How to break
out of the pack
Hi, I’m Jason Nazar, CEO and Co-
Founder of Docstoc.com, one of the
500 most trafficked websites in the
world. Our website gets 20 million visitors a
month, and we proudly help countless small
businesses find the legal and professional documents they need to grow.
Of course, I wasn’t always running a profitable company of 40 employees in
sunny Santa Monica. I had my share of aimlessness and mistakes, and
learned a lot about success from failure. I want to share some of my
revelations, but not just in relation to business. These stories are about the
importance of being different, being exceptional.
It should take you about half an hour to read this, give or take a few minutes.
Thirty minutes doesn’t sound like much time, but my goal is not to waste it. As
you will quickly understand, I take every moment of life very seriously.
In order to prevent wasting your time, all I ask is that you be a thoughtful
reader. Don’t shrug this off as inspirational hogwash, do yourself a favor and
really consider the questions and lessons I bring to the table. They may not
be useful to all of you; there’s a reason there will always be a pack. But for
Adapted by Rochelle Balis from a those of you ready to break away, these are the same thoughts that led me
speech given my Jason Nazar at
Pepperdine School of Business away from the norm, and on my own path when others thought I was crazy.
Zig Where Others Zag
You cannot do what everybody else does and expect meaningful
results. If Einstein can’t convince you, I’m not sure who could. You
cannot build a successful businesses unless you do at least some
things distinctly from everybody else.
In the ﬁnal year of my studies at Pepperdine business and law
school, I came up with the idea for a document storage site called
Docstoc. I started building the product, and I ended up skipping about
80 percent of my classes.
No, I’m not exaggerating. I didn’t buy books. I didn’t study. I was
honest with everyone about how I no longer cared about my Insanity: doing the same thing
over and over again, and
Instead, I spent every waking moment working with a development expecting different results.
shop in India that was programming the ﬁrst version of Docstoc. I
spent every last dime I had in savings, put money on credit cards
and took out student loans to pay it off. Undoubtedly, people in law
- Albert Einstein
school thought I was insane. It was pretty lonely doing things so
differently from the pack. But I was conﬁdent that I had to take a
different path in order to do something extraordinary.
We all treasure “being unique,” but really take a moment and ask yourself: how much time do you actually
spend doing things differently than those around you? I’m not talking about small differences, but fundamental
ones. Different approaches lead to different results, and you will need these to succeed in business.
Sometimes it Helps to Think Less
they eat it. One day, their cheese is gone.
Don’t get me wrong, critical thinking is crucial to
success. But sometimes thinking can actually prevent The mouse decides to head off and look for new
you from starting the business of your dreams. cheese. The person decides, “Maybe if I come back
tomorrow, the cheese will be here.” Of course, the
If I had known how difﬁcult it would be to start, launch cheese never shows up, and he spends all day trying to
and grow Docstoc, I honestly might not have done it. understand why, sulking, whining and crying.
I didn’t know that I was going to be $60,000 in debt Finally, when watching the mouse eat a new piece of
after graduate school. I didn’t know that I would be cheese, the person realizes he needs to stop wasting
working 18 hours a day, six days a week for two years time wondering where the cheese has gone. He needs
straight. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. to be like the mouse, and begin a search for new
This reminds me of
The quicker you let go of an old fable called Sometimes thinking is the enemy of doing. When
“Who Moved My
old cheese, the sooner you’re trying to break out of the pack, your biggest
Cheese?” about a enemy is inertia.
you find new cheese. mouse and a little
person. Thinking may hold you back from taking the plunge.
- Spencer Johnson Every day, cheese
Thought comes later, when you discover what’s
working, and want to improve on it. Most people who
shows up on their want to start a business think too much about how to be
front doorstep, and an entrepreneur, and not doing enough to become one.
Zig Where Others Zag Stop Talking About
Yourself and Others
Eleanor hit the nail on the head with this one: only small
minded people talk about people.
How much time do you spend thinking about yourself? The
money you want to make, the body you wish you had, the
people you want to be in a relationship with. And how much
time do you spend gossiping about other people?
In my experience, that’s the majority of what people think
and talk about.
But I’ve also met a lot of incredible individuals, and I know
that great people, great minds and great entrepreneurs talk
about ideas. And then they take action on those ideas.
As many of you know, Steve Jobs is famous for having a
unique management style. For all his faults, he was always
focused on the next big idea.
He used to go on walks with his VPs and other people at
Apple. Do you think Steve used these walks to talk about
himself, or to gossip about other people at Apple? Or do
you think he was talking about his next big idea for
revolutionizing the music industry, cell phones, or ﬁlm?
