Power to the Opportunists!

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes.

Do you know why the Rat is the first animal in the Chinese Zodiac? Mythology tells that in the race between all animals to cross the river, the Rat -thinking it had lost- jumped onto the back of the Ox and leaped off just before the finish, managing to cross the line in first place. Some would say it cheated. But, cheating or not, it gave the first display of opportunism.

Inexplicably, nowadays the term ‘opportunist’ has more negative connotations than positive.

As if the act of taking advantage of an opportunity necessarily implies a lack of scruples. It has become a kind of insult that mediocre people, cowards and/or neurotics use to express their frustration of those who take advantage of an opportunity they have not seen, or that they have seen but didn’t do anything about.

To be an opportunist is to be a visionary. The ability to see opportunities where everyone else only sees risk.

The Rabbit or the Rooster could have done the same as the Rat, but came fourth and tenth, respectively. They had the same opportunity in front of them, but not once did they question whether the objective of the race was to measure their physical condition or if the Jade Emperor, who organized the race, wanted to test the mental speed of the animals.

To be an opportunist is to be brave. Seeing the opportunity isn’t enough if you’re not prepared┬áto act on it immediately.

If the Rat had stopped to analyze the competition in depth, or to see how the Ox ran in order to assess if it was the best option among the animals, it wouldn’t have had time to jump onto its back. It probably thought about the decision whilst it was jumping, and it wasn’t afraid to follow its intuition. It knew that it had more to win than to lose.

To be an opportunist is to trust in oneself. To be capable of giving value to one’s own virtues.

Even assuming its obvious physical inferiority, the Rat believed it had two qualities for competing with the fastest animal: a smaller size and better agility. Suddenly, its biggest handicap (running) became one of its greatest strengths (to jump on the Ox’s back). Its main rival ended up becoming its best ally.

Joan Alvares is founding partner of Poko and lecturer at the Istituto Europeo di Design