James Zhang


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Understanding, Listening, and... Focus!

Hello all,

One summer a while ago, I was an extremely active forumer on here. But then school happened and I got my ass kicked, hence the inactivity. But I survived and graduated, and now I've got a job, a job that means a lot to me.

To the point, that summer was revolutionary to me. I was actively pondering, talking with people on Ted, thinking about why there are problems in the world, listening to Tupac's music, and then they hit me. I found World Changing revelations. The biggest one is this:

The cause of all human problems is Misunderstanding.

To this day, I have yet to disprove this, and I dare you to challenge this theory. Every problem, from horrible code, to bad IT management, to unengaging teachers, etc. all had this commonality or led to it somehow in some way.

So if the problem is identified, then everyone needs understanding.



by Listening. And I don't mean the kind of "listening" where you're in some russian nuclear physics lecture and you hear the guy talk everything he says just becomes asjfkldsajkfjdfjsdlawhat, or the kind of "listening" where your mom tells you the list of chores like take out the trash, clean the dishes, wash the dog, do the laundry, etc. when you're in the middle of a playing Super Smash Bros. with some friends and you just go "uh huh, uh huh, no NO OH GOD NOOOOOOO". That's not listening at all because zero message is getting to the brain.

This is true listening. True listening is when you're engaged.
It's when you read a good book you can't put down. It's when you watch Forrest Gump and you cried. It's when you're playing Smash Bros. with your friends and not paying attention to your mom telling you to do chores. It's when you heard loud and clear what the shy kid has to say. It's when you didn't understand what a Pointer in Java is and instead of just keeping quiet, you ask the teacher to clarify.

This is listening.

What's the commonality? The revelation I found today is...

Focus. (TBC)

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    Jul 24 2013: James,
    I think you need to take out the trash, clean the dishes, wash the dog, and do the laundry....are you listening James?

    Seriously my friend, I am happy about your accomplishments, and glad to see you back on TED.

    You make some excellent points..."Understanding, Listening, and... Focus". I will add "hearing". We can sometimes listen without actually hearing. So, for me, the process is listening, hearing, focusing and understanding to the best of our ability:>)
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    Jul 13 2013: Hi, James!
    I want to congratulate you first on your achievements (graduating, IBM job) and the great topic!
    I want to add some points to the conversation here:
    I wondered where UNDERSTANDING comes from really?
    What I found is this:
    1. It's really about LISTENING!
    2. It's about FOCUS.
    3. It's about TRUST!
    BUT I don't want JUST understanding when it comes to human relations and closeness.
    I want DEEP and TRUE understanding. :) SO how do I get that? AND you almost nailed it!
    Let me give you this example: you mentioned listening to 2PAC and having revelations ...
    Well, I didn't listen to his music growing up (not even now) BUT I listen to DEPECHE MODE. :)
    I listened to this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CwS60ykM8s
    AND I think I know a little bit about what 2PAC's aim was. :) May be ...
    BUT it didn't get me to listen to his music (I wanna know the teacher, though)
    How did I get to this? INTEREST! That's where DEPTH lies. :)
    If you want TRUE, DEEP understanding spark INTEREST and CURIOSITY!
    I even want to watch the film with Maya Angelou BUT still don't wanna listen to 2PAC. :)

    As for stories I believe it's all bout interest again and the stories must be TRUTHFUL!
    Here's something about stories:
    These two women are great storytellers for me. :)
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      Jul 13 2013: Hello Silvia!

      "1. It's really about LISTENING!
      2. It's about FOCUS.
      3. It's about TRUST!"

      I think we're on the same page here :)

      That video was GOOD. I believe the lesson learned in that is this...

      True listening is not hearing what the message literally is, but hearing what the message is trying to say. So the real question to those stats people is, what are the stats trying to say? And I don't doubt that they're not trying to figure that out. But what I'm really questioning is, have these guys, who look at the high level, ever experienced any of the stuff that goes on in schools themselves?

      I learn from hands-on experience. I can read all the articles I want, hear talks all I want, but I can NEVER understand what it is until I've experienced it firsthand myself. This is how I've learned how to code, Photoshop, Photography, interviewing, etc. pretty much every skill I know very well, is a direct result of hands-on experience.

