The Whole Shebang

Designing Iconic Nike Sneakers for Legends & How Empathy and Creativity are Key to Success with Aaron Cooper

January 10, 2024 Jen Briggs Season 1 Episode 17
Designing Iconic Nike Sneakers for Legends & How Empathy and Creativity are Key to Success with Aaron Cooper
The Whole Shebang
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The Whole Shebang
Designing Iconic Nike Sneakers for Legends & How Empathy and Creativity are Key to Success with Aaron Cooper
Jan 10, 2024 Season 1 Episode 17
Jen Briggs

Friends, meet Aaron Cooper. Former Nike designer of 25 years, now consulting world wide, his work with global athletes, from kids to fitness fanatics to Serena Williams and LeBron James, is empathetic, intuitive, and uncommon to say the least. Aaron is passionate about soaking up experiences with others, learning about their culture, and working with them to imagine what could be possible in creating newer and better products that connect emotionally with others. 

Aaron believes the root to Brand success is found in one word - Empathy. 

His mindset is that elite athletes are not one IN a million, they’re one OF a million. If he can walk a mile in their shoes and create products and experiences for elite athletes, he can do the same for “everyday” athletes. Cultivating rich relationships, Aaron creates room for clients to get excited about possibility, providing them the support and creative space needed to deliver groundbreaking work. 

He’s a passionate, insight-driven, design and innovation leader with a unique ability to turn cultural currents and human behavior into strategic visions, transformational products, and immersive consumer experiences, all within a business and profit-forward environment.

It was an honor to have a conversation with Aaron and glean wisdom for his experiences and expertise. I’m certain you feel the same after listening to this episode. 

4:27.  Aaron’s Background
8:43.  Your Northstar and Mount Everest
12:45.  Empathy with Serena Williams + Millions More
17:11.  Serving People vs. Wall Street
18:00.  Cultivating Empathy in Business
22:00.  The Objective is People + Product
25:50.  The Value of Play and Creativity in Business
28:30.  Sports in America: Play vs. Competition
39:26.  Sponges, Dominoes, and Butterflies Hypothesis
43:43.  Pursuing a Greater Purpose
51:50.  Advice to His Younger Self
54:10.  The Importance of Diversity
57:56.  Surround Yourself With Great People

Connect with Aaron:

We'd love a "follow" on the podcast, and a 5-Star Review is especially powerful!

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Friends, meet Aaron Cooper. Former Nike designer of 25 years, now consulting world wide, his work with global athletes, from kids to fitness fanatics to Serena Williams and LeBron James, is empathetic, intuitive, and uncommon to say the least. Aaron is passionate about soaking up experiences with others, learning about their culture, and working with them to imagine what could be possible in creating newer and better products that connect emotionally with others. 

Aaron believes the root to Brand success is found in one word - Empathy. 

His mindset is that elite athletes are not one IN a million, they’re one OF a million. If he can walk a mile in their shoes and create products and experiences for elite athletes, he can do the same for “everyday” athletes. Cultivating rich relationships, Aaron creates room for clients to get excited about possibility, providing them the support and creative space needed to deliver groundbreaking work. 

He’s a passionate, insight-driven, design and innovation leader with a unique ability to turn cultural currents and human behavior into strategic visions, transformational products, and immersive consumer experiences, all within a business and profit-forward environment.

It was an honor to have a conversation with Aaron and glean wisdom for his experiences and expertise. I’m certain you feel the same after listening to this episode. 

4:27.  Aaron’s Background
8:43.  Your Northstar and Mount Everest
12:45.  Empathy with Serena Williams + Millions More
17:11.  Serving People vs. Wall Street
18:00.  Cultivating Empathy in Business
22:00.  The Objective is People + Product
25:50.  The Value of Play and Creativity in Business
28:30.  Sports in America: Play vs. Competition
39:26.  Sponges, Dominoes, and Butterflies Hypothesis
43:43.  Pursuing a Greater Purpose
51:50.  Advice to His Younger Self
54:10.  The Importance of Diversity
57:56.  Surround Yourself With Great People

Connect with Aaron:

We'd love a "follow" on the podcast, and a 5-Star Review is especially powerful!

Speaker 1: 0:00

If you believe in your sport and in your endeavor, that the milliseconds matter which most of them do and the fractions of percentages small things do matter. Don't get hung up on them, but acknowledge that the scientists believe that the butterflies that flap their wings in South America eventually create the weather patterns that we've had here in North America. All of that together soaking things all up around you and then laying those dominoes down and creating a positive momentum. If you believe in those things, that eventually you do them in the right way and with the right people and you could eventually change the world, you can change. You know. A butterfly can change the weather pattern. You and I, an individual, can change the trajectory of the human race.

Speaker 2: 0:49

Welcome to the Wholeship, ang. I'm Jen Briggs, your host. This podcast was born after seeing patterns of burnout, disconnection and lost passions in all of life, and I believe it's because we've functioned in part and not in whole. Society is championed as sort of overdeveloped left brain hustle culture, energy, and I think we've shoved right brain principles like empathy, intuition, creativity and playfulness into the shadows, and it just isn't working anymore. But here's what excites me I'm seeing signs everywhere that we're entering a new era that is vibrant and magnetic. So I'm inviting you to come along with me as I interview authors, business owners and, of course, chat with my friends. You'll learn new practices for everyday life, cultivating creative approaches to run conscious businesses, develop more dynamic relationships and, most importantly, I believe that you'll become more and more wholly authentically you. It's what we truly need. The complete package, the whole shebang. So buckle up buttercups. We're diving in Friends. Today, I am so excited for you to get the opportunity to meet Aaron Cooper, former Nike designer of 25 years, now consulting worldwide. His work with global athletes, from kids to fitness fanatics, to Serena Williams, lebron James, scotty Pippin, kevin Gartenette it's empathetic, it's intuitive and uncommon, at least in my opinion. To say the least, aaron is passionate about soaking up experiences with others, learning about their culture and working with them to imagine what could be possible in creating newer and better products that connect emotionally and solve a problem. In short, aaron believes that the route to brand success is found in one word empathy. And if you know me at all, you know that I'm excited that today we dive into this conversation about what it looks like to build a business based on a foundation with the key to success being empathy, play, creativity and innovation, and how all of those things combined not only move the business forward but also actually push the human race forward for betterment and a positive impact. So we'll hear about his lessons from Nike, and we're also going to hear several of his life lessons, kind of his hypothesis and motto or how he chooses to live and coincidentally or not very serendipitously, that's part of how he got onto this podcast today is that he pays attention to opportunity in front of him and he is very giving in sharing his wisdom and knowledge, and so it is an honor that I had to sit down with him and I am really thrilled to be able to share the wisdom that he shared with me. I hope that you enjoy this and I trust that it's going to make a positive impact in your life and in your world. Baron Cooper, thank you so much for joining me. Welcome to the whole shebang.

