Confucius is the next in my series of famous leaders on knowledge management, although he spoke much more about learning and wisdom than knowledge itself.

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Confucius introduced three key virtues:  Rén, Li and Yi.

Rén relates to humanity, and the relationships between two people. It causes people to remember that they is never alone, and that everyone has these relationships to fall back on, being a member of a family, the state, and the world.

(Or a network, I’m sure we could add today)

Li consists of the norms of proper social behaviour as taught to others by fathers, village elders and government officials. The teachings of li promoted ideals such as brotherliness, righteousness, good faith and loyalty. The influence of li guided public expectations, such as the loyalty to superiors and respect for elders.  Li is sometimes describes as “the way things society expects things to be”.

Finally. Yi is an internal controller which gives the person the ability to make right judgments about the people and situations and to react accordingly. Confucius stated that truth can be hidden sometimes and most common reaction to the situation is not always the best one and the possession of Yi principle helps to define the true nature of things.

You could say that Li will get you to a proper answer, Yi will get you to a correct answer.

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This distinction between the Li and Yi  in relation to the relational virtue of R
én reminds me of the impact of Organisational Network Analysis  when understanding how people make judgements (Yi) about where to find knowledge which might run counter to the official (Li) organisational hierarchy. 

I often describe it to clients as “taking an x-ray of the organisation to see what really happens, rather than what the organisation chart suggests”.

The map below contains such a wealth of insight compared with the organisation chart.  The colours of the nodes represent functional expertise, the size of each node is the length of service, the colour “heat” of the lines represents the frequency of communication and the arrow heads show the direction of technical requests.  No wonder the team spent nearly an hour drawing out conclusions and actions!

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So getting back to Confucius – what did he say which we would relate to knowledge management?  Here are my top ten – a journey from ignorance to reflection, learning, adopting good practice, double-loop learning and transferring knowledge to others…

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”

“To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge.”

“Study the past if you would define the future.”

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

“Learning without thought is labour lost; thought without learning is perilous.”

“You cannot open a book without learning something.”

“If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them, and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself.”

“Reviewing what you have learned and learning anew, you are fit to be a teacher.”

…and one for you Cynefin zealots out there:

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”