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In Life

By Daniel Kao

Life as a Dichotomy

On 17, Nov 2014 | 2 Comments | In Life | By Daniel Kao

The two common beliefs when talking about life principles is that either they are absolute or they are relative.

I’d like to suggest that most principles that are true also have opposites that are true. More often than not, they’re two sides of the same coin. Being successful has never been about fitting in with a crowd, but about standing out. Standing out in ways where you’re doing things so extreme that the people around you don’t fully understand you, if at all. It’s about doing things that are so extreme and different that no one else is doing in order to create opportunities that no one else will have.

Throughout history, the most successful and well-known individuals have always been people with extreme strengths as well as extreme weaknesses. It’s the extreme traits, not the fact that they did everything by the book, that they made something noteworthy. All the famous inventors, scientists, philosophers, revolutionaries, and entrepreneurs had someone try to talk them out of it at some point.

But on the contrary, life isn’t usually very enjoyable when things are taken to the extreme. Blending in is easier, more comfortable, and less resistant to making friends with the people around you. The entrepreneur that tries to fit in with a crowd isn’t going to get much further than everyone else in the crowd, even though they may have a better social life. Being surrounded by like-minded people is powerful, but yet limiting. And having a powerful mentor can be the best thing that’s ever happened to you.

While both of these are deeply valid points, they exist in contradiction to each other. It’s hard to distinguish when you should do something despite what an expert says, and when you should listen to what they say as a mentor figure. It’s hard to know when to stand out and when to blend in, and when to persevere or pivot.

The challenge of the entrepreneur isn’t in the risk, but understanding when to take which extreme in order to build a company that truly matters.

This past weekend, I had the privilege of meeting hundreds of young, ambitious millennials at the Thiel Summit in downtown Vegas. In the midst of Peter Thiel talking about finding something to believe in that few people would agree with, I found many of my peers trying to fit in with what people around them were doing. Many of the summiters weren’t taking the message as a challenge to find the unique truth to hold onto, but trying to integrate themselves into a growing community of people who believe similar things from an entrepreneurial standpoint.

Whenever I find that too many people believe the same thing that I do, I take the time to reconsider what I really believe.

I don’t do this to purposely stir up controversy (although I used to), but to identify the nuances that make what I believe in uniquely different than what most other people believe. I like to explore the extremes in order to see how far I can stretch my perspective and understanding in order to better identify how to think about things.

In fact, I find that sometimes doing the exact opposite of conventional wisdom gets you closer to your goals than following the conventional wisdom.

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In Life

By Daniel Kao

Being Comfortable in Your Own Skin

On 18, Sep 2014 | No Comments | In Life | By Daniel Kao

In kindergarten, I was the shortest kid in my class. In fact, I was so short that I was less than one percentile of males my age.

As a result, I couldn’t do what most of my peers could physically. I had difficulty shooting hoops, I ran slower than everyone else, and was usually one of the last people to be chosen for kickball matches.

And as I grew up, much of the feelings of being the shortest and slowest stuck with me. Even though I was no longer the shortest kid around in high school, I often downplayed myself and felt uncomfortable around people.

I gave myself a lot of negative self talk. I told myself that I wasn’t the smartest, fastest, or the best at any skill. In fact, I didn’t even give myself the chance to apply to more prestigious schools because I “knew” that I wouldn’t get in.

How many of us sabotage ourselves with this kind of negative self talk? We tell ourselves that we aren’t good enough, smart enough, or that we’ll take action after some magical event happens, even though deep down we all know we want to be given the opportunity. The fear is that we’ll be found out for our inadequacies.

The truth is, many of us go from our day to day lives trying to prove something, either to other people or to ourselves. I’ve been there, and in many ways still am.

I can’t say that I have it all figured out, but here are a couple things I’ve realized along the way, written out in clear bullet points because I’m not a fan of fluffy, abstract advice:

  • Know Yourself – This is a comment that one of my mentors made to me, and has stuck with me ever since I heard the words come out of her mouth. Knowing and admitting your strengths and your weaknesses make for a very powerful understanding of how to be yourself.
  • Be present – People who are the most uncomfortable with themselves will often focus heavily on the future or on the past. There’s nothing wrong with looking back and reflecting or looking forward and preparing, but when you’re ignoring what’s in front of you on a day to day basis and enjoying where you’re at and what’s around you, you’re likely uncomfortable.
  • Watch Your Language – Instead of saying things like “I can’t” or “I’m not”, try things like “I haven’t yet” or “I’m learning to”.
  • Put Yourself Out There – Post something online. Share something vulnerable. Because it’s not until you take a step to be vulnerable that you really see how people respond. I can almost guarantee you that it’ll be different than you expect.

