Next week, we will celebrate once again Chinese New Year. On February 5, we will start the Year of the Pig, or to be more precise: The Brown Earth Pig (sounds like a perfect fit, doesn’t it?). According to Chinese legend, the pig is the twelfth and last animal of the Chinese Zodiac. This is because according to legend, it finished last in a race of all animals to the Jade Emperor’s palace.
As such, the Year of the Pig closes the cycle of animal signs in the Chinese Zodiac. And this year, I close this cycle, too. For the last twelve years, I have written one article each year in the Thinkergy blog (and co-published in my bi-weekly Bangkok Post-column “Creativity Un-Ltd.”) of how to creatively approach each New Chinese Year in harmony with its animal Zodiac. So today, let’s explore what creative inspirations we may derive from the pig — and close the cycle of “Creativity in the Year of [Current Chinese Zodiac]” with this twelfth and final article in the series.
1. Play to the character traits of the pig
Chinese astrologists assign the traits and behaviors observed in each animal of the Chinese Zodiac to describe personality characteristics of people born in the corresponding year. How are people born in the Year of the Pig said to be? Action-oriented and diligent, while also enjoying life and indulging in entertainment and occasional treats (‘work hard, play hard’). They are also characterized as being harmonious, empathetic and warm. Because they are generous, empathetically care for others and like to help others, they are at times taken advantage of and are said to be easily tricked and scammed. Finally, they are said to stay comparatively calm when confronted with trouble.
In the Year of the Pig, consider emulating the ways and characteristics of a person born in the pig-year. Take action and work hard, but also play hard (which stimulates creativity and gives you fresh dots to connect into ideas for challenges you’re working on). Explore new ways to care for and help your customers, so that they will also help you and think of you when they look for vendors for their future projects. Be generous to your suppliers, but beware of falling for pretenders and tricksters who promise you the earth, and in return give you nothing or worse. Finally, keep your cool when facing troublesome situations in 2019 (such as high volatility in the FX markets, or a sudden slump in the stock market).
2. Be as useful as a pig
Almost 1 billion pigs live on our planet, making it the third largest population of livestock in the world (on a par with sheep and behind chicken and cattle). Pigs give utility to humans in many ways: Pork is a major source of meat in many countries; as the American journalist Hunter S Thompson’s noted: “Today’s pig is tomorrow’s bacon!”
Humans also use pigs for medical experiments and, more recently, as potential donors of living cells, tissues and organs to humans. We make paint brushes from the short, stiff and coarse hair (bristles) of pigs. We enjoy hunting boars and escaped or released feral pigs. Finally, the French use trained pigs to search for truffles.
Ponder these questions: How can you be of more value to your clients? How may you serve them in new ways? How could you make one of your core competencies available to your clients to allow the discovery and creation of new value?
3. Be as smart as a pig
Probably you’ve already heard that pigs are intelligent. But did you know how smart they really are? According to recent research, pigs often outsmart dogs and have the same cognitive capacities as chimpanzees. Researchers found that pigs have excellent long-term memories; easily maneuver mazes and similar tests requiring spatial orientation; can understand a simple symbolic language; can learn complex combinations of symbols for actions and objects; love to play and tease each other; live in complex social communities where they cooperate with and learn from one another; and show empathy when witnessing the same emotion in another individual, among others.
Who do you regularly deal with without really appreciating how smart they are? How to increase the smarts of yourself and your colleagues in times of rapid change?
4. Get dirty as pig
Considering how much utility pigs give to humans, and how smart they are (at par with human’s closest relatives, chimps), why do many humans look at pigs with disdain, and often treat them bad? One possible explanation: Pigs are notorious for being dirty animals. As the American anthropologist Marvin Harris explains: “Pigs prefer to wallow in clean mud, but if nothing else is available, they will frequently wallow in their own urine, giving rise to the notion that they are dirty animals.” Interestingly, this connotation is so strong that we even characterize a person who looks dirty or does dirty things as a pig.
Moreover, being omnivorous scavengers, pigs frenziedly munch on virtually anything while foraging the ground with their snouts (which is why we call a binge eating a pig-out). So, as the saying goes: “If it looks like a pig, sounds like a pig, acts like pig, smells like a pig, make no mistake, it is a pig!”
