to see how many you are at now, Aaron.
He is the Wall Street Journal and the USA Today bestselling author of Exponential Theory and the creator of the XMBA. That’s the eXponential Mindsets, Beliefs, and Attitudes group coaching program. He has got the XX Podcast; Two Exponentials in a Flat World. He has been traveling around 90 countries and all 50 states. He has facilitated innovation and strategy workshops and talks in over 500 companies. He appeared on 20 of the Top 250 Podcasts. I could go on and on because this list keeps going on. At the end of the day, we want to hear from Aaron. Aaron, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me.
When did you become a big thinker?
Big thinking is a process. I have created a coaching program around that. People get stuck in a rut or small thinking because of stuff that holds them back from the past, which I equate to creating limitations or regrets. It’s a lot of trauma people are dealing with or stuff in the future that they have anxiety, worries, fear, doubt or stress about something in the future that hasn’t happened. They are not being mindful of the moment.
I don’t think there’s anybody on this show that has ever felt like that. You mean people are human.
Once you strip away some of those things that are holding you back and those limiting thoughts, then you give yourself the freedom to think bigger. All of a sudden, some of these small things that used to be so consuming fade away. For example, Penny, you started this show off with my one million exponential leaders. It doesn’t allow me to have time to worry about what I have for dinner, what I wear, or any anxiety or stress over the things that burden a lot of people every day.
I don’t worry about that stuff anymore because it’s not going to help me get to my purpose. If I’m impacting what I’m doing by talking to you and getting to a new audience, and if we impact one person on this that watches your show to think a little bit bigger about their lives, then we have expanded the universe in our own way. That’s what I want to do every day for the rest of my life. That’s my life’s purpose.
Is this related to, “Don’t sweat the small stuff and it’s all small stuff?” I don’t remember who said that quote. Is that your philosophy in life?The only way you fail is if you say you fail. Click To Tweet
I will give you a couple of stories from the book. I will start off with Elon Musk, which is probably one of our biggest thinkers. He has a chapter and several different reference points. I have this story around Mars shots. I’m sure you have heard of moonshots. Google has moonshots like, “Let’s shoot for the moon.” Elon Musk simply said, “I’m not going to shoot for the moon. I’m going to shoot for Mars.” When he did this, he said, “I’m going to create a goal of going to Mars and civilizing it. I will put 40,000 people on it by the year 2041.” That long-term thinking is exponential thinking.
Bill Gates has a good quote about this, “A lot of people overestimate what they can do in one year but underestimate what they can do in ten.” This is what I would say, “Very few people think 10, 15 or 20 years out.” Especially with the world, we are all consuming social media and bringing you further into anxiety and stress over what is happening now. Releasing yourself from some of that is what our group coaching program is about. It’s releasing yourself from the things of the future that are going to happen. The only way they happen is what you do now.
What Elon Musk did in particular in the story about Mars shots is he went beyond the moon and said, “We are going to go to Mars.” Regardless, if you look at his space company SpaceX, you look at his goals. They have already further achieved any goal than any other privatized space company in the world. Even if he fails to the point and never goes to Mars, his goals were so big. What it did was that it attracted all these other big thinkers. They are like, “I want to be on that rocket ship going to Mars. I want to help that because that’s bigger than anything I could think I could be part of.”
That’s the same thing I’m doing by saying, “I’m going to bring one million exponential leaders of this world through this program, which is to think big.” If I do not succeed, I will not fail. I will either win or learn. That’s part of our processes. The only way you fail is if you say you fail. Eventually, you will learn from that. That’s where you can move forward and release some of these self-limiting beliefs that people have to think bigger. A lot of this other small stuff does become meaningless and not that important to your day-to-day.
Not everybody succeeds. The greatest moves forward are when we don’t succeed. It’s when we fail and learn. I don’t believe in failure either. Failure is feedback. It’s an opportunity to learn so that we can get it right or better. You will see that from big thinkers. It’s because you have to think like that. Otherwise, you would curl up into a ball every time that it didn’t work out the way that you wanted to. You get to say, “We know more now. Can we step back and look at things in a different way?” I’m a total believer because I do an exercise in some of the keynotes and workshops that I do that help people to see that.
When you do think bigger or give yourself a crazy constraint, it gets you out of your everyday thinking. We think like this. It’s the only way that we are going to break out of even the small increments and progression, which there’s nothing wrong with that. If you are going to think big and you want to make exponential growth, then you have got to ditch your current thinking. It’s having a super big goal or even a tight constraint like, “We are going to cut costs by half.” One of those is going to force you out of your normal way of thinking. I have seen it every time. I love when I do this exercise because everybody is like, “This is impossible until they get out of their old way of thinking.” I’m a big fan.
