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Creativity in the Year of the Ox

A few days ago, we celebrated once again Chinese New Year. On February 12, we started the Year of the Ox, or to be more precise: The Metal Ox. The ox is the second of the twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac. Today, let’s explore what creative inspirations we may derive from the ox to make it through the current health and economic crisis and set ourselves up for success and prosperity in the year ahead and beyond.

Beware of trickery in the year ahead

According to Chinese mythology, the Jade Emperor (the ruler of Heaven, Earth, and Hell) held a race between the animal candidates to determine the animals’ order in the twelve-year Chinese Zodiac cycle. Being of a faithful, friendly nature, the Ox agreed to give the small rat a ride on its back during the race. The Ox was about to be the first to arrive, but just as they crossed at the finish line, the rat jumped down and landed ahead of the Ox. The ox came in only second and thus became the second animal in the Chinese Zodiac.

Creative Inspiration

In the Year of the Ox, beware of trickery and treacherous behavior that, although you’re prone to win the race, may “commit you to second place”. Ask: Who may abuse my kindness? Who may get a free ride from me without putting in adequate effort? How can I prevent being taken for a ride and being tricked? For example, as a creative person, beware of others’ stealing your ideas by securing your intellectual property (IP) and finding allies who can testify in case of IP Infringements.

Play to the zodiacal character traits of the ox

Chinese astrologists assign the traits and behaviors observed in each animal of the Chinese Zodiac to describe the personality characteristics of people born in the corresponding year. People born in the Year of the Ox are said to be robust, reliable, ethical, and conscientious. They are also calm, patient, methodical, and trustworthy. Being firmly grounded and down-to-earth, they exhibit a great deal of common sense. They have confidence in their abilities and also instill confidence in others. 

Ox people are earnest, quiet, and not openly sociable. While they tend to say little, they can be very opinionated. They also can be stubborn when challenged or facing setbacks. Although they do not lose their temper quickly, they can respond impulsive and fiery when angered.

Creative Inspiration

In the Year of the Ox, consider emulating some of the positive ways and characteristics of a person born in the Ox-year. 

So in 2021, like the ox, persistently work hard and make considerable efforts to get well through the crisis and prepare for better times when the economy will bounce back. If you’re a naturally creative soul, remember that Edison noted that “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” So, use 2021 as a gap year and do your homework to get ready for the major upswing in the coming years once we will have overcome the pandemic.

Take the bull by the horns

In Vietnam, people celebrate the Year of the Water buffalo in 2021, while the Tamu/Gurung people in Nepal welcome the Year of the Cow. These naming differences point out that instead of the word ox, many other names are swirling around for what is in essence known as cattle (which is the widest spread species bos taurus).

An ox typically denotes a castrated male used for working purposes. In contrast, a bull is a non-castrated (or “intact”) male, while a cow is a female that has given birth to one or two calves (which is the name for any young cattle). Water buffalos are members of the closely related subfamily bovinae (that also includes the bison and African buffalo). But beyond these names, what are we dealing with in essence? Large hoofed mammals with horns grazing on grass. 

Creative Inspiration

In the Year of the Ox, take the bull by the horns. In your communication, cut through the clutter and leave out buzzwords. Look at what you’re dealing with at the surface level, and express the essence of a phenomenon or challenge using simple words and explaining things so that your kids can understand what you’re talking about.

For example, nowadays, talent management and human capital management are the latest buzzwords for what we used to call human resources management, and even before that, personnel. But what we’re essentially talking about here is how to get the best out of people, or: people management. Or instead of talking about outplacement, talent transitioning, downsizing, or rightsizing your workforce, tell it what it really is: you terminate or don’t extend work engagements of your employees. So, retire the buzzwords for a year and call things by their true name, and see how it affects your thinking and maybe changes your perspectives and decision-making.

Revisit your former ideas and challenges

Interestingly, cattle have a stomach with four compartments, the largest of which is called the rumen. Here, they ferment poorly digestible plants to acquire nutrients from the food before actual digestion. Like most ruminants, cattle regurgitate and re-chew their food, a process known as cud-chewing. 

Creative Inspiration

In the Year of the Ox, regurgitate and re-chew your former ideas and challenges. How? Take out all your old notebooks and browse through them. Can you spot an idea that you couldn’t implement in the past because the timing wasn’t right, or a needed technology wasn’t yet ready or was too expensive? Similarly, can you spot a challenge you were contemplating and working on in the past that may be relevant again now, knowing that like the Chinese Zodiac, business and the economy flow in cycles? 

But what if you don’t have old notebooks to go through? Then use the Ox-year to establish the good habit of keeping a notebook for your thoughts, challenges, and ideas.