      If you care to read, there's an AMAZING article about a designer who got his hands dirty and spent 50 days to experience what people were doing and problems they experience, and designing solutions accordingly: http://uxdesign.smashingmagazine.com/2013/05/27/50-problems-50-days-part-1-real-empathy-innovation/

      Numbers don't lie, that's true, but they don't tell the whole story, only a piece. They're great for proving a point, not so great for centering a story around it.

      True understanding is experience.

      "BUT it didn't get me to listen to his music (I wanna know the teacher, though)"
      At the very least, you should check out his interviews. He was inspired by Shakespeare and described Romeo and Juliet as two lovers from different but opposing street gangs. Rapping and Hip Hop are languages he used to reach out to urban youths. Before he died, he wanted to be an actor, which I presume is so he can find another way to reach out to youths, since the movies he did were about that. He would have been a great actor no doubt.
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      Jul 13 2013: Part 2

      "How did I get to this? INTEREST! That's where DEPTH lies. :)
      If you want TRUE, DEEP understanding spark INTEREST and CURIOSITY!"

      YES! First impressions are CRUCIAL. And Interest and Curiosity are another form of first impressions.

      "As for stories I believe it's all bout interest again and the stories must be TRUTHFUL!"
      In a way this is true. All lies come from truth. If lies are what the message is saying, then truth is what the message is trying to say. So when people are saying "we should all tell truths" or "lies keep society in tact," these are partial truths. The REAL focus is trying to understand what the REAL message is behind what is said literally. What is behind the perceptual character vs the real character?

      But, with that said, speaking the truth is raw. And it only works when there's trust. But Truth and Trust go hand in hand in a feedback loop.

      Those were great stories! There is a SEVERE lack of understanding of Africa. I know I don't know much about them other than from pop cultural images like she said. Oh snap! That American Psycho comment was such burn!
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        Jul 14 2013: "NEVER understand what it is until I've experienced it firsthand myself." SO true. :)
        "But, with that said, speaking the truth is raw." That's why I love it!
        The point was that every story is derived of truth even lies as you said yourself. :)
        The article was great. Really interesting point of view.
        "Oh snap! That American Psycho comment was such burn!"
        She's good at that indeed. Well. I've read some of their books and I liked them. :)
        First impressions ... They are important but can be misleading ... if you don't LISTEN to your heart!
        CURIOSITY is the key to having success anywhere. :) The deeper, the better. :)
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      Jul 24 2013: Silvia,
      Nice to see you again:>)

      I LOVE your additions of trust, interest and curiosity! We will probably create better communications and relationships when we have genuine trust, interest, and curiosity, which are felt on a very deep level:>)
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        Jul 24 2013: Colleen! :) SO nice to see you, too. I do believe this because I see it in my students every day. And this is a talk on relationships that I really LOVE
        CURIOSITY is the engine driving us forward. "I have no special talents I'm only passionately curious." (Albert Einstein) ;) Now ain't that a saying. :)
        Thanks again for the kind words! Really made my day!
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          Jul 25 2013: I TOTALLY agree Silvia..."curiosity is the engine driving us forward", and I LOVE being curious, which has led me down many very interesting, exciting paths in the life adventure:>)
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    Jul 24 2013: A friend recently said to me "Todd, I love your blog, how do you get such inspiration?"

    It was a lovely thing for her to say, but my response was easy:
    "I make a conscious effort to notice remarkable things and purposely filter out junk, news and noise that may cloud my perspective of the world."

    Specific to this thread, I just wrote a post about truly listening to feedback during a product pitch (customers or investors). Recent experiences in listening to pitches have resulted in the entrepreneur waiting for ME to ask all the questions. If you are pitching an idea, product, movement, YOU need to ask people incredible questions and really LISTEN to their perspective.

    James I'm so proud to see your examples of true listening in the last paragraph, I couldn't agree more.