Speaker 1: 3:48

Well, thanks for having me. I'm looking forward to it. I have been looking forward to it.

Speaker 2: 3:53

You've been busy. You've been traveling the world, yes.

Speaker 1: 3:59

A little bit. Yeah Well, we met after, when I was coming back from Asia. So I was in India for a week and China for two weeks, and then I just got back from Berlin.

Speaker 2: 4:08

Okay, I can't wait to hear We'll share with the listeners kind of what you've been up to and what's bringing you around the world. Let's go back. If you don't mind a little bit, I would love to hear. So you were at Nike for 25 years? Yes, Correct. Okay, can we go back prior to Nike? I would love to hear kind of how you got started, how you got into that, what your background is.

Speaker 1: 4:36

I'm a designer by education. Prior to that I was a child of. My father was a preacher. My mother was a social activist actress. Very open family, very open home. Yeah, we were flying rainbow flags before they were even a thing. A lot of diversity in my home. My father was the first one, I think, in the Pacific Northwest, to have a female preacher in his church Back in the late 70s I think it was early 80s didn't really go over so well with a lot of parishioners, but my dad didn't really care.

Speaker 2: 5:24


Speaker 1: 5:26

So, yeah, I grew up in that type of home until very empathetic I guess both by genetics and by nature and nurture and I think that with my creative blood it came from my mom's side of the family primarily. I do have creatives and designers and artists in the family. So those things all coming together, I think just maybe want to get into helping to solve people, solve problems, make lives better, do it through design. So I went to the Art Center College of Design and studied industrial design there and then looked to get an internship, like a lot of college students do, and found Nike because I was kind of an athlete growing up, Nike has designers and I love sports so I figured might as well look into it. I became the first design intern at Nike in 25 years.

Speaker 2: 6:33

You're just going to glass right over that one. Did you like pitch that? Did you go in and say hey, you need me to be here, or how did you land that?

Speaker 1: 6:45

Yeah, actually. Well, my school said don't bother, they don't do internships. And you're to ask my mom at least my, probably my dad, if you're asked down how to get me to do something, the quickest would be to tell me what not to do, and so I don't like. I like being different. That's. Another thing is my mom always told me that I was a square peg and around hole and I was going to cause me some troubles in my life, and sure enough, she was right. I don't like doing the same thing that everybody else is doing. I like to break mold and help people see through different lenses. So my school said don't bother, I looked into it and found somebody that was working at Nike, that graduated from Art Center. So I got a hold of her and she gave me the name of the person that headed up design. I called, just called him, and yeah again, the rest is history. You just got to pursue and be relentless about it and happen always right away, and you just have to keep pursuing and have a map and just go about it.

Speaker 2: 8:04

I love that You've got children.

Speaker 1: 8:06

Yes, I have three kids. Yeah, I have a 25 year old son, a 20 year old daughter and an 18 year old daughter.

Speaker 2: 8:14

Awesome. I kind of am segwayed or jumped into that, because I'm thinking about you know, obviously, with all of our lives there are lessons that we can extrapolate, and that is a huge one that you, I'm assuming throughout your career, were like. I'm just going for it, Don't tell me I can't do it. Yeah.

Speaker 1: 8:36

Absolutely, and I just I was mentoring a student. Well, actually, as a graduate looking for a job, I just was talking. I do a lot of mentoring, both in person, online, now over Instagram, which is crazy, but yeah, I do what I can to help others and which, I guess, is what my dad mom is like. I said it was kind of genetics and it was just sharing with him. I share with everybody, like you got to have a North Star, you got to have a Mount Everest. You know what's your mission, what are you looking to do? That can change over time, which is fine, and once you have that in place, then you just got to build a map. You know, start making a map. And if it's a place that nobody's ever been you got to, you know, make your own map. It doesn't exist. If it's something that you know, if in some case, so, if Nike is your Mount Everest to get to, you know to work to Nike one day. There's many maps out there and then it's just a matter of you know finding those people that have already created those maps and you know, is it something that you can follow? You know the same map or is it? You have to kind of use that as a starting point and then make your own? But yeah, just that, you know constant pursuit of either writing, you know creating the map, or following a map and then having that North Star. I mean I've always had, I've always had North Stars. I think they've been brighter, you know, in years past. Sometimes they get faint, but they're still there. You know, I still have something in mind that I'm working towards.

Speaker 2: 10:21

I'm going to come back to that. I'm going to put a pin in that one for a second. On your North Star, let's talk a little bit about Nike. You were there for a lot of years. I'd love to hear about some of the, some of the lessons that you took from that. I mean, there's probably so much I don't even know what to ask you exactly, but what are some of the big lessons you took from your time there?

