The traditional way of counting the years in China reminds us of the cyclical nature of time. In the West, we tend to emphasise linear progression: getting one year older with each birthday, compiling annual reports, completing tax returns etc. Chinese New Year reminds us that there is also a cyclical dimension to time – in the universe, in our lives and in our business.

Chinese civilization for millennia has thought of human life as a number of phases, each of 12 years: from birth to infancy, through adolescence to adulthood, and so on. Each year in the cycle of 12 is ‘numbered’ with an animal. Which means that every time your animal comes around, it is a reminder that you are beginning a new phase of your life.

The different characteristics of each animal also provide a theme for the year, which helps to ensure that communities and businesses do not overplay any one particular role, function or personality type.

An ancient Chinese classic text known as “The Book of Changes” (Yi Jing) sees three Yang symbols as a sign of peace. Yang (as in Yin and Yang) sounds the same as the Chinese word for sheep or goat, so三羊开泰 (three sheep bringing peace) has emerged as a proverbial image for auspicious harmony.

This next year is designated the year of the sheep or goat. So it’s likely the start of a new phase particularly for people (and businesses) born around 1991, 1979, 1967, 1955, 1943, 1931. But it’s also a reminder to value the gentle and shy in your company that you may have overlooked, or to appreciate the peacemakers and harmonisers as you operate in a hard business environment.