Everything seems impossible. Let’s say you are going to go to Mars. It sounds crazy. If you look at a lot of these companies that have created exponential growth, their idea or premise wasn’t necessarily rational. That was the point that eventually you start to see. It’s like every invention that surrounds us all day long. It’s the fact that we are talking through a video now. Years ago, they would have thought this was George Jetson stuff. The world progresses at the pace that we are ready to accept that change. That’s where you see these leaders that are the most exponential, pushing those boundaries and helping us see the new potential of what it could be.
Before Elon Musk said we could go to Mars, that was hypothetical. Now, it’s a company mission. All of a sudden, it’s like, “Now, there are people starting to believe that. There are a few.” Like they did with Tesla, there were a lot of naysayers for a long time. I had a Tesla back in 2013. The only thing I wish I would have done is investing it in the stock. Instead, I bought the car. The price of the car that I paid for, if I had invested it in stock, it would have been worth $3.2 million or something crazy. Hindsight is 20/20. That’s why exponential thinkers move forward.
What is an exercise or a simple way to get people to appreciate and get into that big thinking? You teach people that. You have got a course on that because it’s something that we can learn. What is a tip to help somebody to get into that mindset or thinking process?
One of the pre-workings that I do in my workshops takes a little bit of time, work and reflection. I love constraints too and making people say, “What if you had to spend $100 million? In companies that have a lot of money, what if you only have $500 to spend on this?” It does challenge you to get outside of the mind thinking. My pre-working is to develop out. What I ask people to do before they come is to sit down and write out every thought on their minds. When you do that, you get exhausted.
The first time I ever did this exercise, I wrote 334 things. They were as simple as like, “I need to buy toothpaste. I want to take a trip to Australia.” What is interesting is this was uncovering my conscious mind but also starting to get into my subconscious mind of things that I didn’t even know were there. Once you empty your conscious mind out, I was able to get below that and experience it. The idea of doing that in the pre-work is when you show up to my workshop is that we would then start taking them as, “How many of those are aligned with your big purpose? Do you have a big purpose?”
We would say, “How many of them are important that you do in the next six weeks?” You would go through all of those. Everything else would go on the everything list that you are not doing now. You set that aside. What is interesting is the subconscious now has registered all of those. If you have written down those or looked at those a few times, you start checking off these things on the everything list. My 334 things were down to 17 from when I first did this. That continues to get refined and add things to it, but the original list, it’s funny when I go and reflect on it.
What I ask people to do is to look in the next six weeks. This is helping people to be mindful of their time. Start to schedule in the things. Goals are great but habits are the only way to reach goals. What are the habits that are going to take in the next six weeks to focus you more on your purpose? Even if you don’t know your purpose, what are the things that you know that you want to move in the direction in your life? It’s like, “I want a new job. I want to save for this car. I want to do this side hustle.” Whatever it is in your life, I have them write it down and then they start. I say, “Schedule in the habits so that they become a reminder and you will fail at this.”
Let’s go back to that failure conversation. In our company, we don’t use the word fail. It’s a way to explain it, “What did you learn when you didn’t do it? Why didn’t you do it? Now, how do you do it?” Eventually, you will win if you are persistent and consistent. That’s where exponential thinkers are. Even with a very big idea, eventually, they start winning. There are doubts and fears along the way. You can even see it in Elon Musk. Years ago, he was ready to sell Tesla. Now, it’s the most valuable car company in the world. In my book, I have lots of these stories.
Even Google wanted to sell $1 million to Excite when they were very young. They were like, “We don’t have a business model. We want to do cool stuff.” Now, they are doing cool stuff on an exponential level. It’s because they stayed with it. That exercise is a great way. A gateway into this is to start thinking, “How do you spend your time? What are your habits? Are they exponential? Are you thinking long-term? Are these goals, have you thought?” I even think Elon Musk, 25 years out, is why he is able to get other big thinkers like, “I want to be part of that mission because it’s much bigger than they can think.”
It attracts people who think like that. It inspires people who want to think like that. It brings people together collaboratively. We saw it when putting a man on the moon was a crazy idea. Those crazy ideas are what bring people together. In Apple, Steve Jobs had that vision and brought people together to do amazing things with technology there.
I want to come back to a couple of points. You said about scheduling your habits and making sure that you are making time for those habits that bring you to the goals that you want. You said that we try and sometimes we don’t hit the mark. I wanted to bring up what I have seen. I don’t know if this is what you have seen and what you mean by that. We get caught up in this all-or-nothing thinking that you may have made a complete step forward.
