Optional Bonus Video- Interview with Singapore Entrepreneur Adam Khoo

دوره: Mindshift- Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential / فصل: Getting Deeper into Happy Learning / درس 13

Optional Bonus Video- Interview with Singapore Entrepreneur Adam Khoo

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And one of the most powerful things I learned from my teacher at that time was that if you want to be exceptional, you have to set goals that challenge you, that stretch you off your comfort zone. I saved up $2000 and at 15-years-old, I started up mobile disco company where I created events or birthday parties and corporate functions, so I was making money while I was studying. >> Well, ok so now we've talked a lot about what happened in your school journey but let's go beyond platitudes and just go straight to what goes on in real everyday life for somebody in their 30s or 40s and what practical advice would you have for a person who's in mid-career.

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It’s such pleasure to be here with you, today, Adam. And I have to start by just asking you some questions about the Singapore school system, and also about the education system in general and in Asia. Can you give us a little bit of context about what that system is, and what does it mean if you fall off track early on?

Sure, so the education system in Asia, especially Singapore, is extremely competitive because most parents want their children to go to the top universities, and to qualify for top courses like medicine, law, engineering. Because they believe that that’s the ticket to a better life, that’s the ticket to success in life. And so because of the limited places, the truth is less than 10% of every cohort can make it to those courses. So if you don’t get straight As, you don’t stand a chance, so everyone’s really pressured to do well. In fact, in places like India, they compete at a decimal point level. So if you get 99%, it’s not good enough, you have to get 99.9% or 99.8%. And so as a result, parents spend hundreds of dollars, or even thousands of dollars, sending their children to tuition supplementary classes to just give them the competitive edge. And at a very young age of nine years old, in grade three, they’re already streamed, based on their grades for the first three years. So the good students go to the gifted program, the special course, and the average students go to the express course, and the below average will then go to the normal stream, or the normal technical stream. So if you go to a good course, you get more challenging questions, you get more resources. You go to the less able course, again, less resources, less challenging questions. So at a young age, you already start to create that belief in yourself that I’m not as good as someone else, and it’s a pressure to perform to get to a better course. If not, you’re label as you can never make it to a good course.

So this brings us exactly to our next question. You were expelled early on for misbehavior from elementary school, and then you were at the bottom of your class. You ended up what, bottom 10 out of 160 students?


And that was in secondary school. So at that time, you were convinced you were a complete loser, and that you could never be as good as the other students, and why even try.


So what turned you around?

