Leadership lessons from Confucius: from both ends

from both ends

Confucius said: “Am I knowledgeable? No, I’m not. When a humble farmer asked me for advice about a problem, my mind went blank; but I attacked the problem from both ends until I found the solution.” (1)

Never forget that you don’t have all the answers. Stay humble and keep an open mind. Approach each problem you encounter based on its particular merits, no matter how much experience and expertise you may have in the field. Gather up all the facts and analyze them from all angles. Weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of each possible solution. Only when you’ve completed your analysis should you decide on the appropriate course of action.


This article features a translation of Chapter 8 of Book 9 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 9 here.

(1) 9.4 provides a similar description of Confucius’s open-minded approach to problem solving: “Confucius avoided four things: conjecture, arbitrariness, stubbornness, and egotism.” You can read more here.

(2) Confucius may also be reminding people that he doesn’t have any superhuman intelligence or innate wisdom. He is driven by a great love of learning and a passion for enhancing his knowledge and conduct. See 7.19 and 7.33 for similar sentiments.

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Yilan, Taiwan. You can read more about the rather convoluted history of this temple in this excellent article by Josh Ellis here.

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