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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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What it Means to be an Entrepreneur

On 06, Mar 2014 | No Comments | In Entrepreneurship | By Daniel Kao

We’ve all heard the saying that hindsight is 20/20. While looking back is definitely clearer than looking forward, but are our perceptions of the past always completely accurate?

I often study the work of famous entrepreneurs, hoping to learn whatever I can from their failures and successes, but one very common thread among most entrepreneurs is that none of them completely knew what they were doing moving forward. Many entrepreneurs have an initial vision, but have to pivot and reposition their business and approach countless of times before they hit the ball out of the park.

No one can predict the future with much precision and accuracy. That’s why venture capital firms struggle to turn a profit, why weathermen are always wrong, and investing in the stock market is a giant guessing game.

Life and entrepreneurship especially is riddled with unknowns. By definition, being an entrepreneur means that you are doing something that no one has done before, creating and shifting markets in completely new ways.

But yet, for some people, we feel like we need to have all the dots connected moving forward.

When I first started studying entrepreneurs, I used to think that I needed to figure everything out before starting my first company, driving me to read as many blogs and books as I possibly could. I would try to learn as much as I could about what works and what doesn’t in order to build a strategy that won’t fail.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to ignore the advice and lessons from entrepreneurs, because mentorship and guidance is invaluable. I’m simply saying that you don’t need to have everything figured out.

Sometimes the best place to be is knowing you have no idea what you’re doing and go for it anyways (tweet that). That’s the only way to figure out definitely whether something works or not. Don’t be afraid that you are too uninformed, too under-qualified, or inadequate of making a significant change in the world, whether it be starting a company, running a nonprofit, or anything else along those lines.

An entrepreneur, at it’s very core, is simply someone who makes things happen by taking risks.

photo credit: Abode of Chaos via photopin cc

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In Life

By Daniel Kao

Talk Isn’t Necessarily Communication

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

Words can be confused with communication.

Words are a vehicle for communication, but it is not communication in itself.

Communication is simply sharing my thoughts so that someone else understands my thoughts and where I’m coming from; it’s translating the thoughts from my head into someone else’s head.

People that talk the most aren’t necessarily the best communicators. Talk isn’t necessarily communication.

The best communicators are ones who are able to understand the person they are speaking to. They are able to pick up on their audience’s culture, or frame of reference they are using when processing what they are saying. They are able to address the varying concerns of different audiences depending on who they talk to. Thus, the best communicators are open and understand the backgrounds and cultures of other people. Top communicators understand and transcend culture. (tweet that)

That’s why most of us find it easier to communicate and interact with people who are from similar backgrounds or cultures, because people these people already think and act similarly, saving the need to communicate as much context.

Therefore, the most quick and dirty way to foster effective communication within a team or organization isn’t to talk more, but to focus on creating a unique culture. This phenomenon is seen in practically all the fun and hip companies such as Google, Pinterest, IDEO, Facebook, etc.

The power of building a unique culture is to foster more effective communication, but the danger happens when people in a culture become elitist and closed to becoming a communicator that is effective across cultures.

Building a culture is great, but understanding culture is legendary.

photo credit: Un ragazzo chiamato Bi via photopin cc

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In Life

By Daniel Kao

Success Begins with Building Habits

On 20, Feb 2014 | 2 Comments | In Life | By Daniel Kao

How many times have you heard someone tell you that they wish they could do something without having a plan to accomplish it?

Most people want to master certain skills and become world-class at something, but lack the definiteness and discipline to achieve it. Most people settle on hoping that they’ll get lucky. People hope they will be discovered much like they hope they will win the lottery.

However, people who understand how to systematically and intentionally establish change in their life understand how to make the most of what they have access to, and are therefore able to turn what seems like nothing into something more and more significant. Successful people are specific about the work they do, knowing that there is no way around hard work. (tweet that)

Too many people set goals that seem more like wishes, because they don’t have the plan or discipline to follow through. This can be easily fixed, given that the individual has the desire and will to change it.

Habits are the building blocks of accomplishment, and by understanding how to build and break habits, a person can achieve anything.

In the video below, I describe the habit building process. I’ve written about habits before, as well as reviewed a book on habits, but I figured I would make a video as well.

Many people overlook the daily things because it doesn’t feel glamorous or incredibly sexy. People see the success of an entrepreneur without seeing journey and difficulty the entrepreneur went through to get there. But by embracing and building the little habits to propel you toward your goal, that is how people become unstoppable.

photo credit: oschene via photopin cc

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