Yeah, so it was really out of desperation because my dad tried everything. He scolded me, he nagged at me, he sent me for all this extra tuition, but nothing worked. I know how to study, right? I wouldn’t listen to anyone. In desperation, he sent me to this motivational program for students that was supposed to change mindsets and change our lives around, and it really helped. And the thing that really made an impact on me was, I learned about the power of beliefs, about the beliefs about what I could or could not do about what was possible or what was not possible for me. It changed my beliefs about how I saw myself. because in the past, I saw myself again, like you said, as a loser, right? Because everyone told me that. My teachers would say, why are you so lazy? My father would say, what’s wrong with you? Why you keep forgetting everything? So when I went for this course, it began to get me to change how I saw myself. See, I used to believe that if other people can do something, I can’t do it, because they’re smarter than me, they’re better than me, they’re luckier than me. But when I went through this program, it taught me about the power of positive thinking, that we all have the same potential. As human beings, we’ve got tremendous potential, we just don’t make full use of it, and we are all gifted in our own way. We all have the same potential, if we learn how to unleash that potential, that if someone can do something, so can I. It’s just a question of how, it’s a question of strategy. And the other powerful belief I learned was that for things to change, I had to change. See, previously, the belief was that for things to change, my teacher had to change, the exam had to change, right? So number one was the change of belief. Number two, I learned that the reason I couldn’t remember well, or I could not do well, and studies were stopped because I was stupid or slow, was because I was using an ineffective learning strategy. So I began to learn how to learn at the time. For example, how to read more effectively, how to gather information by finding key words, how to make notes in a way that access my creativity. because I love drawing, I love singing, but I got bored very easily. So I learned how to draw mind maps, where I use pictures, I use colors to make boring subjects come alive. And I learned powerful, mnemonic techniques, how to memorize 30 words, 50 words in sequence by visualizing, associating, using sounds and movement. When I started learning all these things, I got excited because for the first time, I could remember a whole list of words. For the first time, I could remember an entire chapter in just a few minutes, using graphic organizers like mind maps. And the third thing I learned was really about how to dream big, how to set goals. I learned that motivation is motive plus action, that the reason I was not motivated was because I had no motive, I didn’t know why I was studying. See, in the past, my father would say, and what grades are you going to get for exams? And I said I don’t know, just pass. And he said, that’s all? And I said, as long as I don’t feel it’s good enough. And he would look at me and say, Adam, five years from now, where will you be? And I’d say, I’ll be at home. And he’d say, where will you be in life? I’d say, I don’t know, all right? So when you don’t have a goal or a compelling dream, you get lost, you get distracted by everything around you. So I learned from the program that to be motivated, I gotta have a motive, I gotta have a why. I’m not studying for my parents, I’m not studying for my teachers, I’m studying for me. So why should I study, all right? So I begin to learn to set goals about what I wanted to achieve in life. And one of the most powerful things I learned from my teacher at that time was that if you want to be exceptional, you have to set goals that challenge you, that stretch you off your comfort zone. So I set a goal to top my school in one year, to get to Victoria Junior College, which was one of the top junior colleges in Singapore. To get to the National University of Singapore, and to get a business faculty, which everyone thought was impossible from where I was, and to become an entrepreneur and a self-made millionaire. And by setting those goals, I got obsessed, I wrote the goals down on a piece of paper, and every single day I’d look at them, and I would get excited by it. And that’s what drove me to take action, to really apply what I learned, and that’s how everything turned around. So of course, as I started taking action, and for the first time in my life, I started paying attention in class, started making notes and asking questions. And again, did I understand everything that the teacher taught? I didn’t, but when I didn’t understand this time, I would just ask, and ask, and ask until I understood it. And the same thing when I read a chapter of my text book for the first time, I wouldn’t get it because I was a slow learner, but you know what, I kept reading it until I got it. And I would mind map that same chapter one, two, three times until I mastered it, so it was pure hard work. And the results began to show. Within the first year, I was right among the top 20 position in my school. Now, my goal was to top the school, so I didn’t achieve the goal. But I always tell myself that when you have a goal, you don’t always achieve it the first time. But that’s not failure, that’s a learning experience. And even if you don’t achieve the goal, it doesn’t matter because by having a goal, it forces you to put in more effort, and you definitely improve. And so to me, I’ve learned that success is not a destination, it’s a journey. As long as I take one step forward, that’s success to me. So the next year, I worked even harder, and got among the top ten position in school. And for my Cambridge O levels of final year, I topped my school. And it was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. And I then went on to Victoria Junior college where also among the top students for for the Cambridge A levels. And I was going through all this I started a business at the side as well. Because I wanted to be that business man, so again my eventual goals with entrepreneur. So, I thought well why wait? Let’s start something now. And I became a DJ for a mobile disco company where I spun records on weekends and school holidays. I saved up $2000 and at 15-years-old, I started up mobile disco company where I created events or birthday parties and corporate functions, so I was making money while I was studying. And then, continued to junior college. When I went to NUS, my event mobile business kept growing. And I had a goal to top my entire business school in any way. So, I remember at that time, my father looked at me and said, Adam, how can you top NUS? It’s the best and the brightest in Singapore. And I said but you know Dad, in secondary schools, I topped the school. So, I can do it in the NUS. And he said, in secondary school you were not smart. It’s because all your friends were stupid. So, my dad was one of the most negative people around, but he didn’t mean to be negative, it was just his nature. And I’m the kind of person, the more you say I can’t do something, the more I’m going to prove you wrong. So I said, dad, I’m going to show you, I’m going to beat these people, even thought they are from the top schools and I was not from the top school. And within the first year, I mean I didn’t top my faculty, right? I didn’t, again, I didn’t achieve that goal, all right? But I was already among the top 1% of students at NUS. As a pioneer in the NUS Talent Development program, which is now known as a scholar’s program. And to get in you have to be the top 1% of economic achievers in the US. And I was on the dean’s list every single year and finished my four years honors degree in three years. And during that time, I was very passionate to share my story. So I went around to secondary schools, primary schools, to teach the kids about how I turned around from one of the bottom schools to topping the University of Singapore. And that’s when I wrote my book, I’m Gifted So Are You, at 24 in my third year of university. And that’s how it became a best-seller and I got pretty well known in Singapore.