In the Year of the Pig, “get dirty” in a wild creative bout to get ideas. How can you do this?
Suppose you work on a particular creative challenge in 2019 (such as: “How to double your revenues in the next 12 months?”).
Next, let your mind wander off for a couple of minutes and allow your imagination to “wallow” in dirty thoughts.
Then, use these dirty associations as stepping stones for creating wild ideas related to your challenge (e.g., “Send out proposals to clients with coffee splashes on them”).
Finally, transpose each dirty wild idea from negative to positive by keeping its “dirty intrigue”, but making it more meaningful and “clean” (e.g. “Add colorful art splashes as a design theme of your brand identity to visually enhance your proposals and make them stand out”).
5. Stop behaving like a pig!
“I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals,” said the British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill. He has a point. Not only do some piggy humans emulate the ways of swine as discussed earlier, but interestingly, pigs equal humans in that we have an imminently destructive effect on nature.
When pigs were brought to countries or environments where they are a non-native species, and then some of them accidentally escaped or were deliberately released as prey for hunting, they have caused extensive environmental damage. Pigs tend to severely transform ecosystems that are new to them because of their omnivorous diet and their feeding method of rooting in the ground. Moreover, because pigs also eat small animals and destroy nests of ground-nesting birds, wild pigs have earned themselves a place on the list of the world’s 100 worst invasive species.
In what ways do you and your organization cause excessive damage to the environment? How may you become cleaner, less invasive and destructive in what you’re doing and how you’re doing things? Pondering these questions is well worth your time: In 2020, humanity is due to start the Sixth Wave of technological development — and clean technologies (in a wide range of industries such as energy, transportation, food, etc.) are widely expected to be one of the new lead technologies to drive this next long cycle.
6. Create taboos to counter pig-like overconsumption
For Jews and Muslims, eating pork is a taboo and only permissible in emergency situations when no other food is around. Why did these world religions restrict the consumption of pork? The obvious answer draws upon what we’ve discussed earlier: Pigs are considered impure because they are dirty animals; they also carry parasites and viruses harmful to human health.
However, some anthropologists argue that simple economic-ecological considerations may mainly have led to these religious restrictions on the consumption of pork: Both Judaism and Islam originated in the Middle East, where water and vegetation are scarce. Pigs require water and shady woods with seeds, and a Middle Eastern society keeping large stocks of pigs would destroy their ecosystem (as also discussed in the previous point).
Humanity is living beyond our means. Currently, we consume roughly double the resources that planet Earth can sustainably reproduce. So in view of this imminent ecological and economic crisis, how can we effectively create a social taboo for overconsumption?
If you’re a politician or social activist, look for creative campaigns and slogans that create a social taboo for overconsumption (similar to the taboo of eating pork in certain religions).
If you’re a creative leader of a business, explore how to creatively elevate your business from quantity-driven growth (units sold) to a quality-driven growth (higher margins) in line with former Braun designer Dieter Rams’ “Less but better.”
7. Metaphor: Farming pigs is like producing a disruptive innovation
“You can’t fatten the pig on market day,” noted the former Australian Prime Minister John Howard. It takes years of hard, dedicated work for a farmer to breed, raise and fatten a pig before being able to sell it at the market for a high price. Likewise, creating a breakthrough innovation doesn’t happen on the day of launch, too. It requires many, many months or even years of sustained creative effort before you can release an innovation that wows the world into the market.
In the Year of the Pig, consider beginning an ambitious innovation project that aims for creating a disrupting innovation that can take the market by storm in a few years, and promises you sustainable high margin-revenues. Use a systematic yet fun-to-do innovation method such as X-IDEA to guide your thinking:
Explore possible opportunities (Xploration).
Impregnate the teams with lots of raw ideas (Ideation).
Breed out potential winning concepts (Development).
Raise and fatten the most promising ones (Evaluation).
Finally, bring your fattest pig to the market with a bang (Action).
Kung Hai Fat Choy! Happy Chinese New Year 2019 from Thinkergy