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In Life

By Daniel Kao

Connection Changes Everything

On 24, Jul 2014 | No Comments | In Life | By Daniel Kao

Everything in life whether it be business or family or otherwise, all boils down to interactions and relationships with people.

Everyone knows the story of Rosa Parks, A black woman who refused to give up her seat on the bus during the era of racial segregation. But the reason Parks was able to spark such a movement was not because of her brave act. Many blacks during that time were also standing up for themselves when whites mistreated them.

But why was Rosa Parks so successful?

Simply put, Rosa Parks was extremely well connected. She was known by government officials for her work in the NAACP and known by communities for being extremely supportive in schools and churches. She had a way of building rapport with everyone around her.

Then, when the famous event happened on the bus on that historical day, it united everyone who knew her and stirred up a reaction big enough to put the event into history.

The same goes for countless of other instances in history.

It’s easy as a creative or an entrepreneur to think that as long as I build something of quality, people will come. It’s easy to just focus on our craft and not get to know the people and the markets around us. Especially with the internet it’s easy to assume that posting on facebook or tweeting a message will get engagement, but that has no comparison to truly getting to know and building a relationship with someone else.

If you just know how to connect people and don’t have anything of quality, people won’t stay. But when you are both connected and have something incomparable to anything else out there, you can start a movement.

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In Life

By Daniel Kao

How to Find and Maintain Relationships with Mentors

On 08, May 2014 | No Comments | In Life | By Daniel Kao

One of the most valuable things to have in life is a mentor. Someone that has gone before you, who has seen the road ahead, and can help guide you through it faster than you could’ve gotten through it yourself.

Successful people never reach their goals alone. (tweet that)

But even though it seems that the most successful people all have other successful mentors, I’ve come across many people who have no idea how to build and foster mentor relationships. And although this is an area that I’ve only recently begun learning how to exercise, I’m already seeing effects in many different areas of my life.

My mentors have not only pushed me to believe in myself, think outside of boxes, and dream bigger than anything I could possibly conceive, many of them have also been able to help me with the practical, actionable ways to see my goals come to life. If anything, I would say that my mentors have helped me to break down the things that I am passionate about into very attainable steps. My mentors tend to make seemingly impossible tasks within reach.

The following is a video interview I did with a good friend and colleague, Zak Malamed, talking about the power and effectiveness of having a mentor.

1:30 About Zak
4:30 How did you get to where you are today?
6:00 Early middle school years, how Zak started believing in himself.
9:30 How a teacher made a difference in Zak’s life.
12:15 How mentors empowered Zak to be a leader and believe in student voice.
15:20 How to reach out and build mentor relationships.
19:40 What do your relationships with your mentors look like?
21:10 How to earn your mentors.

Everyone deserves a good mentor, but not everyone has one.

Everyone deserves a good mentor, but not everyone has one. Most people are so used to doing it alone that they have no grid how to find, maintain, and truly grow from a relationship with a mentor. How many times have you heard someone use the excuse that “they’re afraid people might be too busy” or they don’t “feel like they’re worth a person’s time”.

As ironic as it is, I’ve found that mentors like investing in people who are driven and believe in themselves. And when a mentor gets behind someone who believes in themselves, it usually leads them to become even more confident in themselves.

I used to have a misconception that finding a mentor was an extremely formal and rigid thing, but as Zak and I discuss in our conversation, finding a mentor is really nothing other than building a genuine friendship with someone to the point that you are willing to take instruction from them. There is no formula to an effective mentor relationship.

Don’t go out looking for a mentor simply because you feel like you need one, but genuinely get to know people who are interesting to you, who are passionate about the same things that you are passionate about, and you can learn and build a friendship with.

And while you’re at it, pay it forward and mentor someone else, and don’t forget to thank your mentors and teachers this week!

photo credit: stopherjones via photopin cc

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Learning to Start a Movement Online

On 20, Mar 2014 | No Comments | In Entrepreneurship | By Daniel Kao

Fifty years ago, a movement was started by gathering people together in physical locations in huge numbers to create significant demonstrations. The civil rights movement is an example of this. Thousands of people gathered together and marched for their freedom.

Today, movements are started by bringing people together virtually on social media platforms to make their voices known.