I was working with somebody and she wanted to spend time writing her book. She set some time for those important habits to start writing and to be writing three times a week in the morning. She has got two kids and life is busy. She comes to the next meeting. She was like, “I failed.” I said, “Hold on a second. How many times did you write?” She said, “Once.” Her goal was three. I said, “How many did you write the week before you set that goal?” She said, “Zero.”A lot of people are out there feeling stuck that they are unable to think big. Click To Tweet
All-or-nothing thinking, she wrote one more time than she wrote the time before. We have to be careful that we are not throwing the baby out with the bathwater type of thing. We recognize when we are making progress. There’s some acclimation period in bringing those habits more into our identity and consistency. Do you see this all-or-nothing thinking that gets people stuck and pushes them back to where they were?
Yes, it’s short-term thinking. It’s like, “I did it in this period of time.” If she is able to write once a week for 52 weeks in a row and change that habit, then it’s easier to do too. To your point, she had success. It’s how you would frame it in your mind. It’s like, “I’m doing more. What did I learn about the times that I didn’t do it?” You and I both have said this now. If we let failure say that we fail, then we do fail. In an exponential thinker’s mind, it sounds like in your mind is what we learned from that. Eventually, we will win.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the 10,000 hours. Michael Simmons, who is a mental model production guy, wrote about the 10,000 experiments. I feel it is what we have gotten to. In the book, I talk about Amazon, Facebook and some of these large companies in how much they experiment with their technologies that they can move faster than the rest of the world. A big part of people’s growth is experimenting. The fact that you may be successful and write one more time a week, that’s a success to your point. It’s like, “How do we build on that because everything takes momentum?”
If you have ever looked at an exponential curve, it never goes straight up. It’s a hockey stick. There is quite a while that you have to build the habit and muscle before you have those breakthroughs. I don’t think it takes 10,000 hours anymore because we have such an ability to become an expert in a subject in a short amount of time because we have so much information at our fingertips. Years ago, you had to go to the library and it took you a lifetime to become an expert. Now, it’s experiment fast and hard.
To your point, if she wants to write a book, which I went through that experience. I know exactly how excruciatingly painful writing a book can be, especially in the beginning when you are gathering your thoughts and everything before it can come home to a piece of thought. The fact that she wrote once is something to build on and that’s a success. Oftentimes, it’s the duration of that because it may take a longer period of time. You have unrealistic expectations of what you can do in a short amount of time.
That’s why I have a whole chapter about the long game, “How do you think a little bit longer term?” Writing a book is not a short-term venture. Candidly, there are a lot of things online that say, “Sign up for my program and write a book in one week.” Everybody wishes that. It’s not going to be a bestseller. There’s no bestseller out there that’s written in one week. Nothing comes fast and easy.
With my book, I must have had 100 revisions. It requires that.
When you are successful, it’s because you had a long term and you stuck with it. The fact is that you kept learning like, “Why didn’t I do it at this time if I blocked the time for this? Maybe the timing was off because of my kids.” You and I agree on a lot right here. This is good.
That’s why I was excited to have you on. I get to one big thing that I have accomplished and then it’s like, “I don’t know what the next big thing is. How do you think bigger?” That’s a question that I always ask myself, “Think bigger. I’m getting to a goal.” I want to ask you where you are in your million leaders. I’m close to one million people who have watched my TEDx, for instance. I have on a vision board that I wrote that I want to impact one million people. I realized it’s not just the TEDx. There are people who bought my books and who have been to my events.
I was part of a movie project that I put out there as, “Let’s go bigger.” I became an Executive Producer on a movie called Wish Man. That was about Frank Shankwitz. He was one of the founders of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. You attract these things when you set those big goals. Where are you now with your million? Sometimes big thinkers don’t just have one big thing. You already know what that next big thing is.
Part of it is I set this million exponential leader, which is a different kind of leader. I’m at the beginning of that curve. I finished this book, Exponential Theory. It landed me at a place. This is the gateway to my XMBA, which is eXponential Mindsets, Beliefs, and Attitudes. I’m launching a podcast about exponential thinkers in a flat world. I go in and out. I work with Mercedes-Benz, Coca-Cola, Belfius Bank and some big companies. At the very top, they are still flat thinkers. They are thinking about 5% or 10% gains.
The problem with that in big companies is there are all these other companies that are growing at exponential rates. Simple math would tell you that these exponential companies eventually take over all these big companies. In every industry, we are starting to see that. With the new industries, one industry is dying overnight because there are new and better solutions. You are seeing the exponential growth overshadow that.
