Confucius (孔子 551–479 BC) explained that by cultivating yourself you can arrange your family. Families that cultivate themselves can then arrange their state, and states that cultivate themselves can reform the country.

This is one of the main teachings we can find in the “The Great Learning” (大学), one of the “Four Books” in Confucianism. 2500 years later it looks like Business Leaders and Intrapreneurs still don’t get it.

Understanding the mosaic of China these days is almost impossible, but however it certainly is a joyful challenge: Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Socialism, Capitalism… they live together creating one of the most exciting ecosystems on Earth these days. During the last years we’ve been lucky enough to explore China: from the energetic Alibaba HQs in Hangzhou, megalomaniac real state projects in Chongqing, to the quietness of Taihu Great Learning Center in Suzhou. We’ve enjoyed every single encounter with Chinese, learning from the farmers at the fresh-vegetables markets as much as from the dialogues and teachings of Master Nan Huai-Chin.

Inspired by all these pieces and examples of Chinese ancient knowledge and our experience in China thanks to our work in Mondragon Team Academy and DOT, we came up with a list of Tips from Ancient Chinese Knowledge for (Social)-Intrapreneurs and Innovators:

1. Shared Vision & Leading Thoughts:
The world-famous Chinese masterpiece the Tao Te Ching (written by Laozi, 老子, 6th century BC) starts like this: “Tao (The Way) that can be spoken of, is not the Tao itself”. We may have the knowledge and the words of “Tao”, but Tao itself can only be experienced, without a name, it can be known.

So even though it is impossible to achieve a utopic vision that results from an intense transformation process and builds upon aspirations for innovation and positive social impact, co-creating a strong and inspiring vision is a key intangible-step in any innovation process. It aligns and connects the vision and aspirations of individuals and teams with those of the company in a shared vision and leading thoughts.

2. Intrapreneurial Leadership gets one name: leading By Example.
Reading those previous words of Confucius at the beginning of this article we can understand that the most powerful tool that an Intrapreneur has is setting a good example for others by first embodying the change and new change-vision, so that then others nearby will eventually copy his/her example. Great leaders inspire action and set the standards for the team and the change coalition, being a living example of the Leading Thoughts.

3. Learning By Doing is the only way:
According to the neo-confucian master Zhu Xi’s (朱熹, 1130–1200 AD), knowledge and action are indivisible components of truly intelligent activity. Learning by Doing is the only way to face the uncertainties of innovation and intrapreneurial activities. If we want to foster a living organization that embraces the complexity of innovation, we need to implement company learning forums to validate learning from the innovation activities.

4. Positive Social Impact Value Chains & Ecosystem Thinking as a mindset:
Mencius (孟子, 372 – 289 BC) who followed Confucius teachings, said that the path of personal cultivation starts with goodness and kindness. So you always need to think of the consequences or results of whatever new initiative, business line, or prototype you are doing. Systems thinking are key to develop and sustain a social intrapreneurial project in order to understand the linkages and interrelations of the new venture within the ecosystem.

5. Intrapreneurial Teams as change engine:
My friend Bill Bodri at Taihu School told me that the great Master Nan Huai-Chin used to say that you definitely must suffer all sorts of obstacles, criticism, and false rumors if you truly want to help people and society. I believe that the only way to overcome such pain and uncertainty is working together in an Intrapreneurial Team with a clear Why and Vision; putting the focus on the value and not just the KPIs or the action itself.

6. East & West – Oneness:
Chinese ancient culture emphasizes that the internal stillness and quietness will allow us to be more adaptable and gain learning and entrepreneurial agility. Based on the natural cycles and Taoism we also need to understand that change and the new intrapreneurial-ventures require time and mistakes:

“Things have their root and their branches. Affairs have their end and their beginning. To know what is first and what is last will lead near to what is taught in the Great Learning.” Confucius


Constant stimulation and excitement (meetings, slideshows, consultancy work…) is not the correct way to foster innovation and intrapreneurship, and processes are not linear they don’t go from A to B and from B to C. Chinese mindset shows us a much more cyclic and harmonious (less extreme and more balanced) way of doing things.

(Social)-Intrapreneurs & Corporate Innovators are more and more under the spotlight as key elements of the changemaker and social entrepreneurship ecosystem. We think the only way to approach the challenges ahead is to create a unified platform focused on East & West learning & leading together.

We have a joyful adventure ahead!

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