In theory, they seem similar. But in practice, the rules are completely different. The Internet brings much more visibility in much less time, which leads to a lot less commitment and a lot more noise. Taking a stand for something by joining a demonstration is on a completely different level than taking a stand by tweeting.

It’s more common to post something online that happens in real life than to share something in real life that you find online.

Websites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy have taken off recently because they’ve tapped into an understanding of the psychology of people hiding behind computer screens, especially younger people. They do this by creating short, triggering headlines that is usually over-exaggerated. People who read these websites “like” and “share” what they read, and maybe get a kick out of it for the next week, but it usually doesn’t make a difference to them a couple months down the line.

Movements today need to figure out how to powerfully and effectively cut through the noise, taking advantage of people’s short attention span and generally flakiness to build something that is strong and effective.

I haven’t figured it out, but I’m trying. What have you noticed?

photo credit: wili_hybrid via photopin cc

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Thoughts on the SAT Changes, and What an Effective Assessment Needs

On 10, Mar 2014 | No Comments | In Education | By Daniel Kao

Last week, Collegeboard announced that they would be making changes to their flagship exam, the SAT. Among these changes include shifting the scale back to 1600 instead of 2400, making the essay optional, and changing the questions so that they pull from a broader knowledge base. And to help students prepare for this new exam, Collegeboard is partnering with Khan Academy to provide free test prep resources for students.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great. It’s great that Collegeboard is recognizing the enormous pitfalls of the current SAT and that they are taking steps toward changing how their test is done. But it’s insufficient for what colleges and universities need, and nowhere near sufficient for what students need in terms of a proper and holistic assessment of who they are.

Standardized tests have become “far too disconnected from the work of our high schools,” too stressful, and not a very good indicator of a college-ready student. (tweet that)

Collegeboard states that standardized tests have become “far too disconnected from the work of our high schools,” too stressful, and not a very good indicator of a college-ready student. I wholeheartedly agree with that statement, but I fail to see how the changes to the SAT actually resolves the issues stated. Even with the proposed changes to the test, the test is still a standardized test that outputs a numerical, “standardized” score.


What’s the Problem with Standardization?

Our modern world is all about standardization. Companies use standard metrics in order to evaluate the performance and effectiveness of their business and employees, governments use standards in order to enforce regulations that help keep a nation in order, and the current trend toward big data is a huge industry for potential growth simply because everything can be tracked.

The train of thought goes something like “Well it works for evaluating performance, products, and services, let’s apply the same thing to evaluating students!”

But what people fail to realize is the difference between using a standard to evaluate work and using a standard to evaluate people (tweet that). People aren’t products. People can’t simply be treated as another data point on a graph, because people are so much more than that. Humans are social creatures that adapt, mold, and transform into different personalities, shapes, and emotions. People were never made to be compared, they were made to work together, share ideas, and live together on earth.

People fail to realize is the difference between using a standard to evaluate work and using a standard to evaluate people. (tweet that)

In the culture and era of the world that we live in today, collaboration is the only way industries will move forward. CEOs and business leaders talk at great lengths about how beyond the work of the company and the business model, there has to be a solid team behind what the company is doing. One of the greatest challenges in the corporate world today is how to hire people that not only have the proper skill set, but are also a culture fit into their company, because collaboration and teamwork are the building blocks of a company or business.

However, a standardized test that’s built to compare one high school student to another breeds competition rather than collaboration. No wonder so many business leaders complain about the communication and teamwork skills of recent college graduates; they were raised in a system that teaches the exact opposite.


What Can We Do About This?

So now the question becomes “how can we create an assessment that captures the essence of a student in a way that doesn’t compare students to each other in a competitive way?”

The first step is pretty obvious; We have to get rid of the numerical score.

The purpose of an effective and sufficient assessment of students is to encapsulate a good representation of who this student is, complete with a holistic picture of all of their strengths and weaknesses compiled into a way that someone reading the results can interpret who their are and what their strengths are without actually spending time with them.

The first step is pretty obvious; We have to get rid of the numerical score.

What if instead of a test score, the test provided a spectrum of different areas representing a student’s strengths and weaknesses, listing out attributes such as creativity, work ethic, leadership, communication, background, learning aptitude, grit, entrepreneurialism, resourcefulness, etc?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and will write my proposal for a new testing model in a future post.

