Leadership Lessons from Confucius: digital transformation

Confucius said: “Even with a true king, it would still take one generation for goodness to prevail.”

Look behind the hype of digital transformation. While there’s no doubt that new technologies like big data, deep learning, and artificial intelligence have the potential to improve how we live and work in hugely beneficial ways, they do carry inherent risks if they’re not developed and implemented in a wise and responsible manner. Creating trillions of dollars of new wealth will only lead to greater social instability and polarization if it all ends up in the hands of a miniscule minority to the exclusion of the many. Even with far-sighted leadership, digital transformation will be an extremely messy and risky process. Are you and your organization ready for the social, economic, and business disruption that will inevitably accompany it?


This article features a translation of Chapter 12 of Book 13 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 13 here.

(1) Some commentators suggest that this passage should be read in contrast with the previous one. For all their ability to effect radical change, the “most able people” (善人/shànrén) don’t quite measure up to a “true king” (王者/ wángzhě) who has sufficient virtue to make it happen. It’s worth emphasizing, however, that even under such an enlightened monarch, Confucius recognizes that “it would still take one generation for goodness to prevail.”

I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.