Kung Hai Fat Choy, Happy Chinese New Year! This is the Year of the Snake, specifically the Water Snake. What inspiration can we get from the snake to help us flourish and succeed in the Year of the Snake and beyond?

Prepare your business for the Year of the Black Snake
Black is the color associated with the Water Snake, the color of darkness — the darkness of space, of the night, of deep waters, of an abyss. Therefore, many Chinese astrologers predict that the Black Snake year 2013 will bring unexpected changes, instability, and volatility. For that reason, they advise that in 2013 it is important to plan everything and to carefully evaluate pros and cons before taking any actions. So in this year of the black snake, plan ahead and be more careful than usual. As the US actor and comedian W. C. Fields said, “Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and furthermore always carry a small snake.”

Inspiration: To prepare your business for all the surprising twists and turns of the year of the black snake, why not map out all your planned actions on a “Black Snake Year Road Map”? Write down the major business actions that you have planned for each month of this black snake year, splitting your activities into 4–5 main areas. For example, at my company we structure our business into five functions — creation, marketing & sales, operations, finance & legal, and a strategic core that holds everything together.
To help plan the details of each action in one of these areas, you can follow a format that we call the 5W2H Action Plan: What exactly do we want to do? Why is this important to do in 2013? Who is involved in this action? When do we plan to do this? Where does the action take place? How precisely do we plan to do this? How much does it cost?

Zigzag your business in the Year of the Snake
Snakes are among the oldest and thus, in evolutionary terms, most successful body designs on Earth. They are carnivorous hunters. For the most part, they lay flat on the ground or climb trees, making most snake species heavily reliant on sensing vibration and smell to locate prey. And while a Chinese proverb humorously suggests you “Add legs to the snake after you have finished drawing it”, snakes don’t come with legs that they can use to hunt down their prey. Instead they flex their body alternately to the left and right and move forward in fast zigzag waves that allow them to catch and attack their prey.

Inspiration: Given that snakes are among the most successful and competitive animals in the struggle for survival, why not learn from their hunting methods? Ask yourself: How can you place your business on firmer ground in a year predicted to be shaky? And once you are firmly grounded, how can you create an early warning system so you notice market vibrations and smell opportunity? If you want to get creative in 2013, look for answers to these wilder questions: How can you add legs to a business that looks like a snake? If your competitors move forward in a straight line, how can you zigzag your business to success? Or to look at it another way: What are areas where you can zag when all others always zig?

Flex your business in the Year of the Snake
Snakes kill with venom, by constriction, or by simply swallowing living prey whole. Interestingly, many snakes can swallow prey that is larger in diameter than their head. This is possible because snakes have evolved extremely flexible lower jaws and other flexible joints in their skull, enabling them to open their mouths wide enough to swallow their prey whole.

Inspiration: Knowing that the Year of the Black Snake promises to have change and lots of surprises in store, why not adopt the flexibility of the snake for your business? How can you twist or evolve the more rigid joints in your business and make them more flexible? How can you make your business flexible enough that you can swallow prey much larger in size?

Molt your business in the Year of the Snake
“But time strips our illusions of their hue, and one by one in turn, some grand mistake casts off its bright skin yearly like the snake,” wrote the English Romantic poet Lord Byron. One success strategy of snakes is that 1–4 times a year, depending on age, a snake sheds its skin, a process known as molting. Given that molting is costly and makes the snake temporarily more vulnerable, why do snakes do it? One reason is that the old, rough skin is replaced with a new layer of smooth scales, enabling the snake to move faster. Another is that molting helps snakes get rid of unwanted parasites. But the most important reason is that casting off skin that is tough, but inflexible, allows for growth, particularly in young snakes.

Inspiration: “The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind,” said the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. In line with this advice, why not use the year of the snake to shed some outdated beliefs, opinions and “ways of doing things” that — like an old snake’s skin — served you well in the past but now must be cast off to make you faster and more nimble? What “unwanted parasites” should you get rid of in 2013? What parts of your business are constricting you and must be shed in this Year of the Snake to make place for new growth?


© Dr. Detlef Reis / Thinkergy Limited 2013.
This article was also published in the Bangkok Post on February 14 2013.