Evolutionary innovate by piggybacking on a revolutionary innovation

While we may not notice it, the domestication of wild cattle in the Neolithic period was a revolutionary innovation. Subsequently, cattle have become one of mankind’s most popular livestock due to their widespread utility. Cattle give humans milk and dairy, meat (beef and veal), and leather. Humans have also used oxen since the Neolithic period as working animals to pull carts, plows, and other agricultural implements. A related crucial early invention of humanity to power the agricultural age was the yoke (a wooden beam spanned between a pair of oxen). Moreover, the first surviving human vehicle, a Sumerian sled, was also drawn by an oxen pair.

Creative Inspiration

As humanity has been moving from the knowledge into the innovation economy in the past decade, we have also created a powerful multi-purpose equivalent of the Neolithic oxen: the smartphone and mobile tablets have already inspired many related innovative products and services in the past decade. They will continue to do so in the 2020s. How can you go (even more) mobile with your products and services? What other new innovative solutions can you link to smartphones or other mobile devices? 

And perhaps even more importantly: What new related technologies do you see evolving in the coming years that you can innovate or ride on to differentiate your business?

Rethink money

Roughly 10,500 years ago, humans began domesticating aurochs (large wild cattle that became extinct) as part of the Neolithic revolution when humans evolved from hunters and gatherers into an agricultural society. Soon after, humans began using cattle (together with grains) as money equivalent for barter-trading. It took until 3,000 BC before the first representative money (in the form of asset-backed credits), and the first coins were created in Mesopotamia and substituted cattle and grains as a form of money.

Creative Inspiration

In the Year of the Ox, look ahead at how else you may get paid for your solutions and what other payment forms you may want to further with your business. Remember that humanity is in the process of evolving from the knowledge age to the (digital) innovation age. Just like cattle and grains later gave way to coins and notes, so may digital currencies and blockchain-based payment channels revolutionize the way we keep our cash and pay. For example, after Tesla recently bought USD 1.5 billion of bitcoins, Elon Musk commented that bitcoin “is simply a less dumb form of liquidity than cash” that declines in value due to inflation. 

Change your consumption patterns

Did you know that there are close to one billion cattle in the world? And that we slaughter roughly 300 million cattle per year? Nowadays, cattle are the heart of a multibillion-dollar industry worldwide that generates revenues predominantly with beef and dairy products. Cattle provide half of the meat consumed by humans but at a high cost: Beef production requires three times more water consumption than pork and five times more than poultry. Cattle also emit six times more greenhouse gases than pork and poultry. The American comedienne Zazie Beetz put it this way: “Agriculture is one of the biggest causes of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Cars? Planes? Trains? Nope. Cow farts.”

Creative Inspiration

In the Year of the Ox, consider living by the motto “less but better.” In particular, resolve to consume less meat overall and switch more often from environmentally-unfriendly beef to pork and poultry. Making this switch will also benefit your health. With your choices, you can be one of many consumers to send signals to the cattle industry to find innovative ways to lessen their negative environmental impact.

Confront a Sacred Cow

In parts of India, cows (and oxen, bulls, and calves) are considered sacred, and slaughtering them is forbidden. Holy cow! In connection to this special religious status, the term sacred cow is used in the West to describe an idea that has become so successful over time that it has become immune to criticism. As things change over time, the feature that initially made the idea so successful may become outdated due to technological or societal changes. However, people continue to hold on to the obsolete idea.

For example, modern computers still hold on to the QWERTYYUIOP configuration on the keyboard that we created initially to slow down fast typists on a manual typewriter.

Creative Inspiration

We’re living in times of exponential change, and the current pandemic is likely to frontload and accelerate further some trends that are forecast for the 2020s. So, in Year of the Ox, make an effort to look out for outdated ideas and practices in your business and make a case to slaughter a sacred cow (or retire it to a greener pasture). Remember Mark Twain’s advice that “Sacred cows make the best hamburger.”

For example, suppose that during a lockdown period, your employees worked well from home. Why do you still want to require them to come to the office every day in the future? Why would you even need a prominent office in the city center anyway?

Conclusion: Kung Hai Fat Choy, Happy Chinese New Year 2021

Are you ready to get creative in the Year of the Ox, or Water Buffalo, or Cow? As the US poet Ogden Nash put it humorously: “The cow is of the bovine ilk; one end is moo, the other milk.”

  • Why not use the gap year 2021 to enrolling your team or business unit in one of our creative Thinkergy training courses (online or, if possible, face-to-face)?
  • Or consider doing an X-IDEA innovation project to create new value offerings with us in 2021.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2021. This article is co-published in the Bangkok Post in the coming days.

Credits: Photos by Ana Cernivec, Pushpak Dsilva and Macau Photo Agency on Unsplash