the third century A.D., King Ts’ao sent his son, Prince T’ai, to the temple to
study under the great master Pan Ku. Because Prince T’ai was to succeed his
father as king, Pan Ku was to teach the boy the basics of being a good ruler.
When the prince arrived at the temple, the master sent him alone to the Ming-Li
After one year, the prince was to return to the temple to describe the sound of the forest.
Prince T’ai returned, Pan Ku asked the boy to describe all that he could hear.
“Master,” replied the prince, “I could hear the cuckoos sing, the leaves
rustle, the hummingbird's hum, the crickets chirp, the grass blow, the bees
buzz, and the wind whisper and holler.”
prince had finished, the master told him to go back to the forest to listen to
what more he could hear. The prince was puzzled by the master’s request. Had he
not discerned every sound already?
and nights on end, the young prince sat alone in the forest listening. But he
heard no sounds other than those he had already heard. Then one morning, as the
prince sat silently beneath the trees, he started to discern faint sounds
unlike those he had ever heard before.
acutely he listened, the clearer the sounds became. The feeling of
enlightenment enveloped the boy. “These must be the sounds the master wished me
to discern,” he reflected.
Prince T’ai returned to the temple, the master asked him what more he had
heard. “Master,” responded the prince reverently, “when I listened most
closely, I could hear the unheard—the sound of flowers opening, the sound of
the sun warming the earth, and the sound of the grass drinking the morning
master nodded approvingly.
the unheard,” remarked Pan Ku, “is a necessary discipline to be a good ruler.
For only when a ruler has learned to listen closely to the people’s hearts,
hearing their feelings uncommunicated, pains unexpressed, and complaints not
spoken of, can he hope to inspire confidence in his people, understand when
something is wrong, and meet the true needs of his citizens.
demise of states comes when leaders listen only to superficial words and do not
penetrate deeply into the souls of the people to hear their true opinions,
feelings, and desires.”
© W. Chan Kim is
an associate professor of strategy and international management, and Renée
A. Mauborgne is a research associate of management and international
business at The European Institute of Business Administration (INSEAD),