This was all he ﬁxated on; thinking up and then delivering the
most captivating products people had ever seen.
We spend too much of our time thinking and talking about
ourselves and other people. Truly great entrepreneurs think
about ideas, and then turn them into reality.
Great minds discuss ideas,
average minds discuss events,
small minds discuss people.
- Eleanor Roosevelt
Repeat, Own, and Make New Mistakes
The quote below is, of course, former president Bush’s famous version of “Fool me once, shame on you, fool
me twice, shame on me.” This can be boiled down to a simpler adage: “Don’t ever make the same mistake
This is a terrible motto, let me tell you why: throughout your life, you’re going to make the same mistake many
Have you ever learned anything new the ﬁrst time around? If I tell you a new sentence in a foreign language,
could you repeat it verbatim? If you play a sport that you’ve never played before, will you be a pro after the
ﬁrst or second try? Of course not.
You have to repeat things several times until you work through, internalize and grow from their lesson.
It’s no different for mistakes. Life is about making mistakes. You won’t learn from your mistakes the ﬁrst time,
you will make them a couple of times. Eventually you will own those mistakes, stop making them, and move on
to new ones.
When I ﬁrst started Docstoc, I made every mistake in the book. One of the
biggest mistakes I made, one that took me several times to learn from,
was not appreciating or complimenting my employees.
In the beginning I held a high bar for excellence no one could
attain. I never wanted any of my employees to feel like we had
done a good enough.
The ﬁrst day that we launched Docstoc, 40,000 people came to
our website. My co-founder and all of the developers who’d pulled
all-nighters for months were ecstatic. They felt vindicated, like their
hard work was all worth it. But I was upset. I wanted to reach
People in the company occasionally said things along the lines of “you
should compliment him on that” or “ease up a little bit,” but nothing sunk in.
Finally, one day my co-founder pulled me out of my ofﬁce and
Fool me once, shame on you. took me for a walk. He told me I was being a jerk. “You need to
appreciate and validate our employees.” He insisted. “Your
Fool me… and you can’t get attitude is not sustainable, and it will not inspire people to work
fooled again. harder.”
That was the fourth or ﬁfth time I’d hear this, but this was the most
- George Bush direct anyone had been about it. It ﬁnally got through, even
though it took some time for me to accept and internalize.
Now I spend a lot of time making sure the employees in our ofﬁce knows when they are doing well. Don’t be
afraid to tell your employees where they can improve, but offer that critical feedback with a note of validation.
This wasn’t my ﬁrst mistake, or my last, and I’ve made peace with that. Forgive yourself for making mistakes; it
comes hand in hand with doing things differently. Make a mistake as many times as you need to in order to
never make it again.
A man cannot be
comfortable without his
- Mark Twain
You Should Be Uncomfortable
To break out of the pack you should be uncomfortable, and often.
Any time you push yourself or stretch your boundaries, it’s uncomfortable. It’s not comfortable to work out, or
learn a new sport. It’s not comfortable to push yourself academically, to wrap your mind around new topics and
Setting yourself apart requires a commitment to growth. So I’ve always purposely put myself in uncomfortable
situations, which forced me to adapt and learn. There are two main ways that I stepped out of my comfort zone:
Firstly, when I graduated from college I decided I was going to be a motivational speaker. I found a company that
sent me to talk to high school students. This was a challenge for me because I wasn’t very popular back in the
day, especially with girls.
Flash-forward to my career as a motivational speaker, where I was speaking to a gym of hundreds high school
students on a daily basis. It was terrifying.
One day I spoke at an all-girls school and realized that they were all clapping for me. I’d never seen one girl
cheer for me, let alone 600. It was incredible.
Not long after, I made connections with people in various corporate positions, and moved into doing seminars on
sales and business.
I was in my early 20’s and I’d never had a job in my life, but I was telling these people how to get better at
marketing and negotiations. My strategy was simply reading motivational books and regurgitating their lessons.
Giving these speeches was extremely uncomfortable at ﬁrst, but after a while it became natural.
The second challenge I took on was learning hypnosis. After $199 and a weekend class, I started telling people I
was a certiﬁed hypnotist. I had the piece of paper that said so, but I had no idea what I was doing.
Eventually, somebody asked me to host a show at their school, and I agreed. I walked on stage in front of 400
people for a large fraternity event, swallowed the lump in my throat, and started the show. And it went terribly.
Just awfully. It was one of the most uncomfortable moments of my life.
But I went on to do thirty more shows that year, until I felt conﬁdent with my act. The years I spent on stage and
the self-assurance that it built, lead to the skills I needed to raise $4 million for Docstoc. You might not always
know how these uncomfortable situations will help you down the road, but I promise you they will.