Speaker 1: 10:44

My biggest lesson, just off the top of my head. The first one that comes to mind is it's actually in the book that Phil Knight wrote, called Two Dog, which is, you know, the day you start worrying about the business, meaning the financials, the day you start worrying about the business is the day you should start worrying about the business, and that's just the wrong focus. Focus on serving the population. You're trying to help out and the rest, you know the financials will come, the revenue will come, because if you truly focus on them in an empathetic way and understand who they are and what they need at an emotional level, they're going to come with you and they're going to buy quote unquote, buy whatever you're selling, whether that's a physical thing or a service or a sentiment, whatever it is. Whatever you're selling and what they're going to follow you.

Speaker 2: 11:41

And that's what they did before.

Speaker 1: 11:43

They're, you know, 30, well, kind of 40 plus years, 45 years, and I think over the last few years Nike's struggling a bit, because I think they're serving the wrong master, they're serving the wrong population, they're serving most of it, they're serving the share price, and so I think that's just a different. Yeah, so I've always believed in empathy as the root of understanding. I mean, the day that we're all empathetic to each other is the day we have a world peace.

Speaker 2: 12:24

Yeah, how have you cultivated that? So I'm thinking about you and Nike and I'm kind of thinking about who you're serving, and you've worked with some legends creating iconic sneakers. Were you serving the athletes? Were you serving the consumer that was buying the sneakers? Who were you serving and who were you seeking to be empathetic to?

Speaker 1: 12:52

Always dependent on who. So if it was Serena Williams, I was trying to be empathetic with her, but I believe she's not one in a million, she's one of a million. There's a million people, there's a million. Serena Williams is out there, there's tens of millions. She happens to be the one that became the greatest of all time, and certainly in the sport of tennis, but maybe one of the greatest athletes of all time. That's her gift. But in terms of who she is, as a person, a human being, there's millions of people like her and that's who she wants. She wants to inspire millions of people. So, working with her, to be empathetic about the athlete that she's trying to be and the goal that she's trying to reach I think there's this similar people out there trying to do the same thing, and so she and I worked together to create something that wasn't just specifically built for her. It was something that was built for her that millions of other people would appreciate and also want. So that's yes, but I wouldn't have told high school classes I've told, like, if you and I were to work on a, if you run and you're like, oh, running shoes, I haven't found that perfect running shoe, well, you and I could sit down and create a running shoe together that, if you didn't have some specific running, specific issue that we're trying to solve, I would guess.

Speaker 2: 14:30

I have lots of issues. Can you solve my problems?

Speaker 1: 14:34

We're just talking about running right now and footwear.

Speaker 2: 14:36

Oh, okay, never mind.

Speaker 1: 14:40

But yeah, so we would work together to do that, and my guess is that there's probably a lot of people like you, but that's also At Nike. That was also our job, to make sure that we weren't just serving a very small population, that there was actually a business to be created there.

Speaker 2: 14:56

I feel like that's such a powerful sentiment that she is not one in a million, she's one of a million. When you said that, just like your perspective on humanity, that's maybe a big way of saying it is so powerful.

Speaker 1: 15:10

So good example. Also back to the analogy of the Mount Everest and the map Her Mount Everest was. I mean, she had many peaks right and she was climbing to the next peak for every slam that she was entering and that was her Mount Everest of the time and so, but she didn't. So that was her North Star, her Mount Everest, that analogy. And then she had a pretty good map right. She built it over time and she knew what she was doing and she stuck to it. But, trust me, there were times where she was laying in bed and didn't want to get out. She loves her bed and wanted to sleep in, just like a lot of us do, but her North Star is so bright that he's going to stop her. She knows what, she knew and she wanted. She wanted to win and she knew if she knew how to bed and go to the gym or go to the court and train. She was never going to get to the top of her mountain. She was never going to reach her North Star. So that's where a lot of these athletes again, they're just human beings and I think they I've heard from actually quite a few of them that they appreciated that about me is that I treated them as such, that acted as human beings. I didn't put them on a pedestal, we just worked together to create something that they were in need of, something that I felt that they could use to help them achieve what they were looking for. And that was my job to at least meet their expectations. And then I think most times we at Nike would exceed their expectations. And if you meet their expectations, then just imagine the majority of that population that you're trying to serve.

Speaker 2: 17:01

You're going to serve them as well.

Speaker 1: 17:02

And that's my point back to If you stay focused on that population that you're trying to serve in this case with Nike focus on the athlete and being empathetic to them and serving them, the rest will come. I mean, it's inevitable. But if you focus on Wall Street and trying to serve the business, you're only going to know what is being sold today and eventually that will try up. You'll put too much value in that and put out too much product. You'll Whatever Like. There's a number of pitfalls that you can fall into if you're listening to the wrong voices.

Speaker 2: 17:48

Yeah. So if I'm a little gen-enter, snike or wherever you're working and I'm focused on selling as many widgets as I can and I maybe don't have, I'm not attuned to this idea of empathy. How would you coach someone in a business setting? How, specifically, does someone cultivate empathy? What does that look like? What questions are you asking in those moments, or how would you teach someone to tune into that?

