Leadership Lessons from Confucius: creative and critical thinking

critical and creative thinking

Confucius said: “Bringing new meaning to the old to understand the new makes you fit to be a teacher.”

As AI proliferates, it won’t just be blue-collar jobs like driving that will be replaced by algorithms that never sleep. White-collar positions in legal, accounting, finance, and other professions will also be under threat from super AIs that are way more efficient at specific tasks like sifting through mountains of documents at the speed of light.

Preparing both yourself and your people to survive and hopefully thrive in this disruptive new world will be a huge challenge: one that you should start working on now if you haven’t already!

The key is not so much to send everyone out on a training course to learn Python (though this would certainly help), but to help them build up fundamental critical and creative thinking skills so that they can make sense of the huge oceans of data that are being pumped out by the machines.

You can’t magically conjure up critical and creative thinking out of thin air (or on a one-day seminar for that matter). You have to build up the ability to analyze and understand information from different sources and angles so that you can interpret and apply it in fresh new ways.

Mastering critical and creative thinking thus requires developing a mindset like the one that Confucius recommends here of “bringing new meaning to the old to understand the new.” Indeed, strengthening my own mental muscles in this regard is one of the reasons why I’ve decided to take a fresh look at the Analects through this Leadership Lessons series.

Are there any old books, movies, TV shows, or music that you think would be worth revisiting to spark your critical and creative thinking? Why not start taking a fresh look at them today?


This article features a translation of Chapter 11 of Book 2 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 2 here.

This is an image of the Temple of Yan Hui in Qufu. You can read more about it here.

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