Learning Innovation from Confucius – Part 1 New from Old

This title may have surprised you. Is not Confucius an ancient sage living sometime about 2500 years ago? What could Ancient Chinese Classics tell us about innovation? In particular, what could Confucius tell us about being creative and innovative? May be he can teach us about philosophies, development of character virtues, leadership, government and education, but innovation?

If you believe we cannot learn innovation from past, then you have committed a grave error in innovative thinking and could have missed out a big opportunity where many of your breakthrough ideas could come from.

Principle 1 Discover New from Study of Old
One of the key principle of innovation is discovering new things from the old. Your new break through idea is actually hidden in the old! You need to discover it.

The most effective and widely adopted systematic innovative thinking method is TRIZ, invented by the Russian Genrich Altshuller by study ten of thousands of patents for patterns and invented the TRIZ method.

This method of new from old is exactly what Confucius said in The Analect (LunYu) Chapter 2 verse 11

2:11 温故而知新,可以为师矣。
Revise and review the old things and then discover and invent the new things. If you can do that, then you can be a teacher.

I think Confucius will be proud of Altshuller and his TRIZ and ARIS innovative thinking methods. (Have a look at my simplified, integrated and distilled BVITS innovative thinking method too).

A key thing to study the old and existing is to look for patterns, cause and effect relationships, the connections, the missing ones too, and then to re-connect and to simulate for new ideas and connections.

A subset of the word of wisdom of Confucius is a new fancy name for this analysis of past data. It is called Business Analytics (BA). It refers to the skills, technologies, applications and practices for continuous iterative exploration and investigation of past business performance to gain insight and drive business planning. The older names are Business Intelligence, Data Warehousing and Executive Decision Support systems. Such books recorded many success stories used in business.

Building on the past to create new is a good principle for innovation and a strong foundation to stand on. Newton told us to stand on others’ shoulders to advance knowledge rather than stepping on others’ toes where we get is more arguments rather than progress.

Principle 2 Teach It
Implied in the Confucius saying is the principle to teach the new things that we have created. It is important that we share it. It brings two advantages. As we teach and share our new knowledge, we get to improve it. Secondly, the world is better with such sharing. We appreciate and honor Altshuller for sharing with us his TRIZ and ARIS inventive methods. Many break through inventions and innovations come from people practicing his methods.

We must also honor Confucius by award him the Knowledge Management and Learning Organization Awards. It is capturing, sharing and inventing knowledge that we progress.

This is only part 1 of a series of Learning Innovation from Confucius posts that I wish to share with you, applying his teaching of creating new from old (studying his classics work) and sharing with world.

Lim Liat copyrighted March 2011

Next: Learning Innovation from Confucius – Part 2 Ideality & Diffusion

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