Creativity in the Year of the Rat

Creativity in the Year of the Rat

Ample inspiration can be had from the first character in the Chinese zodiac.

Last Saturday, we celebrated Chinese New Year and the arrival of the Year of the Rat, or to be more precise, the Metal Rat. The rat is the first of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac, so we are beginning a new cycle in this new decade. Today, let's explore what creative inspirations we may derive from the rat to succeed in the year ahead.

1. Plan for victory: According to Chinese legend, the order of the animals in the 12-year cycle was determined by a race. The Jade Emperor declared the sequence in the cycle would be decided by the order in which the animals arrived to a party at his palace. How could the small rat win against larger and faster animals?

One myth goes that before the race, the cat asked the rat for a wake-up call to get to the starting line on time. Anxious about the competition, the rat did not wake the cat, which then overslept and missed the race. Another legend suggests the rat also tricked the ox into giving it a ride by playing a song on a flute. Then, just as those two approached the finish line, the rat jumped off the ox's back, landed ahead of the ox and won the race.

Creative inspiration: Imagine creative and clever ways that allow you to win more business against much bigger and stronger competition. Can you entice customers with "a special tune"? How might you get a "free ride to the party"? Who could you partner with to get ahead of others?

2. Play to the zodiacal character traits of the rat: People born in the Year of the Rat are instinctive, cautious, acute and alert by nature. They are intelligent, creative and quick-witted. They are flexible and adaptable, energetic and optimistic, outgoing and cheerful, which makes them much liked by others. They are also resourceful and thrifty, and thus are thought to be wealthy and prosperous. On the other hand, their love for hoarding can sometimes make them waste money on unnecessary things.

As to their weaknesses, they are said to be timid, stubborn, querulous, greedy, devious and too eager for power, and they love to gossip.

Creative inspiration: Consider emulating some of the positive characteristics, such as being thrifty and avoiding wasting money for non-essentials. If you invest in stocks, cautiously follow your instincts and stay alert in highly volatile markets. But stay flexible to the changing environment as many industries will have to adapt to digital transformation and more regulatory constraints and trade barriers.

3. Be more social: A group of rats is known as a "mischief". Most types of rats live together in social communities. They sleep together, play with and even groom each other. On the other hand, being territorial animals, they can also turn aggressive toward unfamiliar rats entering their territory.

Creative inspiration: How can you care better for your customers and team members? How can you aggressively defend your "territory" (both markets and customers) against unfamiliar new entrants?

4. Play and laugh more: The Estonian psychobiologist Jaak Panksepp discovered that when experiencing a type of social joy during playful activities, rats emit a high-pitched chirping noise that is a basic form of laughter.

Creative inspiration: In what ways might we make our value offerings more playful? How can we add more social joy to what we're doing? How can we laugh more at work? How can we make our clients laugh out loud in joy?

5. Produce more output: Rats are prolific procreators. A female rat can reproduce roughly every three weeks, then give birth to 6-10 pups, which become sexually mature at 3-4 months. It's little wonder that you encounter rats in every major city of the world.

Creative inspiration: How could we produce more output? How might we speed up production?

6. Emulate multi-functionality: One of the rat's most interesting characteristics is its long, hairless tail, which serves multiple functions. Rats use their tail for orientation in space. As well, they can control their body temperature by expanding and contracting the blood vessels in their tails. Rats don't sweat like humans, nor do they pant like dogs in the heat.

Rats also have a unique defence mechanism known as "degloving". Once a predator snatches a rat's tail, the outer layer of the integument automatically detaches from the rest of the tail to allow the rat to escape.

Creative inspiration: In what ways might we design other useful functionality into our product? How could we proactively prevent, or creatively escape from, a predatory attack on our business?

7. Grow your teeth: Did you know that a rat's teeth never stop growing? In fact, their teeth can grow up to 12 centimetres per year, as constant chewing wears their teeth down.

Creative inspiration: How can we "show our teeth" in business? How can we massively grow our business in the next year?

8. Don't be a pest to others: Let's face it: rats aren't hugely popular with humans. One reason is they carry pathogens and can spread over 35 diseases. Rats are said to be responsible for outbreaks of bubonic plague, Lassa fever, leptospirosis, hantavirus and monkey pox, among others.

Creative inspiration: Don't become a pest to others. Don't spread fake news, rumours, gossip and political spin. Don't spam others with unwanted emails, messages and posts. Keep the cc and bcc addressees in your emails to an absolute minimum.

9. Conquer unknown territories: With the exception of Antarctica, rats can be found wherever humans settle. Humans have also indirectly caused the extinction of many species by accidentally introducing rats to new areas.

Whenever ships set sail to conquer new territory, rats were aboard. When arriving in a new locale, rats quickly reproduced and took advantage of a food supply unfamiliar with their predatory behaviour. Rats are omnivorous and feed on a wide range of plant and animal foods, including the eggs of birds and reptiles. Some experts consider rats to be responsible for between 40% and 60% of all seabird and reptile extinctions.

Creative inspiration: Evolution embraces the principles of survival of the fittest and of creative destruction. Ask yourself: What aspects of our business do we need to creatively destroy to make space for a fitter new idea? How can we quickly conquer new markets by using any opportunity to feed our appetite for new revenues and growth?

Kung Hei Fat Choy, Happy Chinese New Year 2020.

Dr Detlef Reis is the founding director and chief ideator of Thinkergy, the "Know how to Wow" Innovation Company in Asia and beyond. He is also an assistant professor at the Institute for Knowledge & Innovation - Southeast Asia at Bangkok University, and an adjunct associate professor at the Hong Kong Baptist University. Email

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