Why Business is like... the cockroach

American cockroaches can live without water for a month and without food for three, and might survive a nuclear holocaust. They have even been known to live on several weeks after decapitation. Granted, they aren't very pretty or sophisticated: you wouldn't want to invite one to a dinner party. But for sheer hardiness, they can't be beat.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The robustness of the cockroach is attributable to its 'no frills' construction; basic bodily functions and a lack of a discernible brain mean there's little to go wrong. Humans, by contrast, may be a bit cleverer and better-looking but, come Armageddon, you know who your money would be on.

At a time when the subject of survival is foremost among the business community, this contrast offers an important lesson. Sophisticated ideas and swanky set-ups that are highly optimised to suit the environment of the day are vulnerable when that environment changes - something our City institutions can attest to. By contrast, the humble pawnbroker, who surely sits at the bottom of the pile of financial institutions, is unaffected by the current storm. H&T Group (est 1897) is Britain's largest pawnbroker with 95 shops nationwide, and it has even recorded a rise in pre-tax profits for the year.

This is not to say that the play-it-safe approach is superior to a more refined and groundbreaking business plan, any more than the cockroach is superior to humankind. Rather that, as if choosing between human and roach, the entrepreneur faces an inescapable trade-off: clever and sophisticated business plans that tap into the consumer of today, or a simpler scheme that is better at taking the knocks and scrapes of a business environment that is forever changing?

Jennifer Harris is director of JRBH Strategy & Management, www.jrbh.co.uk.

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