Management lessons from Chinese business and philosophy

11 min Source: TED Talk
PME All levels


A steady shift in Chinese business thinking provides food for thought for organisations and leaders outside of China.


In this TED Talk, management consultant Fang Ruan discusses how Chinese philosophy can provide valuable lessons for Western organizations. For the past 2,000 years, Confucianism has been dominant in China, which values seniority and authority. For China, this is a time-tested formula to ensure order and harmony. But with business environments constantly changing—and millennials becoming a major part of the workforce—new ways of management are emerging. Fang relays various Chinese business stories, including a major internet company owner who noticed her interns call senior staff 'teachers'. While this may sound respectful and innocent, it signalled a problem in that it encouraged hierarchy and discouraged ownership. She was concerned it could discourage innovative thinking. Fang believes there is now a move away from Confucianism in business and a move towards Taoism. Confucianism promotes that achieving perfection requires organization and regulation, whereas Taoists believe in letting things work out naturally. In other words, leaders should act by shaping the context rather than controlling it. Fang argues that a leader is best when people barely know the leaders are there, enabling the workers to feel ownership. Transcript available here.