Well, ok so now we’ve talked a lot about what happened in your school journey but let’s go beyond platitudes and just go straight to what goes on in real everyday life for somebody in their 30s or 40s and what practical advice would you have for a person who’s in mid-career. Who feels trapped in their job. They want to change maybe, and they’re not sure about how to go about doing it.

How could you take some of those ideas that you used to turn yourself around when you were young, can you use some of these same approaches when you’re mid-career?

Sure. So the principes apply whether you’re in school or in a career. But wherever you are in life, you want a better life. You want to create a change. And again, the first principle is for the things to change, you have to change. So the first thing is to change your thoughts to look at problems as opportunities. To change your beliefs about what you are capable of that just because you are educated as an engineer, doesn’t mean you must be an engineer for the rest of your life. You can be something else. In the old days it was one career for life. But the average person now in the 21st century global economy goes through three to four career changes in their life. Because we know that jobs that exist today, in ten years may no longer exist, they’ll be outsourced or evolved. So, we’ve gotta have the mindset to create a shift. Beyond what we studied in school. That’s number one. Number two is to change our capabilities. And we do that by constant and never-ending improvement. Taking online courses, like learning how to learn, taking life training program where we learn new skills beyond our vocational technical skills. Portable skills like communication skills that can be applied anywhere. Creativity skills, problem-solving skills, management skills and that thing, of course, would be to change by taking action, by taking a first step, by networking and that’s how you will see the dots slowly being connected and find new ways to find new careers that you’re more passionate about.

So this leads right into our next question which is what do you do to help keep yourself motivated? What would you recommend to adults and older people who haven’t experienced your kind of success to help them keep a positive attitude?

So let me just say, first of all, I don’t wake everyday going yes. People think that successful people are motivated every single morning when they wake up, nothing could be further from truth. There are days I wake up, I don’t feel I’m waking at all, all right. So, we all get lazy, and if you feel lazy at times, that’s natural. So, motivation is like bathing. You can’t bathe once and be clean for the rest of your life. You have to bathe every single day. So similarly, you have to motivate yourself every single day when you don’t feel motivated. So the way I motivate myself is number one, when I wake up in the morning, I’ve got a ritual of reading my goals. What are my goals today? What are my goals five years from now? And as I read my goals, I get excited. And that frames my mind for the rest of the day. So, I know that what I’m doing now is moving towards something that is really important in the future. I also like to fantasize a lot.

Yeah, right.

So, besides reading my goals, I would then visualize myself achieving those goals. Visualize the impact it makes on my family. All right, the people I love, and the world. And how I can change the world in my small, little way. And when I visualize that trend, imagination, it excites me a lot. I also talk about my goals a lot. So whenever I meet people, I tell them, you know what? My new book’s coming out. You know what? I’m going to change my career, for example. Because when I tell people that, it puts me on the line. And we got no choice but to find a way to make it happen. And when I go through problems, when things don’t go the way I want, which is every day, all right, I’ve learned to reframe it. So, I’ve learned to reframe problems and the opportunities that matter what happens, always believe that things happen for a reason. There’s something you can learn from there. So for example, if I lose a business deal, instead of saying, why did this happen to me? What am I so stupid? Why so unlucky? Ask what can I learn from this? And how can this lead to a breakthrough to get even bigger in the future? And that keeps me motivated.

So sometimes, as you mentioned, you’re not motivated and in fact sometimes you have some bad characteristics. And you’ve had bad characteristic through your life, so can you tell me a little bit about how bad characteristics might actually sometimes be good characteristics. And how might some people in general use their bad characteristics in a way that helps them?

