Confucius said: “Zigong, do you take me for someone who learns a lot and then stores it all up in my head?” Zigong replied: “Yes, is that not the case?” Confucius said: “No. I weave it all together into a single thread.”
It does not matter how much information you have stored in your brain, or your corporate cloud for that matter, if you are not constantly thinking about it, analyzing it, and most important of all turning the ideas and insights you glean from it into actionable items. The only way to learn what works is to put the neat theoretical models you have created in the virtual world to work in the real world.
This article features a translation of Chapter 3 of Book 15 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 15 here.
(1) Confucius first uses the term “single thread” in 4.15 in a conversation with his young follower Zengzi. There has been a huge amount of speculation as to what Confucius meant by this. Some commentators see it as the name of a single abstract theoretical principle that underpins all his teachings. Others suggest that Confucius is referring to reciprocity or goodness (or perhaps both) as the unifying value that welds the diverse strands of his teachings into a single harmonious core. It is much more likely, however, that Confucius is simply reminding Zigong that the purpose of learning is to apply the knowledge he has accumulated to solve real-world problems rather than just to show others how clever he is. What is the point of storing everything in his head if he is not going to use it to improve his own effectiveness and provide help to others who need it?
I took this image at the Mencius Cemetery in Qufu.