Leadership Lessons from Confucius: analysis paralysis

analysis paralysis

Confucius said: “Only Zilu could pass judgment on a lawsuit after hearing half the evidence.” Zilu never slept on a promise.
子曰:「片言可以折獄者,其由也與!」子路無宿諾。

It can be all too easy to postpone a decision in order to collect more data for analysis. The problem is that no matter how many terabytes you manage to gather, it will never be enough to guarantee that you’re making the right decision. Better to act fast and iterate than get caught up in an infinite loop of analysis paralysis.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 12 of Book 12 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 12 here.

(1) It’s unclear whether Confucius is criticizing or praising Zilu for his speed in settling civil lawsuits. On the one hand, he could be chiding his impetuous follower for coming to a judgment without hearing all the evidence. On the other, he could be admiring him for his ability to get straight to the core of the matter.

(2) The last sentence appears to have been tacked on by an anonymous scribe to suggest that no matter he quickly he reached a verdict, Zilu was an honest guy whose judgment could be trusted. You can read more about Zilu here.

(3) There has been a huge amount of scholarly debate over the exact definition of the phrase 片言/piànyán. Literally this means something like piece(s)>word(s).  I have opted for “half the evidence.” The majority go for “one side” as in “Only Zilu could pass judgment on a lawsuit after hearing from one side.” Take your pick.

I took this image in a hillside temple in the Four Beasts Scenic Area in Taipei.

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