    FYI: the post I mentioned http://beingremarkable.me/blog/you-will-fail
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      Aug 2 2013: "Specific to this thread, I just wrote a post about truly listening to feedback during a product pitch (customers or investors). Recent experiences in listening to pitches have resulted in the entrepreneur waiting for ME to ask all the questions. If you are pitching an idea, product, movement, YOU need to ask people incredible questions and really LISTEN to their perspective."

      One of the hardest things to do is to Listen to the right thing at the right time and maintaining that focus so that you can know when to interject. In the end you're right for most cases.
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        Aug 12 2013: I like to hear stories about young men with big dreams and the big skills to get the job done. We need more of that in this world. And to my way of thinking, we need a whole lot less of of whole lotta' other stuff. Less noise would be nice.

        Whatever it is that your doing, saying, selling, or smelling, I really hope it's something good. Something green. Something healthy. Something wholesome - that makes a better new world for all of us.

        I guess used cars are good too. Quality's gone up at the factory, so the used ones last lots longer these days. Keep listening, Y'all.
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    Jul 14 2013: A wise man said "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication". The problems of humanity may be rooted in misunderstanding, but the simplicity of the problem and hence the solution, makes them (the problems) harder to solve.
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      Jul 14 2013: A wise man also said, "Simplicity is the best way to get a message across."
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    Jul 13 2013: Glad to see you clicked back in.

    Nice James, Ave! man Ave!
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      Jul 13 2013: Hey Ken! long time no see, how've u been?
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        Jul 13 2013: Good bud, really good. A little bit more updated but the same old program still powers the plant. James, what brought or when was the moment that you had this clarity of personal sight or realization, if these are the right words to use?

        You Americans, you will fulfill your destiny and teach new paths, war is not your future regardless of the current era and the by gone ages, of course i can't prove this but i have never forgotten her words.
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          Jul 13 2013: Well for one, this is exactly what we're learning at the IBM DesignCamp.

          Throughout the entire week, they gave us challenging projects. Just to give you a perspective of how challenging and demanding they are...

          There was one project where towards the end of the day (normal days are 9am-5pm), they presented to us a slide deck of one of our signature projects. This slide show was absolute shit and I gave a description of it in the earlier post on this thread lol. And just like that they gave us the assignment. At 9 AM tomorrow morning, you are to go to your teams and come up with a better way of presenting this product. "Tell us a story" that's what they always say.

          And you can see, this ruins many people's schedules and such, but for the most part, even though we stayed up til 10:30 PM working our asses off (we had another assignment that was due that night as well, which was to design a new t-shirt), we had fun. We learned a lot about each other and the kind of diversity and strengths each one brings to the table, we LISTENED, despite working in such a big team as 15 people. First we struggled for a couple of hours just trying to figure out what the shit the bloody thing was. It's embarrassing when you find Youtube videos that explain what that product was better than our slides. But I'm still in awe that we were able to tackle ambiguity that quickly and accurately. Our team destroyed that presentation and we gelled.

          There was a lot of things to learn from this week, but I think everyone one of us learned that if we listened to each other, we can finally understand what each of our talents bring to the table. For me personally, I have issues focusing and keeping up sometimes, but I realized that this was an issue and that if I don't FOCUS, I won't have a voice.
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        Jul 13 2013: Mate! I had to digest that slowly. You're not alone when it comes to staying anchored in the moment, we're human, we only get better. Damn it! I hate it when i wish i was born in another time.

        One of the greatest compliments anyone ever said in my presence was "Good, you are focused" It didn't register til sometime later on that he automatically shifted into gear as well, it was the way he said it that made me retain it. He stated it and if memory serves me right you could see the gear shifting within him at that moment.
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          Jul 13 2013: Sounds like that guy knew what he was doing.

          Sorry I guess it was a little bit too lengthy, but hey, you asked :P
          And I'm glad you read it.

          "Damn it! I hate it when i wish i was born in another time."
          I'm probably gonna experience this in a few years too haha. Like what the hell, these 5 year old kids are all carrying around an iPad. -_-
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        Jul 13 2013: Actually matey, there's nothing wrong with your posts or style and the length means nothing as you get your message across very clearly, it was me, trying to swing the camera around fast enough without blurring and loss of resolution at the same time zoom in and lock. I hope that explains it, i lack the vocabulary to properly explain.
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          Jul 13 2013: No dude, that was extremely good and that's what we're doing at IBM here right now.

