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A cockroach’s guide to surviving in a system

Saturday January 25 2020


So what does the cockroach teach us about how to keep your job for a long, long time? The numero uno lesson is do as little as possible and learn to scurry away at the first sign of trouble. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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It is said that a cockroach can survive a nuclear explosion and is virtually indestructible.

Yet, despite their 320 million years of existence on this earth, nobody is quite sure what positive contributions cockroaches have made to the world.

Despite this, the species has outlived the dinosaurs and other prehistoric peers.

The roaches membership of the Class Insecta means they are somewhat limited in their capabilities, yet they appear to be more successful than other relatively more useful members of their spineless phylum.

Bees make honey, ants are a role-model of a scrupulous work ethic, ladybirds are pretty.

So what does the cockroach teach us about how to keep your job for a long, long time?


The numero uno lesson is do as little as possible and learn to scurry away at the first sign of trouble. Minimise your efforts. Do not, and I repeat, do not take any risks.


There are certain associated behaviours with this strategy, for example, don’t work any harder than your co-workers.

Ambitious over-performing individuals only attract attention, of which the reward appears to be more responsibility. This overwork could be bad for your health and lead to stress-related conditions.

The second point is don’t have a point-of-view when asked by your manager or in a meeting. Opinions are too risky.

Make sure you ruthlessly discipline any upstart subordinates you have who may display any signs of having a mind of their own. To rearrange Eliza Doolittle’s words: just you wait, I will fix you in the performance review.

And remember to master Gestapo-like intelligence skills. You need to pick up useful morsels of gossip. History has many valuable lessons.

The divide-and-conquer stratagem ensures each of your officemates, clients, managers and so on believe you are their exclusive BFF which will allow them to talk freely.

To note, none of this is in contradiction of to do nothing. If anything, this is to protect your sloth-like existence.


If you detect any threat to your status quo then you will be able to whisper to the boss that so and so might have a side hustle which he works on during office hours.

If you still don’t grasp the formula, decreasing fellow workers’ chances of employment leads to increasing the probability of lengthening your own tenure.

In a crisis situation, such as when the words restructuring, job loss, layoffs and termination feature, you can offer additional services to the head honcho as to which troublemakers are making noise about improper dismissal and compensation.

And for your female colleagues, there is the time-honoured strategy of putting it out there that they may have too many children and appear distracted by their family life.

In summary, lay low and remember your co-workers are the enemy, bosses are never to be questioned and that it is by climbing over the bodies of others that you will climb to greater heights.


If taking risk was to be rewarded then why was Steve Jobs fired from Apple and spent so many years wandering in the corporate desert like a lost prophet?

Hiroto Saikawa, who called out Nissan’s former chief executive and chairman, was himself recently ousted by the board.

Everywhere you look there is a plethora of formerly respected so called courageous leaders with tattered and bruised reputations.

I'm half-serious … though I can’t rid myself of this lingering katsaridaphobia (fear of cockroaches).

So my final riposte is less in jest. Cockroaches are ubiquitous. However, unless you are ambivalent about dirt I have never seen one tolerated.

Stamp them out quickly if you do not want to end up with an infestation.

The author is the Managing Partner of C. Suite Africa, a management consultancy firm and an MBA (Oxon), MPA (Harvard)