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Finding Flow and Freedom in a World That Has Gone M.A.D.

Evolution can not be stopped but can be shaped, and the question is: Are we collectively acting to shape it, or are we playing the role of a mere spectator?

Ann Boothello Eric Patel
Ann Boothello / Eric Patel

Let’s Go M.A.D.!

Never has there been a more potent time in history for the need for massive transformation. We are being yanked out of our comfort zones and challenged in many areas of our life. Whether we acknowledge the mess we have collectively or individually made, the problems are here looking us straight in the face and asking, 'What are you going to do about it?' The UN Sustainable Development Goals mapped out 17 goals we need to globally focus on as a "blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all."

We have seen and heard all kinds of polarized narratives on the state of our planet and society over the last three years. The time to build anew is far overdue, from COVID making us reassess our values, to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) that didn't do justice to the millions of people actually affected by floods, caught in wildfires, drought, and heatwaves. From Black Lives Matter heating up the conversation on justice to the EXPO 2020, painting an inclusive cultural narrative in Dubai. From the great resignation and a hunger for freedom, being valued at work and the ability to create meaningful work. From the Ukraine-Russia war to long-standing war zone outbreaks (yet again) in Palestine and Israel that were uncovered due to media spotlight deflections, to events that have spun off from that on how capital control measures can be activated, leaving civilians stranded with no liquidity. From the gold rush and the global currencies pegged to the dollar to the crypto revolution and decentralized governance. From the Wright brothers inventing flight to space tourism. You get the drift.

Building new models for humanity is what we are wired for, especially when our survival is threatened.

We now find that cultural, environmental, and socio-economic narratives that we let be, are being challenged as more people are being directly impacted by the consequences of inaction by those in power. Systems that once served us well are now ripe for disruption, that is if they are not already being disrupted. The more proactive approach would be to transform the old into what we want to be a part of.

Evolution can not be stopped but can be shaped, and the question is: Are we collectively acting to shape it, or are we playing the role of a mere spectator?

No matter how much we dislike or try to resist it, change is one of the few consistent inevitabilities of living. 'Change is the only constant' is a cliche that is becoming rather boring to listen to. The quickening of shifts in our economic models, ways of working, need to pay attention to our environment and well-being is no longer allowing us to play a deaf ear. The sad truth is that until something affects our lives directly, most won't care. However, as we've seen throughout history it is the visionaries who see a problem that needs solving, gather together to willingly and courageously drive positive change, causing others to take notice and join the ride. These visionaries do so either because they are fed up of the way things are or because they are imaginative and curiously exploring what may come out of it. Either way, momentum is gained when people decide to challenge the status quo by presenting a solution to the problem at hand or stumbling upon ideas we didn't even know we would love, like carrying millions of songs on a single device wherever you go. Yes, the iPod. Who would have thought the concept of music on demand would be the norm today?

They take intentional action to make a difference rather than complain, seek attention and inflict pain. Unfortunately, they are often considered mad at first for even bothering to try until they gain accolades, after which adoption of a new tried-and-tested path is inevitable.

Being considered mad can’t be all that bad! Here’s why.

The definition of mad is usually someone labeled as crazy or overzealous about someone or something. Let’s tackle the first part of the definition. The crazy ones often see the world differently through a lens of imagination. They are often associated with rebels and truth-seekers who aren't afraid to challenge or defy the norm, traditions, or the status quo or speak of ideas that are initially laughed at. Being called "crazy" in a society where we, by and large, praise the mainstream conformists is a hard label to live with initially. Yet the controversial ones were always the ones who showed the rest of us what was possible. From Yoga Nanda to Steve Jobs, Gandhi to Nelson Mandela, Cleopatra to Ada Lovelace, who wrote the world's first computer program in the 1840s. It's always impossible until someone makes it possible. This kind of revolutionary leadership and entrepreneurship ushered in great shifts for humanity to evolve into better ways of living.

The second part of the definition is "overzealous about someone or something" and describes the kind of energy we need to embody and bring to everything that we do: enthusiasm and drive. To have sustained enthusiasm and drive, one needs compassion, empathy, consistent reflection, ongoing healing, and deep self-awareness. We are collectively at a point in history where perhaps going a little mad may not be as bad as we think if it is aligned to our inner calling, our purpose, and can serve the greater good.

Well then…are you going to let yourself go a little mad?

As we live in a time with so much uncertainty, this reveals an opportunity to reevaluate our lives and discover what truly matters to us. Chaos, if observed, can be the very medicine we need to fuel action that drives massive transformation. Individually we have an opportunity to choose the kind of mad we can get. On the one hand, it can be the type that is drowned in despair, waiting for a savior to rescue us, or it can be the type that is gleaming with hope, in gratitude for the miracle of life, determined to heal and repair what is needed within so that we can show up in the world better.

