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Bernard Tan, Founder of ReCactus, Explains How Reading Connects Him to People

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Bernard Tan is an entrepreneur and designer. He’s the founder and CEO of ReCactus, a social media platform for reaction videos that allows you to record, watch, connect and share reaction videos, all in one app.

Bernard traveled and worked around the world, from Australia (where he was born) to America, Europe, and Asia. He’s an award-winning Art Director who’s been running his freelance design company for more than 5 years. He brought his creative input to some of the biggest brands in the world, like Apple, Audi, Oreo, Intel, and many others.

The idea of the app was born two years ago, while Bernard was backpacking alone through Europe.

It was a Finnish girl who introduced him to “reaction videos”. The following night, he stayed up until morning, watching reaction after reaction – these vary greatly, from serious reaction videos over sociopolitical matters, to more fun ones. Since they were hard to create, he decided to make it easy and build a social platform around them, connecting people globally.

From our interview you’ll find out more about the books that had an impact on him, were eye-openers, and how they helped him understand himself better and, ultimately, understand others.

What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.

Probably Lao Tzu’s Tao Te King.

I’m also a Murakami and Vonnegut fan, Kafka on the Shore, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Norwegian Wood, Slaughterhouse-Five, etc.

How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie.
Linchpin – Seth Godin

Now that I look at the books listed, they seem to carry an existential theme. I guess I like to understand humanity and human behaviour ultimately to better understand myself. I find reading a means to connect with people who may have lived before my time, or in a distant country, that I may never have had the chance to connect with in real life. As three-dimensional humans, we are all made up of so many faces and emotional layers that we find it hard to dissect them all, and when we find writers who can explain these thought processes in a way that’s tangible and digestible, there’s this incredibly comforting eureka moment of feeling understood.

Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell me about it?

Six years ago, I started reading Eastern philosophy more seriously. I think Eastern thinking, be it spiritual or philosophical, balances and even fills in the gaps in Western philosophy.

The “Tao Te King” by Lao Tzu probably resonated with me the strongest, but others like the “Art of War” by Sun Tzu, “Bhagavad Gita” or Zen Buddhist scriptures were also real eye-openers, even for a non-religious person like myself.

Western philosophy often focuses on the “I,” “who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose?”

Eastern philosophy focuses on understanding “the way,” “the way of the universe,” the way that “I” relates in conjunction with others and the universe.

Society and human behaviour hasn’t evolved far enough for ancient wisdom to not be applicable anymore.

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What books had the biggest impact on you? (perhaps changed the way you see things, dramatically changed your career path)

Here are some quotes from the Tao Te King that I particularly like:

“If you try to change it, you will ruin it. Try to hold it, and you will lose it.”

“A leader is best
When people barely know he exists
Of a good leader, who talks little,
When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,
They will say, “We did this ourselves.”

Perhaps this may seem a bit odd, said in relation to changing career paths, but this philosophy follows me in all my endeavours.

You cannot force the way. Just as I cannot force human behaviour, I cannot force people to like a product, I cannot force people to work harder or to even respect me. But the more awareness you have of your staff, your self, your brand, your society, the better equipped you are with making choices that cater to those individuals, which ultimately helps you achieve your goal. To understand people, is to understand business.

What books would you recommend to youngsters interested in your professional path? Why? (no number limit here)

I don’t think I’m in any position to be recommending books for any kind of career path, but the books I’ve listed above typically show the type of readings I enjoy in my personal life, which do seep into my everyday choices, be it the way I speak with people, to my choices in my career. For me to “recommend” anything seems a little arrogant and futile, as it is a very personal journey of discovery, even if the goal is the same.

In reading, for me at least, I focus more on my “self” than my “career.” I think it’s important to study the self, truly study, like trying to get a degree, or a PhD. We spend so many years in school mastering an array of different subjects to get a job, but how many of us ever try to master understanding ourselves? Careers may change or end, but the self continues, we cannot understand others, if we do not truly understand ourselves. A growing self-awareness will help guide us when taking on the challenges of life in this volatile society.

Last question: what book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it?

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. I wasn’t expecting anything going into it, but I am currently quite engrossed by Kundera’s understanding of humanity and his beautiful writing style.

Links where you can follow Bernard Tan or find out more about his projects:

  • ReCactus
  • ReCactus @ Instagram
  • ReCactus @ FB
  • ReCactus @ Twitter
  • ReCactus @ Medium
  • About ReCactus @ CNBC: These are four social media apps you need on your phone right now
  • Bernard’s interview @ AsianEntrepreneur
  • Bernard’s interview @ PrimaBuzz

  • All books mentioned by Bernard in our interview:

  • Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
  • Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  • Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? – Seth Godin
  • The Art of War by Sun Tzu
  • The Bhagavad Gita by Eknath Easwaran
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
  • The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
  • Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
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