Speaker 1: 18:22

It's a good question. I mean, I think I'm an experiential learner myself. My best way, and my favorite way, is to try to eat, sleep, breathe and live in the shoes I guess the pun is intended for Nike but live in the shoes of the people you're trying to serve. Walk a mile in their shoes, so my travels. When I went to India, working with this company in India, I told them I want to live like them, I want to be immersed into their culture as much as I can in one week, and so that was the objective and I think I did a pretty good job in just a short amount of time. And I certainly need to do a lot more, but that's the goal is to reach an empathetic level with that population so that if whatever I'm designing for them hits them emotionally, it just doesn't solve a problem. It connects with them on an emotional level. And I don't think you can do that if you don't have that, if you really don't reach that empathy. And so just educating yourself as much as possible about the population you're trying to serve. If you're a founder of a company, typically a lot of times those founders are of that population. They don't see a need because they're living among it and so. But then sometimes the business either evolves outside of that or grows beyond their capabilities and that's when they need to bring somebody else in. But they got to make sure that that the person that they're bringing in also has that same empathy for the business that they're trying to create and the population they're trying to serve. And in this case, like I think, as your company grows, you certainly the small group that you start off with, typically that's again from that population. You're all from the kind of the same birds of a feather flock together. But as you grow and bring in more people, you may bring in an expert of a particular part of your business, but they might not be of that population Not to say that they have to be but they have to have at least a big enough curiosity and a passion for that population to be on a constant pursuit to gain that empathy. If they don't, for example, if you're working on it, nike, you don't care about sports, I don't know how well you're going to do, and so then you have a population. You may do great in a corporate setting and if that company if that said company, in this case Nike is rewarding you for the business you're doing, but you're not reaching empathy. Then I question whether or not Nike is, or that said company is going to be successful year in and year out If that makes sense, like your ideas. Need to have that empathy, they need to have that understanding of who they're trying to serve and, again, they don't have to be that person, they don't have to be curious enough to, but strong enough passion to find the empathy, to gain that empathy.

Speaker 2: 21:55

It seems like such a simple and basic idea to approach business with empathy, and I don't know how common it is. I don't know what you've seen, but I just I think I think with some people it is, but my experience has been that it's so easy to get just like spinning in your mind with the objective, and so it's like, okay, here's the objective, I'm going to go, I'm going to chase it, but to lose sight of, like putting yourself, like you said, back in that person's shoes. And when we do, of course we're going to, I would think, be a lot more successful because we're really solving the problems and connecting with them in a way that feels meaningful. Who?

Speaker 1: 22:37

doesn't want that. So I guess it's the it's the objective. Is your objective about transactions, about financial transactions, or is your objective about building a relationship? Is your objective about building a successful financial company based on revenue or is your objective about building a generational brand? Like that's, if you, if you listen to, like old interviews you know, or even like business, like executives of successful companies they typically will talk about. If it's a product company, they'll talk about the importance of the product and then it connects at an emotional level and I'll talk about the importance of their customers or their members or their subscribers or whoever that population is and how important that relationship is. So it's the product and it's the relationship you have with the people you're trying to serve. Period, end of story. It doesn't, you don't need, I mean, you need a market. You need a market to get the word out in that marketing. If you're, if you have a strong enough relationship with your population, then that marketing will speak emotionally to those people you're trying to reach. But yeah, at the very end of the day, it's down to that simplicity of the product and of the people and, and so the product and the people and the empathy is at the foundation, like those are. That's your formula.

Speaker 2: 24:15

It's a pretty special secret sauce formula, I feel like.

Speaker 1: 24:19

I mean it's. But to your point about making that happen and you can't do that, like I can't. If I'm creating a product for India, I can't do that sitting in my desk in Portland Oregon. I can learn a lot over the internet. The internet is a great tool. It's amazing. I can learn a lot now doing Zooms with people that live in India Amazing, like. But at the end of the day, I you got to go live. You got to eat, sleep, breathe and walk in the shoes of that population. I don't. I mean, they're many successful, long term standing brand and that's that's how they were built and that's how they continue to grow.

Speaker 2: 25:00

Yeah, that's so great. Yeah, getting in there with the people connecting in a real way. It seems to me. It feels like it's getting out of this idea of like, okay, I'm on the internet, I'm doing research, I'm very in my head, I'm conceptualizing what they need, but that's very different than getting in on the ground level with them.

Speaker 1: 25:20

And like you said, building a relationship?

Speaker 2: 25:22

Yeah, for the people that don't know, I feel like it might be. I don't know, I do. I don't want to put you on the pedestal, but I do want to say how, how where's this going? You're about to find it. I just think it's how we met. I think is fun. We were in the airport, we're sitting. You know I had a long layover, you had a long layover. I'm sure you were very tired getting back from India and we got. We got to chatting. I was with a friend of mine. She had a couple glasses of wine and oh my gosh, she's got a podcast and one of the things that you said you were speaking to this idea of empathy and business, and then also the importance of play and business, which is what keyed me into this would be really great to have this conversation with you. So, first of all, I just want to acknowledge that this is this is time out of a busy schedule for you, and I'm really grateful for you being willing to share your wisdom and experience, so that that's the pedestal that I appreciate. Um, secondly, I wanted to circle back to this what you meant by that, the importance of play.

Speaker 1: 26:28

That's kind of stuck with me and I and I don't don't think I had clarity on what you meant by that- Well, um, for me, play is at the, at the base of, you know, it's the beginning of, it's, the foundation of creativity. Creativity is at the foundation of innovation and innovation is, you know, is is what pushes you know, and the human race forward, um, and almost kind of like in a full circle. You know that that idea of empathy is, is, is at that foundation. Like you don't, when you, when, if you were asked, uh, people, like, when you're, when you're actually like the most uninhibited form of play with others, there is a level of empathy that you have with each other. In my belief, so, if you, if you look at how, if you get a bunch of kids together from all over the world, put them in, if you, if you're, if you're a flying bunch of kids from all over the world, and put them into a playground, um, and let's say they're six years old probably six, because I think any older they start things, start happening, but four to six years old, like, they only care about one thing like, what game are we going to play? Like, if, if, if I, you know, if, if I were to ask you like, hey, let's, let's go. You know, play basketball or something You're like. Well, I don't like basketball, I like to play with Barbies. Like, okay, that's cool, let's go play with Barbies. Like I don't, I don't think there's at a certain you know age, up to a certain age, there isn't, there isn't. You know there's some. You know kids lean one way or the other often, but play is play like that and you know, uninhibited play is just fun. The kids make up games and it's kind of a difference in in. Where I think the problem is an issue with with sports in America right now is that it's becoming more and more a pay to play model of sports and so, um, so there aren't that many kids anymore that play the games of sport. They compete in the sports, but in terms of just playing the game of basketball or soccer in an uninhibited way, making up their own rules as they go in the driveway or out on the street or in the park, there's not a whole lot of that left anymore, unfortunately. I think it's a big issue, and so to me that's again that, and also in our school system there's not a whole lot of just uninhibited play that happens on the playground or in the schools. I think that's also an issue and in the safety of our cities and the playgrounds. And you know, a lot of times if you go to a playground and that there's kids there, they're being accompanied by their parent pretty closely. Well, that means that they're only going there when their parents can take them. And you know, all of our lives continue to get, seem to get more and more busy and you know, single working single parents, two working parents. You know that the time is constrained and so, but when I grew up, you know you'd go to the park. You'd say to go to the school park, your local park, by yourself, with your friends, and go play. And so there's a lot of that, a lot more of that happening. So so that's that's to me why the importance, why play is such an important part of our life, because it is the beginning of creativity. Creativity is innovation and innovation leads to, you know that's a really helpful framework.