Here is the kind of energetic M.A.D. that we are not only starting to see in the world but the kind we need to encourage and support:

  • Meaning-oriented: where you ask yourself, ‘Why? What’s my intention?’ before taking action and then fiercely following through
  • Altruistic-focused: where you think and act with a desire to serve humanity, our planet, and beyond
  • Design-thinking empathy: when you problem-solve using empathy, not ego, to create solutions and direct your actions


This is the purpose-driven era. The rise of entrepreneurs, the great resignation, and several studies on GenZ & the Millennials show that work needs meaning or creativity, productivity, and a sense of belonging dwindles. Ikigai is a tool that can serve greatly here. The Japanese philosophy of Ikigai dates back to the Heian period between 794 to 1185 AD and is based on a belief that if one lives according to these four aspects of life, they will live longer, more fulfilling lives. Ikigai translates to “the reason for being”.

Ikigai takes into account four vital questions:

  • What are you good at?
  • What do you love?
  • What do you feel the world needs?
  • What can you be paid for?

Your Ikigai lies in your ability to fulfill these aspects in your life.

Your reason for being.

Source: Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life.

Book by Francesc Miralles and Hector Garcia


Altruism is defined as unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others. ‘We' versus 'I.' This can be seen in individuals who love each other. Evidence of this seen in the corporate world is servant-leadership, where the leader puts their employees first and treats them as co-creators. This can also be witnessed with some elected officials and government bodies who truly serve their constituents—leading from behind as it is sometimes called.

This welfare of service to humanity can even extend beyond humans, to the planet, and beyond to the galaxy. Holistic thinking reminds us that we are not alone and the planet is a living, breathing entity that we must care for.

We are all individually impacted by the changes on our planet and the flaws in our systems. Now more than ever, we can't shift the needle alone. It is time for collaboration so we can take on a sense of shared responsibility to clean up the mess that we created and choose to stay unblinded moving forward.

Design-Thinking Empathy

This nonlinear process describes taking action stemming from empathetic problem-solving and compassion for oneself and others. Be it an artist or an entrepreneur, a mom or a child, a CEO or a farmer, how can we consistently make progress on our learning journey on earth while extending compassion for ourselves and others at all times? How can the action we take benefit our immediate circle of influence and the greater good?

The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford describes design thinking as a five-stage process. The first stage, Emphasize, is when you research a people's needs through the lens of empathetic problem understanding. Empathy is so important up-front because in trying to understand and gain insights into people's lives and their needs, you set aside your assumptions and how you see the world. You try to see the world not from your perspective but from others. Having a compassionate eye helps to empathize with people. By empathizing, you will help define the problem and arrive at the next stage of the process: Define. Followed by ideating a solution through the eyes of the people you want to impact, then prototyping it and testing it to see if it helps solve the problem you initially discovered. This need not be a business idea. This could be the process one approaches when creating solutions to strengthen a relationship with their child, spouse, friend, or partner. Start with empathy. The rest is likely to follow well, as you find solutions nurtured with love for the other.

One way to augment your empathy skills is to adopt a beginner’s mindset to be able to view and analyze situations with people objectively. Some techniques that will help with that include:

  • Observe the situation. Don’t judge.
  • Ask questions. If you’re not genuinely curious to solve the problem, don’t bother asking questions.
  • Actively listen.
  • Share similar stories to relate to the other where relevant.
  • Study archetypes to be able to gauge how different archetypes may feel about the same thing

When you are conscious of people's realities and are passionate about helping people solve their real-world problems, the world benefits. From the precious insights, you may discover what can be integrated into healing relationships, starting new and more wholesome ones, and creating new systems, products, and services that people will benefit from and love. This ultimately contributes to valuable and meaningful contributions towards improving experiences and making the world a better place.

We encourage a little "M.A.D."-ness so you can live authentically and in service of your fellow brothers and sisters. As you do this, remember that self-love and self-compassion are what will keep your engine going, if you want in, for the long haul. Our health and wellness are important priorities for us so that we may, as a collective, continue not just to survive but thrive in our ever-changing, post-pandemic world. We will not be able to live a well-rounded life if we don't learn to 'put our oxygen mask on first.' As we allow ourselves to intentionally go M.A.D. - finding meaning, serving, and practicing empathy and compassion in the community, many of us may find ourselves overwhelmed and despite finding meaning can run down the path of a 'fulfilling' burnout.

How then, might we keep ourselves sane? How do we stay centered and at peace amidst the responsibilities and self-expectations of wanting to make a difference? We'll explore the answers to these questions in the next part of our series.

About the Authors

Ann Boothello and Eric Patel (along with Kevin Allen from OpenExO) are leading the community-wide Exponential Individual (ExI) project making self-awareness, human optimization, and personal excellence the norm. Ann is an impact-for-good entrepreneur and philanthropist with a focus on art, technology, purpose, well-being, and regenerative communities. Eric is a 4x startup company founder helping the ExO Economy bring the EXOS token to market and OpenExO's Transform DAO to life. Ann and Eric also serve as consultants, coaches, and ambassadors driven to impact positive change, one individual at a time.

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Ann Boothello Twitter

Ann is an impact-for-good entrepreneur & philanthropist with a focus on art, technology, purpose, well-being, & regenerative communities. She is co-leading the Exponential Individual (ExI) project.

Eric Patel Twitter

Eric Patel is co-leading the Exponential Individual (ExI) project, making self-awareness, human optimization, and personal excellence the norm. He helps others thrive through continuous innovation.