Lao Tsu on communities of practice development

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —February 3, 2008
Filed in Collaboration

Here is a poem by Lao Tsu, a Chinese philosopher circa 700 BC. It’s well quoted on the web but it was difficult to find exactly which writing it was included in (any ideas?). Anyway, it speaks to how we should be helping our communities of practice develop.

Go to the People
Live with them
Learn from them,
Love them.

Start with what they know,
Build with what they have.

. . . But with the best leaders
When the work is done
the task is accomplished
The people will say,
‘We have done this ourselves.’

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. Krista says:

    Hi Shawn,
    It’s a great quote. My first guess would be that this Lao Tzu quote comes from the Tao te Ching, not only because it’s Lao Tzu’s most famous work, but he does address leadership in it quite a bit. I, too, have come across an awful lot of Lao Tzu poetry that does not get referred back to that text, though. Think I’ll check with a classic Chinese scholar I know and see what she says.

  2. Dear Shawn,
    About half a year being touched by the expresion of your work, allows me to write a short commentary on your most interesting last issue.
    As a matter of fact, the call to resignify taoism in our policy landscapes, seems to be the setting of a complete field of new research. Old taoist and scholar myself, something eco in your words.
    Regardless of the virtual potential of the settled idea, I would like to colaborate in the in-media-cy (“any ideas?”), with these remarks I hope could be of interest.
    It seems in deed that the quote you post, come from the Tao Te Ching. Nevertheless -so many translations and still more reintepretations, should call to prudence-, I´d rather suscribe the opinion that this is completly true, just for the third verse. Two: “circa 700 BC”, seems inapropriate to date Lao Zi. Being contemporary of Confucius (and resounding with greek philosophical achievements..), five centuries BC, is recognized as the best posible historical aproximation. Three: the wiki site on reference is worth to colaborate and surely needs it. Let me mention to you here, the there present translation of Lao Zi as “old master”, which being someway exact,lacks meaning (perhaps from a taoist point of view), cause in chinese Lao is old, as Zi is child. Only for extension -and the trascendental values associated to purity, innocence and spontaneity-, Zi is coined in chinese to name philosophers and therefore, masters. Besides, “old-child”, as it has been said, remakes the image of complementary opposites Ying-Yang, in the central symbolic component of the Tai Qi. A suivre. Hope it will help.
    And as we build (knownably) stories, let me tell you to finish this already extense letter, that had you droped by to my site ( from june to december and followed the nexus, in the correspondant link with wished references at the right of my blog, instead of “anecdote” you had found “meteorito”… as I renamed yours a while, to denote its impacts. No matter.
    Best Regards,

  3. Thank you so much Rainer for your expansion and explanation. It’s clear it’s a topic close to your heart. The multiple translation issue is a problem because when I went looking for a source I didn’t pick the Tao Te Ching because the translations only resembled the works I’d found in pattern. But it is interesting just how powerful this meme has become because it pops up throughout the web.
    And thanks for the link from your blog and from now on I’m going to request everyone at Anecdote call me meteorito 🙂

  4. Eric Sauve says:

    Amazing, great!

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