Speaker 2: 30:25

I'm curious to you I don't know how to ask the question, but do you like, do you practice play in your everyday life as a grown adult? Are there things that you're like hey, I'm feeling a little rigid, I need to go play, yeah.

Speaker 1: 30:41

I mean thank you for calling me on on that. I mean there's a lot of things that I, that I I often find myself preaching and and then struggling to practice, and so, you know, my form of play is getting to the gym and going for a run. I do have a hard time sitting. Still, I have a hard time like staying in the moment because I, you know, most of my life is at least my profession is out in the future, and so I do struggle with that. But I I'm trying to be more empathetic to myself, to be acknowledged that that's a problem I have and that I at least acknowledge it. Like you know, what's the first step, you know, is that you admit it, and so I know that that's a problem, that you know. But that idea of like being in the moment is, yeah, something I work, I work out and I know it.

Speaker 2: 31:46

You are not alone in that. I mean, yeah, you're not alone in that, and that's part of why I asked, because I it's part of what I've seen. I think. Just, I think we're all better off when we have that in our lives, for all of the reasons you just said, and I'm feeling that in the workplace that if we really want to unlock innovation, we have to build the muscle of imagination. And where does that come from? I mean, it's everything you just said and so so I've been working on and it is an effort. It takes effort to figure out, like, well, how do I play as an adult? What do I do? Playing piano, playing an instrument, doing some different creative things. That that's a muscle that if I exercise it here, I'm assuming it's going to Apply over here, but I don't know. I just don't think we put a lot of focus on it and we don't. I'm setting goals, also fitness goals, but am I setting, like, a play goal? No, I don't have it on my list this year, but I maybe should add it in.

Speaker 1: 32:45

That's super interesting. I love that Because it's so. One of the things I do for a workout is I go. I have three parks in my neighborhood. They're all spaced out. I do a circuit. So I start at my house, I run to one park, I do a circuit, go, run to another park, do a circuit, run to another park, do a circuit and come home. It takes. If I can get it done in under an hour, then I feel really good and it's about two and a three quarters miles or loop and their times are like I'm at their jungle gyms and I'm doing pull ups and doing all of them, you know, doing my thing and a body weight stuff, and sometimes there's, you know, there's kids that are playing there and their parents. During COVID was super interesting because I was still doing it and parents were getting out with their kids and I'm working out next to their kids and they're sitting on the park bench on their phone and I had a couple of times where they blew up at me saying hey, you know you shouldn't be here. This is, you know, this is for kids. And blah, blah, blah Don't hit the button like it's crowded says who like what.

Speaker 2: 33:46


Speaker 1: 33:47

I'm not like, I'm just a bigger kid, like I didn't, like that's part of the problem, like that's part of my in. Funny enough, I'm a flip side to. Some of the kids would be like, hey, what do you like? That's cool, what are you doing? And I'm like, I'm just playing like you are. And then they would try to emulate me, to try and pull ups and we kind of work out and I would ask their parents the friendlier ones you know, as we would get engaged in a conversation of like, at what point in our life does play turn into a workout?

Speaker 2: 34:22


Speaker 1: 34:24

Because if you just go to a jungle gym, if I go to a jungle gym, do pull ups and monkey bars and do all that stuff, like just emulate a kid. They work out, right, and there are like a parkour, there's parkour gyms, right, that you know. Are they playing in there? If you were to ask a parkour athlete in the gym are you playing or training, or working out? What are you doing? That'd be an interesting question that would be interesting the idea of play. That's why I said like that part of my play is going for a run. Somebody else might be like, well, that sounds miserable, that's not play to me, that's, and that's cool, Like I don't you know, do your? You know, whatever you're playing, and I'm also fortunate in that you know creation is play to me. So I, you know, kind of working, it sometimes is play for me.

Speaker 2: 35:20

So I was saying that to a colleague recently, or working on building some um, uh, some training and facilitation things out, and I said this is so fun. I feel like I'm in a sandbox and these are like I'm, I'm playing with ideas, or, you know, building a business to me feels like play, and I think a part of the reason it feels like that is because, um, because I'm focusing more on that in my life, you know. So that's starting to be a little bit of more of a filter of how I see things, which is really fun.