In my own goals, I helped Oxford Leadership. They have an online coaching certification program, which they are still enrolling in. They are about to reach one million people in their program. I was part of creating that online program. That gave me the inspiration to say, “I want to do that for myself for exponential.” I have coached and facilitated in over 500 organizations. I have been busy traveling the world. I have been to 90 countries. I have touched a lot of people and facilitated a lot of conversations around this. With my 10,000 experiments, I’m ready to give back and get on that exponential curve.
I formed one million exponential leaders because of what I’m doing now. I’m starting over where I even created a startup school at Arizona State University. The goal was to reach one million people through library systems, where we give away online entrepreneurial curriculum to libraries across the world. That is scaling on its own. I have been a part of this goal of one million true exponential thinking. I was an entrepreneur in residence at Singularity, “How do you impact one billion people?” That’s where my goal of one million exponential leaders means that I will far surpass impacting one billion people from those leaders, leading in an exponential way.
It’s a compound goal on that. It’s me to say like, “How can I do that? You are reaching some of these goals. How do you create a goal so big for yourself?” It’s like going to Mars. If Elon Musk goes to Mars, then he has got to create a bigger goal. How do you do that for yourself? One million exponential leaders, I see myself being on the board of several exponential companies. As I’m part of that, I see my own world expanding by my network and hanging around these people to think big. If that’s what I do for the rest of my life, that’s going to be a lot of fun.
I can see that you are passionate about it. We have given people something to think about here in terms of stepping back and looking at how they can think bigger and get outside of the box. I love how you talk about the flat world of flat thinkers. That’s a cool way to look at it. What didn’t I ask you that you believe that the audience needs to know?
To go full circle to where we started, a lot of people are maybe out there feeling stuck that they are unable to think big. It takes time. You have to let go of some limiting beliefs, some trauma in the past and belief systems that honestly have been anchored in over history. That’s part of the conversation of creating constraints and different ways to think about that. When you think about how you spend time and how you want to spend time candidly intentionally, that’s probably the biggest growth opportunity. It’s to say, “Am I doing things that I want to do?”
My day is filled with things that I want to do. I couldn’t be on doing anything else but talking to you right now. This is the most valuable because I’m going to reach a new audience. Your audience is going to learn about this. If we can impact one person that thinks bigger and becomes more productive from the little tidbits we have here, that’s amazing. That’s where I need to do that over and over again. Everything else I do aligns with that. That’s where my true north is with all these other little small things.Social media, if used the right way, is very positive and can be good for someone. Click To Tweet
People get caught in those limitations, belief systems or attitudes. In my company, we have BCTs, Buts, Tries and Cant’s. We put money into a party fund if you use those words. They are very powerless words. If I said it was nice to be on this show but I said I wasn’t nice, why are we using this language? I have a daughter. I’m completely fine with them cussing.
They can’t say, “Can’t.”
They know that those are bad words in my parenting. It’s funny because they also understand when I said, “If you use a cuss word, make sure it’s worthwhile. You don’t want to use it as a regular word. Make sure it makes an impact if you are going to use it.”
That shows you walk the talk. It’s not just in one area of your life. Strategies are cross-contextual. We can have exponentially more love in our life by what we decide to focus on and how we use our time. Exponential thinking goes across every area that we live in if we step back and think, “How can I get more of this?” I like using the constraint like, “If I only had X amount of time to spend with my family, for instance, what would I do to make that connection as deep as possible? What would I do to make a difference in that?” I do like using constraints as much as I like saying, “Think bigger. What else could you accomplish?” Both of them get us to think outside the box.
A lot of my thinking comes back as you think bigger. This goes to my daughter. It goes to all of us as we spend a lot more time on social media. In compare and cancel culture, there’s a lot of negativity out there. Social media, if used the right way, is very positive and can be good for someone. If people are consumed by it and live by it, then they are either living in the future they don’t have because they are comparing themselves to something or in the past of things that have held them back.
When you start to look at your habits, the first exercise I have is a telling one because it will start to like, “How do I reprogram myself? How do I unlearn?” A key point that we have in our program is, “Self-help sucks because self-help says there’s something wrong with you. The fact is we are all perfect just the way we are. In fact, we have chosen to be just the way we are. We brought all of our life’s decisions that made us right in the place that we are. Maybe now it’s time to think about what are the programs that we need to unlearn that don’t serve us well.”
That’s part of looking at the habits of what people do in their past, “What led to that belief system so that you can unlearn that and break free?” That is the first part of creating an exponential mindset. The reality is big thinkers don’t have those limitations. I used it before Donald Trump was the president. Before, there was a political spectrum of using them. I used to always use them. The one thing that you can say about Donald Trump is he thinks big. That has helped and served him well, not thinking small.