Forget 80/20, It’s 99/1
We’ve all heard the Pareto Principle: “80 percent of results come from 20 percent of what you do.” I’ll agree
that this is true once you’re successful; when you’re running a large organization or company, 80 percent of
the effects come from 20 percent of the work.
But when you’re starting an entrepreneurial journey and trying to create something that doesn’t exist yet, 99
percent of your results come from 1 thing that you do.
When you’re kicking off a business, you need to focus on one obsession. When I was in law school, there
were plenty of things to distract me, but all of my effort went into launching my product.
Once I launched it, my goal was to increase trafﬁc. When we had
10 million people a month coming to the website, I focused on Most people have no idea of
proﬁt. the giant capacity we can
immediately command when
When I look back on the ﬁve year history of Docstoc, I see only
four major decisions I made that led to 99 percent of our success. we focus all of our resources
In the light of those singular obsessions, everything else went by on mastering a single area of
the wayside. our lives.
Remember, when you’re starting out you shouldn’t focus on many
things – or 20 percent – but one thing that is going to lead to - Tony Robbins
Become a Critical Optimist
Fitzgerald’s quote is a great one for influential politicians and CEOs, because it
captures a key ability for exceptional leaders. The most successful people are
simultaneously the most optimistic and the most critical.
Let’s use Walt Disney as an example. Imagine being an investor in the 1940’s
and hearing his pitch to create a land of puppet animals: There would be
rides and people in animal costumes, and it would be the most popular
attraction in the world. You’d think he was crazy. And many people did.
In spite of this, Disney remained optimistic about the future of his vision. He was
positive he could see things that nobody else could see.
But if you read his biography and the words of those who surrounded him,
you’ll also learn that he was very hard on himself. He was obsessed with
The test of intelligence is improving, and was constantly critical of his own work.
the ability to hold two
This is what great people do to break away from the group, they develop a
opposed ideas in the mind binary ability to be aware of both their strengths and weaknesses. It sounds
at the same time. easy, but it’s surprisingly difficult to focus on both. Success requires the drive
to improve, while also believing in your ability to achieve anything.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald
Kaizen’s: Lesson: Improve Every Day
Kaizen pioneered a management technique in Japan that revolutionized car
manufacturing. It was based on the notion of continuous improvement. His
approach became very popular in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and the
United States began to implement it as well. It’s simple, but potent: push
yourself to be better, every single day.
One of my favorite books is called, Talent Is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. He
talks about ﬁgures throughout history who we believe to be the most gifted
among us, like Mozart, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods.
We assume that these people were born with incredible gifts of athleticism or
genius, which separate them from the rest of us. The research shows,
however, that in many ways they are no different than their counterparts.
What separates them is not their talent, but a systematic, disciplined
approach to practice that pushes them beyond their boundaries.
Jerry Rice was not the greatest wide receiver because he was more
physically gifted than other players, but because he had an insane practice
regimen. Every day, every week and every year, he pushed himself to do
things that he couldn’t before.
Mozart wasn’t simply a brilliant child. His father was an accomplished
pianist and composer, and an extremely disciplined teacher. By the age of 3,
Mozart had already practiced for more hours than children ﬁve times his age, I’ve failed over and over
under such a rigorous schedule that it created what the world saw as a and over again in my life
genius. This label doesn’t give justice to his discipline.
and that is why I succeed.
Many of us practice and do things that we’re already good at, and we get
incrementally better it. Most of us don’t push ourselves in completely new
ways. This is the key to becoming a richer, more talented individual.
- Michael Jordan
The Means Justify the End
Everyone is familiar with “The ends justify the means.” It talks about “flow” in his book Delivering Happiness. He
sounds like the slogan of a successful person, because it discusses passion and “flow” being one of the key
involves doing whatever it takes to achieve a desired components of being truly happy. Flow is when you’re
result. But I like to flip this maxim and live by its opposite: working on something with such deep concentration that
“The means will justify the end.” This adage is about you lose track of time.
properly and really What activities do you get lost in? Reading? Working
Do not dwell in the savoring the process. out? Writing? Brainstorming ideas? These moments are
what the entrepreneur’s journey is all about. They are
past, do not dream of
what bring successful people fulfillment.
the future, concentrate The best
entrepreneurs do this
on the present moment. My recommendation for those of you aiming to break
by working in “flow.”
away from the pack, is not to focus on the end, but the
- Buddha Tony Hsieh, who is means. Find your flow, and the ends will materialize
the CEO of Zappos,
Self Improvement in Only 2 Questions
I worked as a motivator for years, and I decided that you could take all of the self-
improvement books, ideologies and seminars in the world, and boil them down to two
The ﬁrst was asked of me by my best friend when I was struggling to make a decision:
“What are you pretending not to know?”