Speaker 1: 35:53

Yeah, well, that's again like, why, in this company in India that I'm working with, that's when we're trying to bring back is is again, at what point in our life do we all of a sudden become an adult and say, oh, that's, you know, that's for kids, like, stop playing, or stop messing around, stop playing around, get serious. Well, why, what? What's the beginning of the end? Right, I mean that's we should be enjoying, um, you know what we do and and balancing, you know if, look, and a lot of people aren't as lucky as as, as at least I know I am to have a job and that I feel like it's not necessarily work. I mean, sometimes it feels like work, but majority of the time I'm like, oh, like work sounds hard. My job when it's, you know, when I'm having the most enjoyment is is easy, it's fun. Um and so. So, yeah, I I uh that idea of bringing play into my life, and you know it's a little bit more gray, I think, but, um, but for others, you know, making sure you bring in some level of play, some level of enjoyment that balances out the, the hard of work that you have to do, like the, you know the work hard, play hard and um, you asked them about my kids. I I was sharing with this um person I was talking to the other day. I think, uh, for my kids they grew up in this neighborhood of play with high performing um parents and and uh, mentors of you know, friends of mine and parents of their friends, and I think, uh, now they're having a little bit of a struggle because a lot of their peers aren't from that kind of um that world, right, they're, yeah, they're, they expect things uh either of that generation, right, um right, so they're having a hard time kind of fitting in with with new peers that aren't part of their peers that they grew up with. Um, cause it's just a different um you know, a different lifestyle that they grew up with.

Speaker 2: 38:09

Sounds like they'll have to follow in your footsteps and break some molds.

Speaker 1: 38:13

Yeah, I like it yeah.

Speaker 2: 38:16

Yeah, okay, I snooped you on Instagram because I had you know, I had to like learn a little bit more about you, and I came across a post where you were talking about sponges, dominoes and butterflies. So would you speak a little bit to that and what that means?

Speaker 1: 38:33

Sure, uh, we also share. Um, so, my, my Instagram, I started I don't know eight months ago, no, six months ago, um, and it's it's just Aaronaccoubert or at Aaronaccoubert, and, uh, I just started it just to share stories and, um, you know, build an awareness, get, get a voice out there so I can, so I can get people to connect with people, that, um, that I might be able to help and and it's been quite amazing, um, and I've already made a lot more friends around the world that connecting with them and helping them and and and doing what I can, um, and part of that is, uh, the the sponges, dominoes and butterflies is something that it's like my, my hypothesis on life. Like I, I go around with hypotheses, uh, for work, for projects. You know I have a big one for um, for life. And if, if I got hit by the proverbial bus today and you could ask my kids, you know what three things did your dad believe in? They would tell you sponges, butterflies and dominoes and other there are some of their friends have heard that too and um, and so that's kind of my hypothesis, like if you were to boil everything down. That's kind of what I believe this life is all about so sponging, um, soaking up everything around you, uh, with all of the senses that you were given, and I've been blessed with all five Uh, so, and I tell people actually I use this when I people ask me hey, what was India like? I'm like, well, your five senses are redlining all the time, wow, and it's it. It for me, you know, in the life I live, I'm not it's exhausting, Like it is, it's pretty managed, um, all those you know having all of them, you know buzzing at that level. But while I was there, like, my job was to soak all that up, um, and to find that empathy it's so soaking all that up, uh, and then, and just in life in general, is, use all five year senses, soak up everything around you and then, equally important, you got to go and then squeeze it out for other people to learn from, so that you can then absorb new things. So if you just and that's why, if anybody asked me, oh, what was India like? Or I'll offer like oh, I just got back from India, I was the cool, like I bumped into strangers. Actually somebody at the airport, um, actually it was the, the currency exchange woman at the airport. I just asked her. I asked her a separate question and she's like, oh well, where did you just come in from? And I said, oh, I was in India and China and we just started talking and I shared everything I got India and she was like, wow, that was amazing, thank you so much. And so the more you can squeeze out and share with other people so that they can also learn and soak up from you, and then you can also then absorb more. So that's all about sponges. Then the dominoes is a part of that, where, you know, I have no idea what that conversation with that woman at the currency exchange will do for her or where she'll take that, but she may then take that and do something else with it. She may stay standing up another domino and those dominoes may eventually evolve and turn into something and knock something over and create something that we never thought imaginable and we may not even it may be, you know, off on a trail that I'll never know of in the future, but but I think it's important to always create positive momentum and just constantly trying to be a positive force in this world and try to stand up dominoes, whatever those are, and then the butterflies is just that I do believe. I don't. I try not to get hung up on the little things, but I do believe the little things matter. I'm pretty famous for saying that Nike that millimeters matter helped athletes believe. Like, if you believe in your sport and what in your endeavor, that the milliseconds matter, which most of them do in the fractions of percentages, then you should care about the millimeters of the footwear and apparel that you have on your body that you're trying to perform in. So to me, the millimeters matter. Small things do matter. Don't get hung up on them, but acknowledge that. You know, the scientists believe that. You know the butterflies that flap their wings in South America eventually, you know, create the weather patterns that we've had here in North America. And so all of that together, soaking things, all you know, up around you and then laying those dominoes down and creating a positive momentum. You know, don't tell people that it was a dumb idea, because they may not. They may keep them from setting up their own domino. And then you know, if you believe in those things, that eventually you do them in the right way and with the right people and you could eventually change the world. You can change. You know a butterfly can change the weather pattern. You and I, an individual, can change. You know the trajectory of the human race. So I mean it's all science, it's all fact, it's all.

Speaker 2: 43:59

Love that you're saying that, because when I say things like that because they're big, they're big ideas but they're small ideas To me everything you're saying to me feels like a version of Well, a piece of what I'm taking from it is how interconnected everything is. And to not downplay all of the things that we do from day to day, whether it's meeting you at the airport or the conversation I have with somebody at the grocery store who knows what, the effect of Perfect example, so soaking up.

