John S. Kim — CEO of SendBird (Y Combinator W16, Techstars London S14). We power chat for mobile apps and websites. Ex-No.1 FPS pro-gamer. CEO of Paprika Lab (acq. by GREE). Love problem solving, tech, and all things scalable.
I was first recommended the book “Leadership and Self-Deception” from Stewart Butterfield during Y Combinator Growth program late last year. I finally got the chance to open the book recently and the story resonated so much that I recommended this book to our entire company.
A high-level summary might go like this: if you get into self-betrayal, you go “in the box” where your perspective of the world starts to distort in your favor. By self-justifying, you find ways to blame others, while inflating your own virtue.
The result is making your relationship worse and inviting others into the box along the way, starting a vicious cycle. Below diagram shows the inside of Bud’s mind, one of the characters in the book. Bud’s baby son David wakes up in the middle of night. The diagram shows what goes through Bud’s mind as he thinks about whether to get up and tend to David or not, while his wife Nancy is asleep besides him.
After managing different teams of various background and scale over the years, I’ve always thought the question “what is your leadership style?” is almost a trick question. An executive from another company once shared with me a framework he learned at one of the leadership classes he took at Harvard.
It seems like the original version of Situational Leadership is a bit more complex, but the simplified version he shared made more sense to me and felt more applicable to everyday managers.
Recently, I went on a business trip to South East Asia to meet with some of our customers. There I visited a more developed country like Singapore, and then traveled across a city in one of more developing countries like Indonesia. Jakarta was full of surprises, an eye-opening experience, similar to the feeling I had when I first visited Beijing.
There was an insane number of motorcycles on the road, swerving around a three-column of cars on a two-lane street. They were opportunistic, if not entrepreneurial. It was dizzying, yet mesmerizing to see how so many of them could go past all the cars without scratching a single one.
I enjoy watching stand-up comedies. People like Louis C.K., Dave Chappelle, Mike Birbiglia, Trevor Noah, Ryan Hamilton, John Mulaney comes to mind. I’ve been watching the shows to learn English (great teachers, I know) and pick up some useful dialog patterns to use during sales calls.
I think there’s something magical about stand-up comedies. There’s a great balancing act of psychology how comedians connect with the audience. The comedian captures the audience, puts them in a situation, then does something completely unexpected or extreme that gives catharsis to the audience, letting them play a role that will not likely happen in their own life, things they will not likely do or say. And it creates a seemingly spontaneous reaction in a form of a laughter to so many diverse people in the room, which has been carefully planned and perfected by the comedian.
We all know this, because even though comedies are hard to create, are easy to enjoy.
* This is a letter to my family and kids.
I’m not sure if the internet we are using today in 2017 will still be the same by the time you are an adult, but because of the internet, you will be exposed to far more information and stimulants than a single person’s brain can process and handle. (Of course, let’s wait until some AI-leveraging tech for human brains get released!)
What this means is that you can get more distracted than focused, build a habit of consuming more while creating less, and critiquing more and acting less. You can spend your entire day on consuming content and talking about it, without actually making any impact or progress. Of course, a single line of comment on a popular news feed may have an impact — getting a few more likes for ego-boosting — but at the end of the day, the most precious resource you have is your energy, attention, and time, so make sure you save these for the important stuff.
* This is a letter to my family and kids.
You should take care of your self-esteem. It is different from being merely confident. Self-esteem, backed by strong resilience, can take you far beyond what’s believed to be possible, over come difficult struggles in life, get through deep loneliness, find the right partners for your endeavors, avoid vanity social events, less influenced by external validations, and even rise from the ashes.
When you are running low on self-esteem, you will start acting the opposite of a good leader. You will blame things on other people or the environment. You will avoid conflict. You will seek attention. You will brag more. You will take shortcuts. You will deceive others and bend reality beyond what’s acceptible. You become more authoritative and look down on others. You will ultimately lose the respect of yourself and the others.
There are a few useful algorithms to help you make life’s decisions, especially around prioritization and pruning, and also the timing of it.
From my childhood days, my tendency was to make decisions quickly. I’ve never really felt much difficulty in picking my choices. It’s not because I was good at it, but probably due to a certain gene characteristics. These days, I try to estimate ‘when is the 30% stage of my information gathering before making the decision and acting on it?’ to use in my business decisions.
This is also a well-known problem in mathematics/computer science as ‘optimal stopping’ problem. A simple version of the answer is 37%. In regards to the number of options, tries, or the length of time, gather information (or explore) up to 37%, then select the best one that appears after that point. Then you will have about 37% chance of picking the best one. Of course, with different conditions (e.g. being able to revisit the choice), the % changes quite a bit, but the moral of the story is that there is only a limited time when you can gather information, and then you have to make a decision to get the highest chance to the optimum.