Information Systems
College of Business Administration
University of Missouri - St. Louis
Administrator Confucius and the Thieves of Rice

Once there lived an administrator of the rice trade in Ancient China named Confucius. He was administrator of the distribution of rice all over the great Chinese Empire. He was held in great esteem by the emperor for being so adroit. The great Chinese Empire had just acquired a new province in the north inhabited by the Mongols. By traveling through this newly acquired province they saved both time and money by getting rice to other northern provinces more quickly. One problem did exist though, while transporting through the new northern, province the administrator frequently had his rice shipments stolen. The rest of the Chinese Empire thought of the newly acquired Mongol province as inhabited by a bellicose bunch. It was reasoned that they were just that way by nature wanting to pillage and steal.

The Emperorís advisors convinced him to pour more and more resources into training soldiers to police the new province. They figured might for might should solve the issue. As time passed, more and more rice shipments were stolen and the stealing was spreading outside of the province into other surrounding provinces. The Emperor then summoned his adroit rice administrator and said, ďO Confucius, administrator of rice, fix this rice problem soon or I will have you I will have you banished and sent afar on a pontoon.Ē The wise Confucius sat and sat and reasoned a while. He review and review and alas the solution sprouted its head. Being both fluent in Mongolian and Chinese, the great Confucius was able to reason that the real problem dealt with the emperorís scribes and the census. There was a mistranslation dealing with the emperorís census. The scribes while translating from Mongolian to Chinese did not realize that the same word for 100 in Chinese meant 1000 in Mongolian. The census had grossly understated the population existing in the northern province. The rice allocation sent there left that provinceís granaries always on the brink of emptiness. Once realized the problem, the correction was made and the granaries of the northern province were filled. The Mongols stomachs were topped and the stealing stopped. The land was once again at peace and Confucius was once again recognized for being able to restore balance out of chaos.

Moral: When trying to define the problem as a systems analyst, donít be like the emperorís advisors and jump to conclusions before the real problem is found. The tendency is to start coming up with solutions before the real problem is defined. Make sure you dig and dig until the true problem presents itself. That means from a systemís analysis perspective that you listen to what all the systemís stakeholders wants and also analyze the businesses processes and see if your solution is aligned with the true goal of the organization and actually addresses the real problem. Keep digging and digging like Confucius, and you will find the true problem and be able to restore order from chaos as Confucius did!

These stories are adapted examples written in my class, IS 6840 (formerly MSIS 488).
© Vicki L. Sauter. All rights Reserved.

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