Speaker 1: 44:34

So I'm at the airport. I hadn't slept for probably 48 hours, wondering where I was going to, how I was going to get home, because my flight was delayed. I saw a chair next to you guys. I didn't feel, I felt like I don't know, I just something that's kind of called to me about just sitting in that space. So I didn't push that aside, I kind of soaked that moment. I soaked that up and was aware of what was going on. So I sat down. Then we started creating momentum together, those dominoes. You asked me to do this. I said yes, who knows, someone in the future may listen to this and hear something that we talked about and that may change what they're doing in a positive way. We will never know the result of it. I believe that, and I believe it because it's happened to me too. But it's blessed to have people come back to me, and now it's happening over Instagram, amazingly, just from the footwear that I've designed, that Nike created, that has gotten out there and has literally changed people's lives A shoe, because of what it meant to them and how it entered their life. I'm not going to tell stories for days, but those are the things I believe in.

Speaker 2: 45:59

Maybe a next tattoo idea for you.

Speaker 1: 46:03

Do? I am working on.

Speaker 2: 46:04

Do you want to get a sponge tattoo?

Speaker 1: 46:06

No, Because another thing that my consultancy that I have, that I started and I left Nike, is called Moonshot Molecules and so it's kind of the idea of the connecting a moonshot with a big idea, changing the world, type of idea like the butterfly effect of what can happen and the molecular structure of the behavioral things that are happening today, like soaking up the little things, and then it's the dominoes between those behaviors to the moonshot and it's having the ability to have one eye in a telescope and one eye in a microscope and to be able to connect those two things together and see them very clearly. That's always been my objective, is in what I create and with the clients that I have and the work that I do. So the moonshot and the molecules and the sponges, dominoes and butterflies kind of fit in between that and the person I am is this idea of kind of a square peg and round hole, so it all kind of fits together, at least in my mind.

Speaker 2: 47:27

Is the moonshot molecule? Is that your new Mount Everest, your new North Star, or what's your Mount Everest right now?

Speaker 1: 47:37

Another question. My Mount Everest right now is to get to a place in life, financially, where I'm able to work on the projects that I believe have the most value and afford me the ability to travel the world and continue to build empathy with the people on the planet and with my three kids, have them live in different places wherever they want to be, and be able to spend time with them at any given moment and just enjoy the life that I'm living and the planet that I'm living on, in a constant, continual pursuit to help make both better the people on the planet.

Speaker 2: 48:28

Pretty noble yeah it's fun. I mean, they're both the same thing.

Speaker 1: 48:37

And I just like again, I don't. If I just want to be happy in that pursuit and believe that it's making a difference and if, at the end of the day, I can, if it can be built up into something that's at some level of a legacy to leave behind, great, and I think the importance is that you do it. I don't. That's. My hope is that I'm making this world a better place. I don't like it. I just don't. I've read books, I've heard stories, I've heard from people. When people have a near-death experience and they wake up and they realize that life is bigger than themselves, there's a human truth. I believe that everybody wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Unfortunately, some people don't realize that until they're on their deathbed. Yeah, some people are fortunate enough to have that happen to them and then have a life to live thereafter. But I think it's a little bit of a blessing and a curse to be as young as I am, to have had parents that instilled that in me and to have a life that has further strengthened that in me, because that's now the pursuit that I'm on. But you say it's noble, but I'm trying and it is. Sometimes you can let it get a little bit too big, I think Sure, sure, both negatively for you and then also negatively for others. I can get on pedestals, I can get on soapboxes. I can get a little overwhelming for people. That's something else I've tried to acknowledge about myself and be careful of. But that's also where I enjoy it. That's why I'm on this. I enjoy these types of. I'm the type of person at the party that, if I can find the one person that we can sit in the corner and have deep conversation about something. That's kind of what I get. That's why I enjoy it. That is a party for me. I like to do that.

Speaker 2: 50:49

Yeah, yeah, I mean I think the part of it when you're talking about like I want to make an impact, when that's coupled with the way that you're doing it is something you love, it's fun, you enjoy it, it's not just like, well, I'm just going to try to make the most positive impact, even if I hate what I'm doing, and that's the dream to me is to live a life that. That's what I'm working on doing right now and I guess it's like man, this doesn't feel like work at all. I love this and I hope that it is a catalyst, that it propels people, that it helps change people, that it. But I'm not doing it because I feel like I should. I'm doing it because I want to and that's yeah. Yeah, I think that's similar to what you're saying.

Speaker 1: 51:32


Speaker 2: 51:33

We're close to end of time. I have one more question for you.

Speaker 1: 51:36


Speaker 2: 51:36

I think I have one more question for you. If you, if your 20-year-old self, was standing here right now, what would you say to him, knowing what you know now?

Speaker 1: 51:51

enjoy the ride, like I've been so 20 years. I'm 53 now, so 33 years like, yeah, just enjoy the next 33 years because they're going to be amazing. I mean, I've had struggles for sure, yeah, but I think that continues to be. My 53 year old self tells me all the time to enjoy the moments, to be in the moment, and so if I could have learned that back when I was 20, so I'd be better at it today, I think that would be what I want, because I'm still not very good at it. Yeah, it's a practice, my logo, what I sign, because my AC I would do like an at sign and I've just evolved it so that the A is a square and the C is obviously a circle. But it's always been this kind of meaningful to me because it helps me remember like be in the moment, be at, be where you are at in this moment, and so this square peg and round hole, be happy with who you are. Don't try to change, you know, like that's also like what I want to share for others too is like I think we're all kind of square pegs and round holes. Some people have, you know that, molded themselves to fit into where they want to be, which is great For them. I'm trying to constantly, like I said, my mom said I have an issue, you know, because I am a square peg and but I'm just I'm trying to become more comfortable with that and happy about it because I still fit in the world that I live in. You know, square pegs do fit in round holes. They just kind of fit awkwardly. So trying to be comfortable with that and I think helping other people, you know be the same, like I've scored pegs and octagon pegs and star shaped pegs and round holes, like there's nothing wrong.

Speaker 2: 54:02

I feel like that's how the butterfly effect works. It's so cliche to say like just be as authentically used you can be, and I think that's that's the design. I believe that that if we all could tune into that as much as humanly possible, everything would flourish, because we need you the way you're designed to be.