          You tried to relate what I was saying with something you're familiar with. THAT is communication, and THAT is true understanding :)
          Vocabulary means nothing if no one else knows what they mean.

          And I guess I was a little too overwhelming, but good thing about Ted forums, you guys take your time to read through everything and make HUGE efforts to understand.

          Honestly, I've been blowing myself away with the shit that comes out of my head haha.

          Anyways good for you though, you're more powerful than you think, just work with what you got :)
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          Jul 13 2013: Oh by the way.

          "trying to swing the camera around fast enough without blurring and loss of resolution at the same time zoom in and lock."

          That is poetry, and that was VERY poetic. You don't need to know big words to get your message across.
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    Jul 12 2013: James, I am almost inexpressibly delighted that you have returned! Congratulations on your graduation and your new job, which I hope is related to your field of Communications.

    Here, if you have not yet spotted it, is the TED Playlist of talks about listening: http://www.ted.com/playlists/92/listen_up.html

    I think you will find many of out speakers have come to your same position.
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      Jul 12 2013: Hey dude, I feel like I didn't really explain myself for my disappearance. School hit me hard, but that shouldn't be a real excuse. I learned that there comes a point when you need to stop thinking and start doing. So that's what I've been doing.

      But now, I'm glad I got this job where thinking is doing.

      I'm gonna be busy, and unfortunately won't be too active, but I think it's good. Less time I'm on here means more time I'm doing good. Not well, good.

      So that's my explanation here, Fritzie, and I'm glad that you listened to me :)
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        Jul 12 2013: Could you describe roughly what your job is? I remember well your passion for your field of study.
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          Jul 12 2013: alright, what the hell, I don't see any reason to hide, I got a job into IBM as a Design Developer and am currently attending the new DesignCamp training program. There's a lot of negative stigma in "corporations" as a name and IBM is about as big as it gets (450,000 employees which is literally the size of Luxembourg). BUT that's not what IBM is about.

          If I were to describe IBM, I think of it as a Corporation version of TED. Ted's amazing, but IBM has all the experts innovating next-century innovation for a living. IBM did Watson and most people know that Watson just flatout destroyed humans in Jeopardy.

          So here's what I'll be doing as a Design Developer:

          Designing Experience/Prototyping. Designing Awareness.

          No one knows how ridiculous IBM is, I know I didn't. We have technology that smokes competition in terms of capabilities, and robustness but what IBM currently doesn't quite realize is, it is PEOPLE who use and interact with their technology, and People are still People. And it is designers who understand people the best, it's our job.

          Like when the IBM salesmen try to explain to clients what the product is, they don't know lol. It's not because they're incompetent, it's because they were given like 1 day to comprehend some shitty Russian novels of a powerpoint slidedeck and try to explain it to the customer. Problem identified. Solution is make better slides. Done. And we just did that our first week :D

          So I know I kinda rambled but this is an extremely rare and amazing opportunity and the other 60 designers I'm working my ass off with are HELLA talented. The level of innovation we're doing is Apple's glory days level of innovation. I may sound exaggerated, but we've done some amazing shit lol.

          So yeah, you'll be hearing from us ;)
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          Jul 13 2013: Oh dude! I watched that first video, great talk.

          And I know exactly how to make people listen. It ain't rocket science.

          You're listening to me even though I'm using bigass walls of text right? But I bet you, you were having fun reading my posts.

          That is because. I'm telling a STORY when I explain things. I'm using things that normal people would relate to so that you know what I'm talking about. HUMOR is extremely relatable (granted they understand the jokes). But more generic, EMOTION is relatable not so much Logic. Facts are good, but come on, anybody can throw facts, but it's how you turn those facts into emotional and relatable stories.

          Now write this down, this is the secret formula.

          A story has a PREMISE, a CONFLICT, a CLIMAX, and a RESOLUTION.

          What's the scenario? Bob likes Jane.

          What's the conflict? Jane likes Bad Boy Joe.

