Leadership Lessons from Confucius: birds of a feather

birds of a feather

子曰:「德不孤,必有鄰。」
Confucius said: “Virtue never stands alone; it always has neighbors.”

Birds of a feather flock together. This is the reason why Silicon Valley has been able to remain so dominant for so long. With its thriving technology, business, financial, and education ecosystem, the area has long been able to attract the brightest and most entrepreneurial talent in the world to join the ranks of its giants or set up their own companies to exploit the latest advances and innovations.

It’s also the reason why many other cities in the US and the rest of the world have copied its model by setting up their own industrial clusters and hi-tech zones. China has been by far the most successful in this regard, with Shenzhen now firmly established as the global hi-tech manufacturing capital – not to mention a leading innovation hub for smart phones and a growing number of IoT devices.

However, the longer that birds of a feather stay together the vibrant colors of their plumages and wings start to lose their luster, successive generations of their offspring ride the tailwinds of their predecessors’ success rather than fly off in new directions, and even the newcomers that arrive are quickly subsumed by the prevailing culture. Worse still, as business and living costs explode the weaker and poorer members of the flock are forced out of their homes to either live on the streets or flee to pastures new.

Ensconced in their gated communities and gentrified neighborhoods, the heads of the flock are shielded for a while from the consequences. But as the cracks widen further and the problems become more intractable, they too begin to wonder whether they should stay and fight to protect the nest they’ve built or take their knowledge and wealth and fly off to settle in more hospitable climes.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 24 of Book 4 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 4 here.

(1) Chapter 1 of Book 4 has a similar theme.

I took this image at the Taipei Confucius Temple.

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