Speaker 1: 54:24

This is, and this is where I have the biggest problem with where our society in the US is right now, and we can finish the podcast on this, because I will say a very merry Christmas to you and happy holidays. And if you say, well, I don't celebrate Christmas, I'm Jewish, I celebrate Hanukkah, then I will say that's amazing and awesome. Have an amazing Hanukkah. Next call we have, next time we talk. I'd love to learn more about. I don't know that much about you know, I know some, but I'd love to hear more from you, Like whatever happened to that relationship and that ability to have a conversation, because today, in most at least corporate environments, they can't. You aren't. Even you will get pulled into HR if you say Merry Christmas because you could have acquainted somebody in the room, instead of that person saying, hey, I don't celebrate Christmas, oh, that's cool, what do you celebrate? And then you again back to the full circle of where this conversation started from, building that empathy and all that you know, like that's cool, let's play some, you know, let's tell me more about your. You know your celebrations and how you, you know, celebrate, and I'll tell you more about mine. And you share some with me, I'll share some with you, and that sounds like a lot of fun to me. And diversity, by the way, is what also drives innovation. So we're never going to be diverse, we're never going to be empathetic, we're never going to get to where we want to go as a human race if we don't have these conversations. So that's, yeah, that's where I, that's where I want to get to and that's why you know that's huge.

Speaker 2: 56:06

That's huge, thank you. Thank you for being an example of that and creating space for these conversations, not just here today, but in the work that you're doing and in the people you bump into it sounds like everywhere you go. I think it's a. It's a really powerful example of something that we can all pretty easily, I think, pull into our own daily practices.

Speaker 1: 56:31

So yeah, I would say it's easy to to acknowledge. Not easy to practice every day, but again like at least acknowledging and understanding that you know we can all be better and get on a pursuit for betterment. Yeah that's all. Just as long as you, as long as we all stay on that pursuit. It's the same thing like with working out, like, if you want to, if you want to get more fit, if you want to lose weight, if you want to, if you want to gain more knowledge, you got to read the books. You got to, you know, soak up the information. You got to do the work in the gym. But life gets in the way so you might not get to the gym today, and that's okay. Get to the gym tomorrow. Or, instead of getting the gym today, go for a walk with your dog or go for a walk with your family or do something to stay on that pursuit. The problem is, when we fall off the tracks and then come up with excuses of, or we get into rutts, we don't have the ability, we don't have people around us to help get us back onto that path, that pursuit that we're on. So that's another. I'll just sorry to keep you on my. That's another one.

Speaker 2: 57:47

Hey, I welcome everything you would like to share.

Speaker 1: 57:51

The idea of birds of a feather flock together. I think it's really important. I've heard this and I've seen this. Surround yourself with the people you want to be like. So and that it's really difficult. I can't even imagine that some of the lives that I've encountered and the people that they're they feel stuck with is, if you don't, if you don't, if you're having trouble with the person you are and the person you want to be. I mean, look around you, are you surrounded by the people that you want to emulate? If you're not, that's it, you gotta. But I'm saying like that I can't even imagine. I mean, there's people that are in some pretty awful situations that really difficult to get out of, but that's a big birds of a feather flock together.

Speaker 2: 58:44

So it's important, it's not easy, but I think I personally think that's one of the things that can be one of the biggest factors in cultivating the life you want to live. And as soon as you start to take aligned action, with those relationships lining up whether it's work or personal things can shift pretty quickly, I think. And that's so not easy. It's not easy.

Speaker 1: 59:14

No, and I hope that we can all work together to, like I said, for betterment, so that if you're in a situation with people that aren't great, you can at least first try to help make them better before leaving that situation. But yeah. Anything else? Is there anything?

Speaker 2: 59:39

else you want to say Erin.

Speaker 1: 59:43

Get me going. Yeah, yeah, I gotta be careful. I'll step down.

Speaker 2: 59:48

I'm just going to say are you on the pulpit? Are you on a pulpit right now? Yeah, I didn't feel like it to me I said and I referenced that back because your father, my dad, was actually a preacher too and I worked in a church and church music for 10 years. So yeah, yeah, thank you. Thank you again for your time. It really feels serendipitous and special to have had this conversation today. I really appreciate it.

Speaker 1: 1:00:15

Yeah, it was great meeting you at the airport. And yeah, stay in touch. You know where you can find me.

Speaker 2: 1:00:22

Sounds good. We'll share all of your contact information in the show notes as well, and let people know how they can get ahold of you too. So thank you, erin.

Speaker 1: 1:00:30

Marcen, thank you.

Speaker 2: 1:00:33

Hey you, yes you. Thank you for tuning in today. I hope this episode is supporting you on your path to becoming the strongest, shiniest version of you. My goal and hope is to continue helping people through this podcast, so if you've enjoyed this episode or taken anything that's helped you out, the best thank you would be to join me in moving this forward by doing two simple things. If you haven't already, following the podcast is very helpful. Also, apparently, the algorithms really like reviews. If you can take a minute to leave a review, artificial intelligence would love it and I would be so grateful. Feel free, of course, to share an episode with someone who you think may need to hear what you heard today. Thanks again, everyone. I genuinely appreciate you and I'm so thankful to be building a community like this together here. I'll catch you later. In the meantime, have a banging day.

Aaron's Background
Your Northstar and Mount Everest
Empathy with Serena Williams + Millions More
Serving People vs. Wall Street
Cultivating Empathy in Business
The Objective is People + Product
The Value of Play and Creativity in Business
Sports in America: Play vs. Competition
Sponges, Dominoes, and Butterflies Hypothesis
Pursuing a Greater Purpose
Advice to His Younger Self
The Importance of Diversity
Surround Yourself With Great People