Okay, so I believe there’s no such thing as a bad characteristic or good characteristic. At least, no matter how bad a characteristic is in a certain context, when used appropriately, in a different context, can be an asset. So for example, again, one of my bad traits is I’m really stubborn. I’m a nonconformist, when everyone says this, I’ll say, why can’t we do something else? And it irritates the heck out of my teachers and my parents in the past. But I’ve learned to use that to my advantage. So again, when people told me in secondary school that you can’t make it to junior college. You can’t make it to university. That really motivates me to prove them wrong. And so that’s how I’ve used it to my advantage. Another bad trait I would say, bad trait is that I’m slow learner. When I was young my friends could read a chapter of additional mathematics, calculus, and understand it the first time. Teacher could explain it the first time, they got it. I didn’t get it. I had to read that same page three or four times before I got it. Teacher had to explain it a few times before I got it. And now I look back, that’s a great asset, because now as a teacher myself, I’m now able to understand how slow learners like me process. And I’m able to take something which is complicated and make it really simple, so that anyone can learn. So again that has, I’ve used that to my advantage as well. So everything which is a liability can be looked at as an asset.

We share so much in common, because sometimes I think my best trait as a teacher is that it’s hard for me to understand things, and so I do find that once I understand them, I can only understand it if it’s made simple. But once I do make it simple, it’s much easier to explain to other people. If I was smarter, in some sense, I couldn’t be as effective a teacher.


So, what advice do you have for someone who feels that their job skills are becoming obsolete? Which is a very common thing-


To happen today. What can people do to be more resilient in their careers?

So the only way to create resilience to protect your career, is to ensure that you make yourself obsolete before someone makes you obsolete, all right. And the only way to do that, again, is through constant and never-ending improvement. And the first thing is an attitude, to ask yourself if what I’m doing now is the same thing I’m doing a year ago, something’s wrong. It’s gotta be better, it’s gotta change. And always ask yourself, how can I do something better than I did in the past. And I’ve always done that my life. So I love learning, and I’ve always been a lifelong learner. So I go online and I take courses all the time relating to my field or even outside of my field. And that allows me to have the breadth of knowledge and expertise to be able to do anything. So, if my business, if I knock on wood, were to be obsolete tomorrow, I can start a new business doing something else, adding value to the world with the portable skills I’ve created.

So, I know that luck plays a role in success in life. How can someone encourage luck?

Okay. If you hear a lot of people speak, they say I got lucky, and I got lucky and I got lucky. And I believe that luck can be created. To me, that’s an equation, luck equals to opportunity plus preparation plus action. So the first thing is you need opportunities. So do lucky people have more opportunities than unlucky people? Yes. And the reason is because see, opportunities never look like opportunities. Opportunities always come disguised as problems. And we all have problems. So, in other words, we all have opportunities disguised. But it takes a lucky person to see the opportunity disguised as a problem. And that can be learned. That’s a shift of your paradigm. That’s a shift of your mindset. So, for example, when I was young, again, my problem was that I was in a lousy class. I was a lousy student. And I always asked myself, why did this happen to me? Why can’t I be a smart student? But at one stage I then said, hey, that problem is an opportunity. Because now I can write a book to share with people how a dumb person like me could top the university, and that’s how it gave birth to the book I’m Gifted, So Are You. See, if I was smart all the way, I couldn’t write that book. I’m Gifted So Are You. There’s no credibility [INAUDIBLE] give it back to you, right? So that was an opportunity. The second thing was, I was prepared. In other words, you got to have, you’ve got to be prepared to take advantage of the opportunities. So, if I was not prepared with the ability to write that book, if I was not prepared with the skills on how to promote and to sell that book, it would not have been a successful book. So always ensure you upgrade your skills so you have the internal resources, the creativity, the communication skills, the management skills to take advantage of the opportunities when you see them. And the third thing is the ability to get yourself to take that first step, to take action. because many people I know see the opportunity, they say I know what to do, I know how to do it, I never did it. Because they suffer from paralysis of analysis. What if I fail? People always ask, what if I fail? I look at them and ask them, what if you succeed? Think about that, right? To me, when you take action, you always get results. You either get results you want or results you don’t want, but you always get results. And if you take action and you get results you don’t want, at least you learned something from it. You’re better than someone else who talked and talked and thought and thought and thought but didn’t do anything at all. So just take action, because you can’t fail unless you don’t learn something from it.

Adam, I can’t thank you enough for this great interview, and this is terrific. It’s been a pleasure.

Thank you so much.

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