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In Life

By Daniel Kao

Summing the Parts Doesn’t Always Make a Whole

On 01, Sep 2014 | No Comments | In Life | By Daniel Kao

When looking at an outcome and trying to replicate it, I often try to break it down by analyzing the things that contributed to it’s success. It makes logical sense that if I can break down everything that happens, I can figure out the reasons that things happened the way that they did.

People do this all the time. Books are written, talks are given, and curricula are organized all with the intent of formulating a step by step process to achieve a certain goal.

But it’s rarely that simple. As The Black Swan argues, “no evidence of black swans does not mean evidence of no black swans.”

In my experience, I find that even when I follow all the rules, and do everything that I theorized based off what I learned from other people, that the outcome is rarely the same outcome as someone else. Human life is so complicated that taking a specific habit or routine directly out of someone else’s life will work when applied to yours.

For instance, consider the area of health and nutrition. In my recent study of nutrition (reading In Defense of Food), it was brought to my attention that the results of eating natural, organic vegetables is completely different and much more positive than eating the exact nutrients known to mankind within the vegetables. In other words, having a healthy diet is much more than simply counting the nutrients in the foods, even though much of nutrition-ism claims equivalence.

The truth is, most things are so utterly complex, circumstantial and unpredictable that simply trying to sum parts together will leave gaping holes and blind spots that are impossible to be aware of.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that people should stop learning as much as possible from as many people as possible. The value in sharing experiences and learning from people isn’t in applying things verbatim, but having a wider range of perspectives in how to approach your own endeavors.

On one end of the spectrum, having too much information can be paralyzing and overwhelming, but with the right attitude and framework for learning, a vast wealth of information can be used to create a breadth of understanding that allows a person to be well rounded and wise in all areas, being open to the vast ranges of possibilities of things to come without the expectation of a single outcome.

Summing the parts you know doesn’t always result in the outcome you want, but it’s better than nothing.

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The Mindset of a Quick Learner

On 21, Nov 2013 | No Comments | In Education | By Daniel Kao

A lot of my friends recognize me as a quick learner, seeming to imply that I’m just lucky, as if I was born with an inherent ability to learn.

I disagree.

I wasn’t born a child prodigy. I didn’t have five thousand digits of pi coming out of my mouth at the age of three, and nor was I exceptionally gifted at anything. In fact, I was the last person in my kindergarten class to learn how to read.

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This is a kindergarten progress report that my teacher wrote. It talks about how I have been unable to recognize my e’s. (Ironically I got the same comment about being unable to recognize my e’s in the next report too)

And even though I wasn’t always a fast learner, I had a curiosity that got me into a lot of trouble, both good and bad. My curiosity led me to explore airplanes, ask horrible questions, and completely annoy everyone who was within earshot.

It wasn’t a inherent ability to learn and retain information that got me to where I am today, but my undying curiosity.

There’s a huge difference between learning that driven by performance and learning that is driven by curiosity. Learning that is driven by performance will always value the results over the process, and only learn enough to get by. Learning that is driven by curiosity has no set goal in mind, because it seeks to learn with an open mind. Learning that is driven by curiosity will link new things together, causing a much more complete and holistic picture of the world.

That way, when new information is processed, someone with a more connected, intuitive sense will be able to make connections and learn things much faster than the person that is simply trying to memorize facts.

Be curious.

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How to Educate Students

On 08, Jul 2013 | No Comments | In Education | By Daniel Kao

I started blogging in the winter of 2012, mainly sharing thoughts that were on my mind about things that were relevant to the things in my life. As time went by, a thread of learning and education came up repeatedly in my posts.

Learning and education became a significant theme for me because I began noticing the deep flaws that exist inside the current education system.

As Sir Ken Robinson and many others have begun to pick up on, a very significant problem in the education system is that it is very much a factory model, importing and exporting students on a specific schedule in a specific mold. The factory model of education has not only restricted the creativity of students, but has caused the industry to refer to people as “Harvard grads” like they would an automobile brand.

But as a result of the factory model of education is the lack of emotional support for students. By default, the factory model does not allow space for students to connect to teachers on a real and human level. Occasionally students will meet a teacher that believes in them more than they believe in themselves and completely changes the student’s life, but those are few and far in between.

When a teacher plays a role deeper than simply presenting information, students are able to connect with the teacher and learn on a deeper, more powerful level. When a teacher connects with students, they help students to excel further than they themselves have, and that’s when our industries will really begin to advance.

To connect with a student looks different in different situations, but the main premise is that connecting with students means that students and teachers can see each other as human beings, and can be friends.

In high school, I had a teacher who shared her gchat with the class, and allowed us to chat with her outside of class about almost anything. As the year went on, suddenly I felt a connection to that teacher that I have never before experienced with any other teacher. It helped me to learn in her history class a lot more effectively.

Standardized testing is a very incomplete way of measuring a person’s capabilities, but the reason runs deeper than the fact that standardized testing puts students in boxes. Standardized testing ignores people as individuals, ignoring each person’s story, process, and progress.

The current system teaches students that their story doesn’t matter, who they are is irrelevant, and that the best thing to do is to be quiet and follow directions. But if we are really to raise a generation that will change the world in a positive way, we must teach students to take initiative, to lead, and to be powerful individuals.

When schools begin valuing students for their stories, experiences, and thoughts, we do more than put information in their heads; we put purpose in their lives.

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Deliberately Reading Less – The Information Diet

On 29, May 2013 | One Comment | In Productivity | By Daniel Kao

Connection today is more powerful than it has ever been before.

On a daily basis, thousands of tweets fill my stream, hundreds of posts fill my feed, countless emails fill my inbox, new TED talks are uploaded, and all my favorite blogs have new updates. While the access to and amount of information is incredible, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with it all.

But the reality is that you don’t have to be up to date with everything that is happening in order to make a dent in the world. Being well informed has little correlation with the impact they have.

It’s tempting to want to follow every single blog and news source in the world to see what other people are up to. It feels good to know what has been done and what has not. But the truth is, it’s easier to listen to something than it is to do something.

The effectiveness of the content that is consumed depends not only on the content itself, but the space and context that it is consumed. Reading a news article without actually doing anything about it makes the news merely informative entertainment.

In designer’s terms, negative space refers to the space around and between the subject of an image or design element. It’s often the white or blank space that subtly adds meaning and significance to the positive space, or the subjects in focus.

When it comes to acquiring new information, the negative space between information that you consume matters just as much as the information you consume. The negative space is what allows you to process and synthesize your own thoughts about the content you are taking in.

There’s nothing wrong with reading every single business book in the world. There’s nothing wrong with keeping yourself updated with every blog post someone puts out. But there comes a point where you can no longer be merely a consumer.

Take time after reading an article or book and ask yourself what it actually means to you. Let the new ideas spin gears in your head and inspire you to actually do something. It helps to regularly block out input from information sources, and organize your own thoughts in the negative space.

photo credit: See-ming Lee 李思明 SML via photopin cc

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Consuming and Producing

On 27, Aug 2012 | One Comment | In Productivity | By Daniel Kao

People consume too much.

and produce too little.

In theory, the more you consume, the more you should be able to produce. But in practice, since most of what we consume is highly superfluous, it hinders our ability to produce.

Information is valuable, but only when it is applicable.

You’d probably be surprised how liberating an information diet is.

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