Leadership lessons from Confucius: innate knowledge

innate knowledge

Confucius said: “I wasn’t born with innate knowledge. I simply love the past and am assiduous in seeking it there.” (1) (2) (3) (4)

Even if you have all the talent in the world, it isn’t worth anything unless you’re willing to put your nose to the grindstone and set to work. Of course, it helps to have family members around to encourage and guide you, as Confucius’s mother and grandfather are reputed to have done after his father died when Confucius was just three years old, but that can only take you so far. In the end, it’s up to you to put in the time and effort required to be successful.


This article features a translation of Chapter 19 of Book 7 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 7 here.

(1) Confucius was clearly a man of great intellectual ability and charisma, but he matched his talents with the assiduous study of the ancient classics and rituals until he was weakened by old age. Even if the claims about him editing the Five Classics were exaggerated, his output was prodigious and, with the possible exception of Laozi, his depth of knowledge and expertise was unmatched by his contemporaries.

(2) Confucius’s mother Yan Zhengzai (颜徵在) was the third daughter of an elderly scholar in Qufu and took her son to live with him after the death of her husband. According to all accounts, she was very determined to make sure that her son received a good education and pushed him to study hard.

(3) The father of Confucius, Shuliang He (叔梁纥) was a low-ranking official and former military officer who took Confucius’s mother as a concubine in his mid-sixties in order to secure a male heir. You can read more about Shuliang He here.

(4) Confucius may be expanding on the comments he made in 7.18. Although he may not be particularly talented, he is driven by his great passion for the past. Others might want to learn from his example.

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Changhua, Taiwan.

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