          What's the climax? Jane and Bad Boy Joe are starting to date and Bob snapped.

          What's the resolution? Bob used Black Panther cologne and wooed Jane with a guitar and a rose in the mouth.

          I just made that up on the spot when typing this, but you get the point how easy this formula is right?

          You know what else? Photos tell stories. That's why they're so entertaining.

          But point is, you tell a better story/presentation, they start listening. Knowledge is power.

          Edit: Oh, another point I missed. Good stories inspire curiosity. What's going to happen next? Next time on DRAGONBALL ZZZZZZZ. I remember inspiring curiosity was one of those revelations I made too that summer lol.
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        Jul 12 2013: What a wonderful opportunity right out of school! Yes, people on the outside often have extremely distorted ideas of what is happening on the inside of a variety of organizations. Further, some organizations are a lot better than the way they project themselves or the PR that has settled around them and some have a glossy exterior with a lot less going on, or a lot that is stagnant going on, inside the box.
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          Jul 13 2013: Yeah indeed, and I get that a lot of people here don't like big corporations because they don't understand how it works and they don't trust it.

          But fact is, big corporations have more power than government, and big corporations are what drives society the most. So how can outsiders trust big corporations? Transparency. I believe IBM's gonna be very transparent and open soon, that's my hunch. And to be transparent, we gotta tell good stories.
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        Jul 13 2013: Did you notice there is a new thread opened today on this leveraging of stories to promote particular outcomes?
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          Jul 13 2013: I did not! But now that u mentioned it, I'm gonna check it out...

          Just so you know though, this first week has been extremely tiring, but I have learned more in this one week than my entire years of pre-work education.
  • Aug 8 2013: I could not agree more - many people instead of listening and responding are thinking about what they are going to say to make their point. I am always impressed when someone listens and answers the questions not the questions they want to answer.

    I like to think I listen, at least I try.
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    Jul 12 2013: ...

    What do All cases of true listening require? They need the listener to Focus on the thing or person that's doing the talking.

    1. When you focus on something, you start Listening to it.
    2. When you listen to it, you start Understanding it.
    3. When you understand it, you can start Empathizing it or talking back to it.

    And it responds back to you going through that same three step process, it becomes an incredible feedback loop, where you're feeding each other ideas, inspiration, knowledge, comraderie, respect, etc.

    This is Communication.

    But I realize focusing is hard, and I can't do it all the time. You pulled an all nighter doing that project you procrastinated for four weeks, there's just no way you can function properly. Focus is affected by that.

    So how does one focus?
    Fish oil. Exercise. Protein-heavy breakfast. Socializing. Good night sleep. Deep Sleep. Photography (lol get it?). Supplements. True Laughing. Pondering.

    So think of it this way: Doing ALL OF THE ABOVE will achieve world understanding.

    One person at a time.
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        Jul 13 2013: Hi Kate! And thanks for the congrats!

        Well about PRISM, it was to be expected that the government would try to do something like that. They fear us because they can't tell enemy from foe, and the massive resources from big companies are available with everyone's data. I don't know politicians that well, but they can't all possibly be bad. They deal with problems on a very high level which leads to a strong disconnect to people. They say politically correct things to appeal to a certain demographic that can sway votes for them during election. Which then creates a negative feedback loop between people and politicians, leading to more distrust from both sides, and negative opposition due to misunderstandings of each other. It doesn't matter if either is well-intentioned if their PERCEIVED character is still evil.

        So this is where designers come into play. What people don't understand is just how valuable designers are. Good designers know people extremely well. In the end, a politician is a person, a civilian is a person, and a CEO is a person, and a big corporation is a group of people. Designers are perceptive of what the true underlying problem is when dealing with ambiguity and distrust because we can look through a person's character, understand it, and finally manipulate the perception of that character to our will.

        So maybe there needs to be more designer politicians? I think politics in the near future is going to change hard. The newer generations are smarter and can see through more bs cookie cutter campaigns, and then one politician will adopt full open-ness, run election, and gain huge respect from reddit, Facebook, and youtube communities, win in a landslide.

        Transparency builds trust.