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Biomimicry and its role in business evolution

June 19, 2012

Bios – life

Mimicry – to copy

Throughout our existence, we humans have been copying patterns and forms found in nature.

Leonardo Da Vinci and Pythagoras are just two of many well-known inventors who took inspiration from nature.

Einstein famously once said ‘Look deep into nature and you shall find the answer’.

More recently in 1997 Janine Benyus coined the term biomimicry in her book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature.  This book led to the term biomimicry becoming popularised over biomimetics or bionics, particularly in the US.  In the UK and Europe, the term biomimetics is still widely accepted in scientific realms; however, biomimicry is creeping in via popular media. Benyus went on to set up the The Biomimicry Institute which focuses on innovation inspired by nature.

In 2010, a group of specialists in the UK set up a collaborative called BCI: Biomimicry for Creative Innovation on the following premises: business models and practices need transforming to become fit-for-purpose for the world we now live in; the knowledge, understanding and tools we need for business transformation can be found in nature; and business can create the conditions conducive for life (not just reduce its negative impact on life) and so business can ‘sustain’ and also ‘thrive’ in our lifetime and beyond.  BCI’s strap line is ’ecological thinking for radical transformation’.

Time to transform?

It is becomes patently clear to many that business is undergoing a metamorphosis.  Due to a perfect storm of social, economic and environmental factors organisations have little option other than to seek out opportunities in these volatile times, adapt and evolve to what BCI refers to as ‘firms of the future’ – businesses more akin to living organisms than mechanistic monoliths designed for the Industrial Era.  These firms of the future can take inspiration from nature at all levels within their strategies and operations.  For instance:

Places:  intelligent buildings that sense and respond to their environment are effective, vibrant and healthy places to work.

Products: biomimicry is already well established in assisting the designing of sustainable products – just Google ‘biomimicry’ to come up with many examples.

Processes:  industrial ecology and symbiosis, business ecosystem mapping, systems thinking, eco-literacy, circular processes, closed loop economics and cradle-to-cradle are part of a growing list of approaches applied to shaping business processes based on insights from nature.

People: traditionally the domain of humanists and psychologists, more and more we find nature’s inspiration positively influencing how we engage, empower and encourage our people to build resilience within their diverse stakeholder group.  For example eco-psychology and natural leadership are emergent approaches to help business people deal with complexity and unpredictability

Purpose: as organisations recognise the need to have a higher purpose beyond ‘short term profit maximisation’ in order to galvanise themselves for the stormy seas ahead, many in business question whether it is ‘good enough’ to focus on becoming ‘sustainable’ by focusing on reducing negative social and environmental impacts.  Some forward thinking businesses are realising that ‘reaching beyond zero impact’ means becoming restorative and net positive, where business creates conditions conducive for life, rather than merely reducing the harm inflicted.

As Professor Michael Porter recently stated when addressing business leaders in New York, ‘we are witnessing a paradigm shift in business from hurting to helping’.

Again, such forward thinking businesses look to nature for inspiration.  Collaborative, innovative, networking, emergent, dynamic firms of the future are more akin to living organisms hence gain great inspiration from how nature builds resilience to thrive within dynamic change.

‘Business Inspired By Nature’ (see www.businessinspiredbynature.com ) explores how the answers to many of our pressing business challenges lie all around us in nature. Take a couple of points by way of illustration:

  • Nature has been dealing with dynamic change for over 3.8bn years
  • Successful species and ecosystems in nature are ones that are resilient, where living beings collaborate, forming niches within diversity.
  • Whilst the strongest man-made material is Kevlar which is made at around 1000 centigrade in a complex chemical and energy intensive process, spiders make webs which are stronger than Kevlar at room temperature with no pollution.
  • Waste and pollution is an immense problem for us. In looking to nature we realise that nature does not have waste – waste for one part of the ecosystem is food for another.

Confucius, in 500BC, profoundly noted that:

‘He who is in harmony with nature hits the mark without effort and apprehends the truth without thinking’.

Are you ready to start engaging with nature for the answers to our many pressing challenges?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 20, 2012 3:03 pm

    Very nice posting. From your list, I see that my work focuses on the understanding and mimicking of the processes; “ecologizing” the economy and “symbiotic demand” are two areas I see promise.

    • June 20, 2012 3:19 pm

      Am glad you liked the post, thanks for the comment. Both ‘ecologizing’ the economy and ‘symbiotic demand’ as you refer to them are useful in helping us look for new ways of operating. I hope you enjoy future posts.

  2. August 28, 2012 10:10 pm

    Sometimes we can surpass nature in efficiency, but it still offers various solutions for our problems.

    I also like biomimicry and tend to write about it so don’t be shy to check it out :)

    • August 29, 2012 10:11 am

      Thanks for the comment — please feel free to give some examples of where human nature surpasses nature’s efficiency, that would be very useful as part of a debate, many thanks

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