19 March 2011

Learning Innovation from Confucius - Part 1

This title may have surprised you. Is not Confucius an ancient sage living sometime about 2500 years ago? What could Ancient Chinese Classics tell us about innovation? In particular, what could Confucius tell us about being creative and innovative? Maybe he can teach us about philosophies, the development of character virtues, leadership, government, and education, but innovation?

If you believe we cannot learn innovation from the past, then you have committed a grave error in innovative thinking and could have missed out on a big opportunity where many of your breakthrough ideas could come from.

Principle 1 Discover New from Study of Old

One of the key principles of innovation is discovering new things from the old. The most effective and widely adopted systematic innovative thinking method is TRIZ, invented by the Russian Genrich Altshuller by studying tens of thousands of patents for patterns and invented the TRIZ method.
This method of new from old is exactly what Confucius said in The Analects (Lunyu) Chapter 2 verse 11
2:11 温故而知新,可以为师矣。
Revise and review the old things and then discover and invent the new things. If you can do that, then you can be a teacher.
I think Confucius will be proud of Altshuller and his TRIZ and ARIS innovative thinking methods. (Have a look at my simplified, integrated, and distilled BVITS innovative thinking method too).

A key thing to studying the old and existing is to look for patterns, cause and effect relationships, the connections, and the missing ones too, and then to re-connect and to simulate for new ideas and connections.

A subset of the word of wisdom of Confucius is a new fancy name for this analysis of past data. It is called Business Analytics (BA), or even the more popular "Big Data". It refers to the skills, technologies, applications, and practices for continuous iterative exploration and investigation of past business performance to gain insight and drive business planning. The older names are Business Intelligence, Data Warehousing, and Executive Decision Support systems. Such books recorded many success stories used in business. Now, we have generative AI like ChatGPT and Google's Bard. (This sentence is added on 4 July 2023). 

Building on the past to create new is a good principle for innovation and a strong foundation to stand on. Newton told us to stand on others’ shoulders to advance knowledge rather than stepping on others’ toes where we get more arguments.

Principle 2 Teach It

Implied in Confucius's saying is the principle to teach the new things that we have created. It is important that we share it. It brings two advantages. 

As we teach and share our new knowledge, we get to improve it. 

Secondly, the world is better with such sharing. 

We appreciate and honor Altshuller for sharing with us his TRIZ and ARIS inventive methods. Many breakthrough inventions and innovations come from people practicing his methods.

We must also honor Confucius by awarding him the Knowledge Management and Learning Organization Awards. It is by capturing, sharing, and inventing knowledge that we progress.

This is only part 1 of a series of Learning Innovation from Confucius posts that I wish to share with you, applying his teaching of creating new from old (studying his classic work) and sharing with the world.

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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