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What I Believe, and My Favorite TED Talks

Posted: February 03, 2017 | Author: Dr. Shuoyang Zhang, Yorkshire Parent and Associate Professor at the University of St. Thomas

Dr. Shuoyang Zhang, Yorkshire Parent

Working on my personal website a couple of years back, I started by listing the usual: education background, work experience, awards and publications, and so forth. Everything looked good, but something was missing. Accomplished, but so lame, I thought. It might serve well as a CV, but it did not show who I am. So I added another list—What I Believe.

Today, when I am going through the list of my favorite TED talks, I realize all of a sudden that these particular talks speak to my heart because they go exactly hand-in-hand with what I believe.

1) Bring back creativity. We are dominated by professionalism and corrupted by adulthood. Our child spirit is the most precious thing and we should never lose it.

In this insightful and entertaining talk, Ken Robinson emphasizes the importance of creativity in education. He reviewed the problems associated with the origin of the public education system. Having spent pretty much all my time in school, first as a student then as a professor, I have seen too many brilliant students, who, in spite of how truly talented they are, seem not good enough when measured by conventional standards. While part of it is due to the education system, the other part, I believe, is due to socialization and conformity. Growing up we are being told the “right” way to do things, which over the time becomes the only way. The imagination and creativity we are born with are gradually buried by the fear of being socially unacceptable as we mature. On this note, I cannot wait to celebrate this year’s Yorkshire Academy musical: Seussical the Musical. Long live Dr. Seuss! If you want to know how to stop schools from killing creativity, read Ken Robinson’s latest book: Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education.1

2) Cross borders and blur edges. Seemingly unrelated fields can deepen your understanding and inspire you to come up with the best ideas.

Collective intelligence is on the very top of my list of beliefs, although I am using creativity and diversity to introduce this concept here. It is a shared intelligence, as opposed to individual intelligence, that emerges from a group of individuals through various interactions to maximize the idea pool of the group while enhancing the knowledge base of individuals. What predicts collective intelligence? Is it the intelligence of individual group members? Surprise: research has shown that social sensitivity is the only significant predictor of collective intelligence.2 This brings me to my next point: social capital.

3) Pause. Look around. Appreciate the people in your life. You will be not be who you are without them. Smile and show your gratitude.


Indeed, both the education system and the corporate world seem to still be dominated by “the super chicken model,” as shared by Margaret Heffernan in this talk. When it comes to group performance, it is not about the individuals, but the interconnectedness of these individuals in the social network. Social capital refers to the collective value from the relationships in social networks. In the context of education, schools are the nurturing environment for social capital, which has been proven to attribute to lower dropout rate and higher performance. OK, I know I am starting to sound like an academic, but trust me, you have to hear about the chicken experiment on productivity in the first minute of this talk, if not anything else!

4) No need to pursue happiness. Just be. Right here right now as who you are. What we need to pursue is meaning. Meaning brings life alive.


I have to admit that I do not have a specific TED talk that speaks the full volume of this point. In fact, the findings from the longest study on happiness is a testimony for the effects of social capital discussed above. People with quality relationships with families, friends and communities are happier, healthier, sharper, and live longer. So I have to back myself up with an old article and a new book. On living in the moment, researchers have found that people are thinking about what is not happening almost as often as they are thinking about what is and that doing so typically makes them unhappy.3 On the pursuit of meaning, researchers have identified the defining features of a meaningful life as connecting and contributing to something beyond the self, which again is related to the collective.

5) First be a good human being. Then be good at what you do. Spend some time, and be really good. Do it beautifully.


Got grit? Gotta love the new slogan on the Yorkshire Academy’s cap! Many parents probably have read the book recommended by Ms. Swinbank: How Children Succeed.4 This hot word can be traced back to an old concept: deliberate practice. Most of us are familiar with the 10,000-hour rule.5 However, what matters is not just the volume of practice, but the quality of the practice.6 But this should be done only if one has accomplished the practice on being a good human being. Confucius said, “A youth should be filial at home and fraternal abroad. He should be earnest in deeds and truthful in words. He should overflow in love to all, and cultivate the friendship of the good. When he has effort to spare (after the performance of these above), then he should study the literature.”

How to raise successful kids without overparenting Last, this final TED Talk may help us all to relax a little bit after all these readings.



  1. Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education. By Ken Robinson (2016).
  2. Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups. By Anita Williams Woolley, Christopher F. Chabris, Alex Pentland, Nada Hashmi, and Thomas W. Malone. Science (2010), 330 (6004), 686–688.
  3. A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind. By Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert. Science (2010), 330 (6006), 932–932.
  4. How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. By Paul Tough (2012).
  5. Outliers: The Story of Success. By Malcolm Gladwell (2008).
  6. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. By Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool (2016).
  7. Analects. By Disciples of Confucius (unknown).