Biomimicry: How Business Solves Problems by Looking to Nature

Sometimes, talking about new ways of approaching business benefits from looking at some of the world's oldest ways of doing business. Biomimicry is a practical methodology to solve problems by looking to nature. Learn more from some examples of biomimicry on social media and co-creation.

At the GreenBiz Innovation Forum, held in San Francisco the 11th till the 13th of October, Dayna Baumeister, co-founder of the Biomimicry Guild — which is now rebranding as Biomimicry 3.8, gave a presentation on biomimicry.

Baumeister summed up the most important skill to exploring biomimicry: “Quieting the cleverness and getting back into our childlike minds.” In short, asking the questions about how little things can work together on big problems is the core of biomimicry — and a fundamental feature of innovation.

Biomimicry or biomimetics is the examination of nature, its models, systems, processes, and elements to emulate or take inspiration from in order to solve human problems. The term biomimicry and biomimetics come from the Greek words bios, meaning life, and mimesis, meaning to imitate. Other terms often used are bionics, bio-inspiration, and biognosis.

This field of science is gaining traction and offers us learnings acquired through the billions of years of existence. It’s often used in Design and the more materialized disciplines, have a look at these 15 examples.

“Going outside” is central to biomimicry

Baumeister gave an interesting comparison to innovation:

At its core, “Sex is innovation,” Baumeister said during the intro to her presentation yesterday. “Without sex, we get inbreeding.”

You can also look at sex as the idea of mixing, getting out, sharing, “taking ideas from one place and spreading it elsewhere,” she explained. That idea of going outside is central to harnessing biomimicry, because “outside” is where the roughly 30 million other species that we share the planet with make their homes and do their innovation.

It will be a matter of time when biomimicry will invade social media and co-creation space. Now that the business landscape has been offered new digital means, organizations a have new means to go outside and mutually benef.

Three examples of biomimicry on social media and co-creation:

Dragonfly effect

A well-known application of nature on social media is the Dragonfly Effect by Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith:

The dragonfly is the only insect able to propel itself in any direction when its four wings are working in concert. It symbolizes the importance of integrated effect and is akin to the ripple effect—a term used in economics, sociology, and psychology to indicate how small acts can create big change. To us, the Dragonfly Effect shows how synchronized ideas can be used to create rapid transformations through social media.

Survival of the most adaptable

Survival of the most adaptable is a capability that becomes more and more reality to survive and grow. Organizations that understand their target audience quickly and know how to infiltrate that knowledge into the internal organization have the opportunity to be truly customer-centric, in an efficient way, creating a reciprocal relation.

The threat lies in the time aspect, adapt too slow and an organization still won’t survive. Product and industry life cycles become shorter and are more steep, imposing organizations to adapt as quickly and as relevantly as possible. The other challenge is that most of the knowledge in social media is open to everyone. Information asymmetry is being reduced and that creates a more competitive environment.

This is where agility through social media is the translation to the business environment.

Ecotone

In a world of widely distributed knowledge, organizations shouldn’t rely on internal research solely. First of all because it can’t benefit from experience and knowledge from other sources/stakeholders. Secondly because this adheres the concept of an ecotone:

An ecotone is a transition area between two adjacent but different patches of landscape, such as forest and grassland. It may be narrow or wide, and it may be local (the zone between a field and forest) or regional (the transition between forest and grassland ecosystems). An ecotone may appear on the ground as a gradual blending of the two communities across a broad area, or it may manifest itself as a sharp boundary line.

The word ecotone was coined from a combination of eco(logy) plus -tone, from the Greek tonos or tension – in other words, a place where ecologies are in tension.

These are the places where much innovation occurs, being a convergence and collision of two systems, affecting each other and generating new ideas and outcomes (in creative ‘tension’). This is in lign with the concept of open innovation. Here you can see a video of Steven Johnson’s view where ideas come from.

Think also about multi-disciplinary teams where each unique expertise is fused into a team, getting the most out of the group of different individuals.

Explanatory or exploratory?

Biomimicry does both. In the cases above it explains, the second step would be to understand natural processes to understand outcomes. The exploration side would be taking into account the natural in business. Humans and their complex nature aren’t alien or immune to these laws, even if modern life may let us think that. Our ancestors were able to intertwine nature in to their daily lives and business, understanding the opportunities and solutions it contained.

Biomimicry isn’t “new” but by giving it this easily identifiable name it helps a larger audience than just scientists to have a look at nature and adapt them for human use.

By Gianluigi Cuccureddu

About the author:


Gianluigi CuccuredduGianluigi Cuccureddu, contributing editor, is an experienced writer specializing in innovation, open business, new media and marketing. He is also Managing Partner of the 90:10 Group, a global Open Business consultancy, which helps clients open their activity directly and indirectly to external stakeholders through the use of social media, its data and technologies for the purpose of competitive advantages in marketing, service- and product innovation.

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