What would a test like that look like? and how would it help students have a different approach?

photo credit: albertogp123 via photopin cc

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In Life

By Daniel Kao

On Reading Books

On 27, Jan 2014 | One Comment | In Life | By Daniel Kao

I’ve shared before that in my younger days, I thought I didn’t like reading.

It wasn’t until I nearly turned 18 that I found my love for reading books about real life situations and perspectives.

This year, I’m going to try to read as many books as I can. Books are pretty much a compilation of a person’s life work and life lessons, and by sitting down for a couple of hours and fifteen dollars, I can get a glimpse into a successful person’s process.

Even if I only get one thing out of a book, it was worth it.

In a casual conversation I had a couple weeks ago, I was sharing some of the books that had completely changed my life, and one of my friends asked me how I had so much time to read so much.

The truth is, I don’t have time not to be reading. By reading the lives of people, I am effectively getting perspective from their lives about the challenges they faced and how they overcame the challenges. By reading books, I am actually helping myself save time. I become more aware of the problems and the questions long before they come up in my personal life.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I go out and read every single thing that I can find. I’m a big advocate of watching what content you consume. My focus then, is taking the time to figure out what I am learning from each book that I read. Reading reviews is a helpful way to determine whether a book will be helpful for me or not.

In the wise words in Letters from a Stoic by Seneca the Younger,

You must linger among a limited number of master thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind.

Everywhere means nowhere.

When a person spends all his time in foreign travel, he ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends.

And the same thing must hold true of men who seek intimate acquaintance with no single author, but visit them all in a hasty and hurried manner.

Food does no good and is not assimilated into the body if it leaves the stomach as soon as it is eaten; nothing hinders a cure so much as frequent change of medicine; no wound will heal when one salve is tried after another; a plant which is often moved can never grow strong.

Oh. And follow me on goodreads.

photo credit: seyed mostafa zamani via photopin cc

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In Life

By Daniel Kao

4 Characteristics of a Relational Leader

On 25, Nov 2013 | 2 Comments | In Life | By Daniel Kao

If you’ve ever been in a leadership position of any sort, you know that there is always a certain authoritative feeling that comes with the title.

However, the mark of a true leader is one that is able to inspire and empower people, regardless of whether he or she has a title.

How many people do you know that have brought significant change to an environment just by being themselves? These people have a way of uniting and connecting people and really inspire them to also be the best version of themselves.

How many people have simply started movements just by being extraordinary in their everyday actions?

I believe that these are the true leaders.

I decided to make a video about my thoughts on leadership. In this video, I talk about four aspects of an extremely effective leader that I have found to be extremely valuable.

A relational leader leads by example. The most powerful leader is one that allows their life to be the message above their words. They should be able to demonstrate the attitude and mindset that they want to see in their group.

The reason for this is because the attitudes and mindsets that a leader has, regardless of whether it is blatantly communicated, will usually be seen as a model for followers to reproduce. If a leader does not set an ethical, helpful, and generous example, the people who are under their leadership will assume that it is okay for them to do the same.

Leaders should always be learning and growing. Leaders who assume that they have all the answers are leaders that don’t believe there is more room for improvement. Leaders should be confident in what they have learned, but also open and willing to hear input from everyone who has their best interest in mind.

Leaders should always seek to get to know people for who they are. Leaders genuinely care about the well being of their group, because no matter the context, the whole group is healthier when the people that make up the group are whole. Even if what people are going through seems irrelevant to the group’s purpose, an effective leader is able to have an interest in people that goes beyond simply getting work done. It’s about the leader creating a safe environment for people to truly be themselves.

Effective Leaders should be able to raise up leaders. A leader that is capable of naturally creating relationships and getting people to follow them is a good leader. But the most effective leaders understand that the success of the group cannot depend on solely on the leader. In other words, if a leader were to be removed from the group, the group should be able to eventually function just as well without him or her and not completely fall apart.

Thus, the goal of a leader should never be to make people more dependent on the leader, but to empower people to become leaders in their own capacity.

What are other characteristics of leaders that you think are important?

photo credit: quixotic54 via photopin cc

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