Polonius is often quoted for saying “to thine own self be true” in Hamlet. Although
Polonius wasn’t the most honest character, those six words have resonated with people for
centuries because we all have difﬁculty being honest with ourselves.
You cannot improve yourself until you confront the things you’re avoiding. Maybe you’re
not working on what you really should, or there’s an incongruity between the person you
are and the person others see. Confronting the things you know but are pretending not to,
this is the ﬁrst step to ﬁnding a deeper level of fulﬁllment.
The second question follows the ﬁrst: Why aren’t you doing the things that you know you
should be doing?
You know what to do. You know you should be eating
well, working hard, helping others and improving
your own life. Life isn’t about ﬁguring out what to do,
To thine own self be true. but ﬁguring out why you don’t do the things you
know you should be doing.
Don’t Be an Extra in Your Own Movie
The Teddy Roosevelt quote on the right comes from his famous “Citizenship in a
Republic” speech. In the speech he explains why a critic doesn’t matter but the man
he’s watching does. The man in the arena is the one who, even if he fails, does so
triumphantly by daring to do something great. If he succeeds, he knows a victory that
no one else will know.
It helps to think of life as a movie. Just like a movie, your life will end. No matter what
you believe happens afterwards, this life is one complete work, with a beginning,
middle and end.
Really imagine this for a moment. Are you an extra in your movie? Did you just
happen to be there while your story unfolded? Are the main characters other people
Too many of us are extras in our own film, and don’t realize that we can shape it into
anything we want it to be. In order to break out the pack, you need to step out of the
background. It’s not the critic who
Successful people take control of their own story, and become the director of their
counts...The credit belong
life’s work. Be the star, and make sure you get the glory when things go well. If you to the man in the arena.
see life this way, you can shape your destiny to be anything that you want it to be.
Change does not roll in on
the wheel of inevitability, but
comes through struggle.
- Martin Luther King Jr.
Changing the Pack
I want to end with a story about changing what it means water, all the monkeys suddenly started washing their
to be normal. sweet potatoes in the water as well.
There’s an island in Japan called Koshima that’s When an idea or a movement becomes prevalent
inhabited by monkeys, and surrounded by several other enough, it becomes part of our collective consciousness.
islands populated by monkeys as well. In 1952, This sudden shift determines the way we do everything.
scientists were running an experiment that involved
dropping sweet potatoes onto Koshima. Just look at politics today. For the last 50 to 100 years,
there haven’t been major pushes for democracy in the
The monkeys loved these new and plentiful treats that Middle East. All of a sudden, in a period of a year,
fell from the sky. However, the potatoes were dropped countries throughout the Middle East that don’t interact
in the sand, so they had a granulated texture and much or have significant trade relations are all
unpleasant taste. simultaneously fighting for representative governments.
One day, a very smart money walked over to the ocean Breaking out of the pack involves more than manifesting
and bathed her sweet potato, and realized that it got rid the things you want. Look at the larger picture: how to
of the bitter taste. Slowly but surely, some of the other make an institution, a country, or the world a better
monkeys followed suit. The older monkeys, however, place. In order to do this, you won’t only need to move
were all set on their ways and didn’t seem interested in yourself, you’ll need to move the pack. That is a difficult
changing. goal, but an exceptional one.
One day, when the hundredth monkey (they don’t know Take some time to really think about how you could be
if it was the 100th for sure, but for the purposes of the that hundredth monkey. What deed, or way of thinking
story we’ll pick a number) washed his sweet potato, and or representing yourself, can move others and create a
the trend hit a sudden tipping point. Inexplicably, after better collective consciousness. What steps can you take,
this hundredth monkey started washing his sweet potato, not only to affect your own life, but thousands or millions
every single other monkey on the island ran to the water of people around you? That’s my goal in life.
and followed suit. And all of the monkeys on Koshima
washed their potatoes from then on. None of these lessons are new. In fact, you may have
heard them many times before. But as I discovered,
Scientists wondered, what was it about that particular sometimes it take five, ten or one hundred times to hear
number of monkeys that caused a breaking point? something until it really hits you. Remember that you are
the main character, so don’t make it a boring movie.
And that wasn’t the really surprising part. On an island Never stop being curious, being motivated, being
a couple of miles away, separated by a large body of uncomfortable. And don’t forget to enjoy the ride.