28 March 2011

Learning Innovation from Confucius Part 9 Innovate without End

Continuing from Learning Innovation from Confucius Part 8 Group Innovation, we shall stress on the need to ‘innovate without end’ to end this series of posts.

Innovation should never be a one-off thing. The advantage gain by innovation will not last forever. It dissipates with time as competitors catch up or other PESTEL factor changes will obsolete the offerings. But let’s go back to the beginning first to stress that innovation is for creating differentiation.

1. Innovation Differentiate – Same Start but Increased Differences
Confucius said,
Analects 17:2 「性相近也,习相远也。」
Aptitudes are similar at the beginning, but overtime, with different practices and experience they differ greatly.
While we may all graduates from the same class or university, even with similar results, yet overtime, due to differences in occupations, opportunities, experience and additional learning, we all end up quite differently.  The career path, the learning and the innovation and new challenges that we choose and develop upon make a great difference. Dare to innovate and take up the risks and challenges, especially in starting new businesses, creating new technologies, and making a real impact on the community and even the world and we will have not regrets when age catches up with us.

Confucius gave us another meaningful mission
Analects 17:3 子曰:「唯上知与下愚,不移。」
Only unchanging principle for progress is for those who know much should teach those who are ignorance.
The typical translation is the wise at the top and the stupid at the bottom, they changed not. Such a translation is not too meaningful by itself.  I need to add the following action, ‘The way to change is for the wise to teach the stupid’. This tallies with previous verse. Learning and innovating new things create the difference.
Helping others to stand up and accomplish when one succeeds is the teaching of Confucius on ‘love’. (6:30 夫仁者,己欲立而立人,己欲达而达人).

2. Continual Innovation – Innovate & Optimize Cycles
Here is a quote from Confucius’ disciple:
Analects 19:13 子夏曰:「仕而优则学; 学而优则仕。」
Zi Xia said,”When you excel as an officer/manager then learn to do better. When you have excelled in learning then you work like an officer/manager to apply it.”
The innovation process is about creating something new first and then refine it and eventually obtain the mastery of the new thing. After which, we create yet another new thing. This should flip-flop endlessly. This is a path along an S-Curve and then somewhere at the top, another new S-Curve comes in to replace the existing one. It is easier to summarize it as:
Innovation is making the strange familiar & making the familiar strange.
3. Build the Culture of Innovation – Do it while you can

Confucius gives us four types of learners or innovators.
Analects 16:9 子曰:生而知之者上也;
First is those that are born with the ability (knowledge)
学而知之者次也;
Second is those that acquire it through learning.
困而学之,又其次也;
Third is those who are forced by circumstances to learn it.
困而不学,民斯为下也。
Last is those who are forced and yet refuse to learn. Such is the lowest level.
We can learn a few things:
  1. The hope is that you can do something about what you are not born with.
  2. The best time to innovate is when your business is doing well. Don’t wait till you are trapped in old offerings, processes, losses, and then be forced to innovate. Even then, there is still some hope.
  3. The best is to create a culture of innovation and learning.
    Some founders are born with it. It will be good that he creates and leave behind the culture of innovation. e.g. Google, Apple.
  4. Please remmember that innovation is not varities. Powerful innovation is about mini-max differentiation (See Differentiated and High Payoff Innovations). Apparently Steve Jobs has it and John Scully seemed to had not. Apple under John has lots and lots of products under Apple. When Steve came back, he killed most of it and put apple back on the core products Mac and give it a new meaning – computer can be fashionable too.
4. Learning The Universal Principle of Rightly Balanced (Doctrine of Mean or Pivot)

Great innovation is about holding a set of values in optimum dynamic balanced of win for all. It is not about compromises but about win-win for all parties involved.

Confucius warned us about just doing thing in one dimension very well and neglect this universal principle of doing the right thing and having the right conduct for all stakeholders.
Analects 17:8 子曰: 六言六蔽  Six Virtues and Six Viruses:
  1. 好『仁』不好学,其蔽也『愚』;
    Great in caring but not in learning will suffer from stupidity. (easily misled and taken advantage of)
  2. 好『知』不好学,其蔽也『荡』;
    Great in knowledge but not in learning will suffer from uncontrolled wild conduct. (too smart and do all kind of mischievous things)
  3. 好『信』不好学,其蔽也『贼』;
    Great in trusting and not in learning will suffer from theft. (Being cheated).
  4. 好『直』不好学,其蔽也『绞』;
    Great in forthrightness and not in learning will suffer from hurting people
  5. 好『勇』不好学,其蔽也『乱』;
    Great in courage but not in learning will suffer from creating a big mess.
  6. 好『刚』不好学,其蔽也『狂』。
    Great in strength and not in learning will suffer from violent acts.
This ends our discussion on learning innovation from Confucius. I hope you learned about innovation, about Confucius and the Wisdom of Ancient Chinese too.

For an animated presentation of the complementary values see Complementary Values from Chinese Zodiac Signs.

See also Gandhi's 7 Dangers To Human Virtue for a comparison:


1. Wealth without work
2. Pleasure without conscience
3. Knowledge without character
4. Business without ethics
5. Science without humanity
6. Religion without sacrifice
7. Politics without principle



For the first post of this series, see Learning Innovation from Confucius - Part 1 New from Old

For more about innovation see The Twelve Truths of Innovation.

Lim Liat Copyrighted March 2011

The Confucius Innovation Series:
  1. Learning Innovation from Confucius Part 1 Discover New from Old
  2. Learning Innovation from Confucius Part 2 Ideality & Diffusion
  3. Learning Innovation from Confucius Part 3 The Attitudes & Mindsets
  4. Learning Innovation from Confucius Part 4 Method 1 Observe & Discern
  5. Learning Innovation from Confucius Part 5 Method 2 Solve Contradiction
  6. Learning Innovation from Confucius Part 6 Method 3 Bipolar & Multi-uses.
  7. Learning Innovation from Confucius Part 7 Method 4 Speedy Process
  8. Learning Innovation from Confucius Part 8 Group Innovation.
  9. Learning Innovation from Confucius Part 9 Innovate without End
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