Follow Your Arrow

by Aaron Silvers. Average Reading Time: about 5 minutes.

Sometimes I find myself listening to country because NPR tells me to. Sometimes I up and move across the country for a new job because my spirit animal tells me to. It’s happened before. Most times my spirit animal sounds like Pantera’s “Walk.” Occasionally it sounds like Digital Underground’s “Doowutchyalike.” This year it sounded like Kacey Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow.” My spirit animal is super eclectic.

I’m leaving ADL and Problem Solutions. Experience API shipped. The community is going strong. The market for “Tin Can” is growing. The last five years’ work may be the highlight of my career accomplishments…. and still… it’s not my life, it’s not the only thing I’m ever going to do, and it’s not the only thing I want to be known for. The API was a napkin sketch at a bar made real: with a great team and an amazing community joining in, we did the impossible, tilting the future of learning and performance in ways that can never be undone.

The teams at both ADL and Problem Solutions and I are all good. There’s no drama. I will continue to drink with those guys, coffees and/or beers, whenever we have the chance. It’s just time for me to do something different, like kicking asses without taking names.

Why do my vision quests always have to be something big?

Look, nothing I take on is smaller than the last thing. I need the satisfaction that the world is a little better and people are more engaged and enlightened contributors to it. I need to feel like what I do helps make that happen. My zen is in the thick of challenging the status quo by creating something amazing for a group that’s bigger than the group I’m hanging with. Maybe it’s my experience as a Boy Scout in my formative years but I believe in making things better, together. I am passionate about defying assumptions. When I recognize something that needs to be, nothing motivates me as much as being told I can’t do something, I’m not allowed to do something or that some vision is impossible. It’s why I breathe. It’s why my heart beats. I thrive on that shit.

A good friend of mine told me back when we started Up to All of Us that my enthusiasm can be intimidating. I now know it’s one of the signs that I’m in my zone. When I don’t have that enthusiasm, energy or drive, I’m lost.

This is how I know it’s time for something new. As DeNiro noted in Ronin, “I never walk into a place I don’t know how to walk out of.” The biggest failure of SCORM was that of leadership — there was no plan for succession. People stayed too long in their roles and didn’t really create a space for new energy and new ideas to take the work and adapt it for how things might change.

There are others who need to lead the expansion of Experience API. I wasn’t meant to stay “hosted” by ADL, and neither is Experience API. We are all meant to go beyond the cocoon. My part was to see it put in the world, because the learning, education and training professions needed it — if not the technology, then the discussions about how to grapple with complexity, data, analytics and a complete rethinking about why we’re a profession, how we help people to grow and what it is we do about it.

I’ve had some extraordinary, painful, beautiful and hard living in the last couple of years: some you’ve heard about and a lot you won’t. I’m more sure of myself, more sure that I don’t know everything (and sometimes — anything). I’m slightly more reserved, more strategic, more effective and, most importantly, I have people. It took extra sets of strong hands, open minds and warm hearts to move all the rocks, heavy and small, both in my work and in my life outside of work. Together, we made a lot of things better. I’ve worked with brilliant, incredible people and I know I’ll be lifelong friends with many. I don’t know that I’ve grown up, but I grown.

What’s next?

I’ll be helping my friends at Funny Garbage because I believe I can make a real difference in what the group does next, so I’m going to help grow the business through program development, social strategy and community building. They help lots of organizations and nonprofits with a variety of interactive needs. I get a little nervous that I might fail. I need this. I couldn’t be more excited about the people I’m working with and the trouble we will stir up together.

I’m going to spend the bulk of my time in New York with my partner-in-crime, Megan, and together we’ll stir shit up through MakingBetter.us, which builds on the trouble we’ve started with Up to All of Us. We’ll help the people and causes we care about and do what it takes to grow the ideas we want to champion. We’ll blog to give voice to the people, causes and issues we care about; the impacts we want to make with others. We’ll talk about what we’re doing to make things better.

I might help transition Tin Can to standardization and help adoption grow, change things as needed and build on. Many people are invested now because I asked them to get involved, so my only enduring investment in the community is that it works for people I admire and helps organizations free themselves of yesterday’s assumptions about what learning and work should look like — because Megan & I want to help people do good things and shoot down shit ideas.

We want to keep the vision for the API bigger than “learning.” I’m looking forward to being more vocally open and candid about what we can be doing better.

My biggest takeaway is that what I care most about is what we do to help people become better neighbors and better citizens, and how we can help organizations to meet the complex challenges in front of them by enabling people to be more curious, more autonomous and care about something greater than themselves.

My new job, these new challenges and opportunities, deeper relationships, more conviction and courage, more love and laughter, connecting the divides between autonomy and assembly, multiple levels of action with different rates of progress and the only constant is where I’m headed: forward.

Respect. Walk. Go where you like. Follow your arrow wherever it points.


  • Kelly Smith

    Congratulations Aaron. Looking forward to hearing about your new adventures. I have appreciated your past comments and also meeting you at Dallas ASTD.

    • Kelly, I enjoyed meeting you (finally) in Dallas. I will definitely still be around and hope to hang with you again, and thanks so much for the very kind words.

  • B.J. Schone

    Go forth and kick some ass. Good luck to you, sir!

  • Sam Rosen

    Mazel Tov, Homes.

  • Sean Putman

    Congratulations, good luck, and go kick a bunch of asses! I can’t begin to articulate how much you have inspired me over the last couple of years. I am honored to call you a friend and can’t wait to hear about your future mayhem. 🙂

    • You know, inspiration goes both ways, Sean. Watching as you and others really emerge as the leaders this field needs and to have a very small part in your story really charges me up, brother. March, if not before then.

  • Best of luck, brother!

  • Your arrow leads you to New York. Good luck my friend and congrats!

  • David Glow

    Aaron- it is clear to anyone who has interacted with you that your arrow points in one direction: UP. New heights. Best of luck and take care, always.

  • Chad Udell

    Best of luck to you, my man… Always and anywhere you go.

  • Neil Lasher

    When it’ s time, it’s time. Follow your heart, do good stuff, whatever that may be. Look after you, be happy, stay in the direction of your arrow.

    We have not spoken it feels for ages, I hope our new arrows cross soon. X

  • Thrilled to read this announcement. Can’t wait to see what you do and where you go from here. Cheers, brother.

  • Justin Brusino

    Congrats! Looking forward to what’s next for you. Also, thank you for reminding me of the infinite quotability of Ronin.

  • Rachel Kaberon

    Aaron, this post is bittersweet but excited you are onto new adventures and taking that steamrolling energy into new corners. hope we can mash up some ideas again locally when you are local. Lchaim to ya.

  • Becca Wilson

    So excited for you! And for Megan! And for me because I get to hang out with both of you and soak up your awesomeness. Cheers to a 2014 with glasses not half full, but overflowing with possibilities…

  • Janet Laane Effron

    Congratulation, Aaron! Exciting news – looking forward to seeing where your new adventures lead you (and where you lead them).
    (not sure how I missed this earlier – congratulations are very heartfelt, even if somewhat belated).

  • alfalah_i

    good article