Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a slippery slope
Confucius said: “I loathe purple for replacing vermilion; I loathe the melodies of Zheng for corrupting classical music; I loathe the clever of tongue for undermining states and families.”
Why not goose up the margins on the blockbuster product that put your company on the map by replacing the most expensive components with cheaper ones? Nobody will really notice the minute difference in quality, at least not in the first couple of years of usage. By the time it becomes apparent, they will probably have bought a new one to replace it in any case. After all, you have already captured the loyalty of your customers with the sheer awesomeness of your brand. There is no way they would ever even consider switching to a competitor in any case.
This article features a translation of Chapter 18 of Book 17 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 17 here.
(1) Vermillion was traditionally regarded as the correct color for mourning garments in Zhou dynasty China. However, it was replaced by purple because fabrics made in that color were easier and cheaper to produce and considered to be more fashionable. Purple is an intermediary color while vermilion is a primary one. To Confucius, the adoption of it violated the purity of the ritual ceremonies.
(2) Allegedly created by Confucius’s hero the Duke of Zhou, 雅樂/yǎyuè literally means “elegant music” and was performed in court events and ritual ceremonies. Confucius considered it to be healthy in contrast to the supposedly licentious folk melodies from the state of Zheng that supplanted it. Not that many of his contemporaries appear to have agreed with his opinion!
(3) See 15.11 for a similar warning from Confucius about the dire threat posed to social order by the lewd melodies of Zheng and the verbal trickery of smooth talkers.
I took this image in the Four Beasts Scenic Area in Taipei.