Insights from an Invading Alien

Singapore's Most Common Bird - the Javan Mynah (courtesy of Taking Up The Challenge)

That bird above, the Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus), is the most common bird species in Singapore. You can see its black feathered wings with dashes of white fluttering everywhere around our island.

The Javan Myna has an amazingly liquid voice that allows it to imitate a range of calls into its repertoire, emanating through its characteristically yellow beak. It nests practically everywhere - on buildings, on trees, in padi fields, in drains, in roofs - and is abundantly successful in almost every habitat.

Pecking at practically anything and everything - scraps of meat, leftover food at hawker centres, worms in wet fields, insects, plant seeds - the Javan Myna is omnivorous and opportunistic. It is such a voracious species that it is fast displacing its conspecific cousin, the ironically less ubiquitous Common Myna.

Perhaps the most startling fact is that the Javan Myna (as its name proposes) is an invasive species. In other words, its an alien...

OK, maybe not this kind of invasive alien! (source)

What lessons can we learn from this successful avian alien?

First, be opportunistic and look for hard-to-access niches. Unlike some of its more reticent feathered foes, the Javan Myna is extremely adaptable and seeks all kinds of niches for its home. To be successful, we need to be equally adaptable and look for market spaces that are unfilled, or be willing to embark on new ventures that may be shunned by others. By looking for the inaccessible or specialised spaces, we can reap rewards that are less apparent to others.

Second, don't be too fussy (at least from the onset). A key survival strategy of the Javan Myna is its ability to survive on an almost universal diet. It exploits different forms of food - hawker centre scraps, garbage remains, insects etc - and is willing to eat whatever rubbish others leave behind.

In a similar fashion, we shouldn't try to aim so much for perfection that we miss the low hanging fruits in life, love, and business. Whatever does not kill us will only make us stronger as we build our personal or professional enterprise, brick by brick, morsel by morsel.

Third, crowdsourcing works! Considered one of the most gregarious creatures, Javan Mynas often flock together when feeding, roosting or making a public nuisance of themselves. There is power in doing things in a group.

Likewise, trying to do it alone on your own steam may be difficult without the support of your community. Working with your family members, friends, colleagues, or club mates may be profitable than slogging it out alone as they can help you to look for blind spots, alert you to dangers, and combine their resources.

Fourth, venture boldly into new territories and don't be shy. Study how Javan Mynas behave at hawker centres and coffee shops and be amazed at their temerity. Darting in and out of tables, they seize every chance they can to grab a strand of noodle or an uneaten fishball despite the clear and present danger.

In a similar fashion, success is often predicated on one's willingness to break out of the mould and be noticed. Stand proud in front of an audience and fight your bashful monster. Fading into the background won't bring you recognition.

Finally (hat tip to Zoologist Sivasothi for this!), it is useful to note how the Myna also thrived when its biggest and baddest bully, the house crow, ended up inciting specific culling from the authorities. When its natural enemies were removed, the Javan Myna flourished in the landscape.

In a similarly Machiavellian fashion (although the Javan Myna's fortune wasn't entirely its own doing...), one could perhaps devise one's strategy around the saying "The enemy of my enemy is my friend". Find ways to eliminate the competition by forming alliances with folks who can help you to get rid of them!

It is interesting that so much life lessons could be gleaned from a morning having breakfast at a coffeeshop observing these birds!

Labels: , , , ,