Whether you like him or not, it’s something to think about like, “This guy thought so big that he surprised the world becoming a president.” I don’t attempt to use him too much anymore because it’s so polarizing. The reality of it is there’s something to learn from everyone. That’s where sometimes we can unlearn by seeing behaviors that we don’t like. We can learn that it’s something we need to unlearn about ourselves. That’s part of letting go of things.
At the end of the day, you shouldn’t have any regrets or limits. We are all humans. We have all made mistakes. We all have trauma. It depends on how much do we want to carry that trauma around to hold us. When we talk about exponential, it comes all the way back to mental health, which comes back to my daughter. She is comparing herself, canceling someone else or being bullied online. All of a sudden, when you start thinking bigger, that becomes less of something that she consumes. Honestly, it deflects off of her because she is thinking bigger.
With that, I’m proud to say she won Top Elf on Nickelodeon because she thinks big. Out of 7,000 or 8,000 kids, she was able to be this kid that rose up to the top. Through a few different online realities, she was able to be the nicest kid on Santa’s list to win Top Elf. That’s something as a parent I’m most proud of. It’s her exponential thinking. It’s her way of like, “I’m not going to let these little things bother me. I’m going to overcome them because there are bigger challenges for me than this.”
Thank you so much for being here. Go ahead and tell us where people can reach you and find out more about this course so they can be one of those exponential leaders that you are influencing.
You can find out more information at AaronBare.com. We load a landing page. You will learn a little bit more. We even offer some free different chapters, free eBooks and different things. There’s a lot to learn about exponential thinking. In Exponential Theory, the idea is that eventually, when you think so big, you become more conscious and we will start solving some of these global problems. That’s how the book ends. You start to realize, “When you think big, no problem becomes overcoming.”
Some problems seem unsurmountable but if we put enough brain power into it, we are going to be able to overcome some of these big things and hurdles that we think are so big, like the climate issues and social justice. I talk about a lot of those issues. When you start thinking bigger, there are ways to overcome such insurmountable in people’s minds. If we are in the moment now creating bigger thinking, we will get there much faster.
Thanks for being here, Aaron.
Thanks, Penny. I appreciate it.
Thank you all for being here because this show is about taking back time. How do you take back time? You take back time by thinking bigger and creating that exponential growth because that means you are investing your time in something that’s going to grow you further faster. This way of thinking is absolutely essential in every area of your life. If you want to take back time, you want to step back and see how you can think in this way, thinking bigger and understanding the exponential theory and how that can support you. We will see you in the next episode.
- Exponential Theory
- TEDx – The energy of thought by Penny Zenker on YouTube
- Make-A-Wish Foundation
- Oxford Leadership
About Aaron Bare
Aaron Bare’s life purpose is to create One-Million Exponential Leaders. He is the Wall Street Journal and USA Today Bestselling Author of Exponential Theory and the Creator of the XMBA (eXponential Mindsets, Beliefs, and Attitudes – Group Coaching Program), and the “XX Podcast; Two Exponentials in a Flat World.” Beyond traveling to over 90 countries and all 50 States, Aaron has facilitated innovation and strategy at over 500 companies and appeared on 20 of the top 250 podcasts. He is highlighted as 10 Leaders to Watch in 2022, listed on 50 under 50 Leaders, 40 under 40 Leaders, 35 under 35 Entrepreneurs, and one of his companies has been awarded “Most Innovative Company in the U.S.” His award-winning digital strategy firm had clients such as Google, Council for Foreign Relations, Coca-Cola, Harley-Davidson, Dannon, Emerson, Comedy Central, Telemundo & Dell, where he built over 100 software projects focused on growth hacking leveraging the viral loop.
Aaron is also a Certified Big Historian, Certified Professional Philosopher, and was the creator of the Oxford Leadership Online Certified Coach, which is closing in on over One-Million participants. As a former Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University (Ranked #1 in Innovation, 7 years in a Row) and Singularity University at NASA Ames campus in Mountainview, California, Aaron has been exposed to some of the most repeatable, predictable, scalable, and sustainable business models. He currently focuses on helping individuals explore Ancient Wisdom, Repeating Histories, and Modern Science through his XMBA program that focuses on Unlearning, Reprogramming, and creating the Growth Mindset to ultimately create an eXponential Mindset, Beliefs, and Attitude. He also helps companies through customized solutions to scale their Exponential Leadership and Business Models.
Aaron Bare holds an MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management and an MA from Indiana University. He lives in Arizona.
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