Saturday, 6 June 2015

Life lessons from cockroaches

By Tan Chin Hwee, Published The Straits Times, 5 Jun 2015

COCKROACHES are known as pests and even the mere mention of their name would send shivers down one's spine. However, there is an important fact that most do not know: cockroaches have been around for about 280 million years since the Jurassic period; they survived the mass extinction that wiped out dinosaurs.

How did they manage to do it? There are a number of characteristics of a cockroach that one can learn from:
- "I will survive"
Cockroaches are able to live in a wide range of environments because they are able to adapt readily, from ice-cold temperature to scorching desert heat (there are 4,000 different species!).

It is said that they will even survive a nuclear radiation attack because of their simple body structure.

In the world of business and finance, being able to adapt is extremely important.

Unlike in school, one may not have many choices in choosing one's bosses or co-workers; adapting to people who one works with, adapting to the volatility of the financial markets and adapting to regulatory changes, among others, are keys to success.

It is necessary for one to remain nimble, stay humble and adapt to the real-world changing circumstances.
- Dark and dirty
Admittedly, being a cockroach is not the most glamorous thing; it is always found in dirty and dark places.

Just like working in the real world, there are many times when one has to roll up one's sleeves and get one's hands dirty. Often it is during these processes that one gets to test one's own limits and also sees the real unpleasant side of things.

Unfortunately, this is part of the maturity process and there are no short cuts.
- Teamwork over individual
Cockroaches can eat just about anything and can survive without food for long periods of time.

They can live for weeks without their heads! Even with these individual superhero skills, cockroaches display collective decision-making when choosing food sources.

As a young or fresh graduate, it is easy to be proud of what one has already accomplished in school and in extra-curricular activities.

But in the real world, even if one has superhero abilities, it is important to learn how to work within a team. Never underestimate the collective wisdom of a team and never overestimate one's own abilities.

In contrast, an insect that one should not be is a mayfly. Mayflies are known to be a short-lived species that live for just a few minutes or up to a few days, depending on the species. The mayfly has come to symbolise the brevity of life.

One may argue that it does not matter how long one lives, as long as one lives a purposeful and meaningful life.

But this is not the case for mayflies as the primary function of the adult is reproduction; they do not seem to have any apparent purpose in the ecosystem.

The writer is the chief executive officer of a global asset management firm and a trustee for Nanyang Technological University (NTU), where he is an adjunct professor. This article was written for NTU students and published on the university's website.

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