The future of bio-inspired business
Recently, I have frequently been asked similar questions about the application of biomimicry for sustainable business transformation and where its future lies. Hence, I thought it useful to share insights on three key questions with input from the biomimicry specialist Denise Deluca, co-founder of BCI: Biomimicry for Creative Innovation.
1) Why is biomimicry a smart thing for sustainable business?
We in business find ourselves operating in increasingly volatile and transformational times. Businesses that wish to not just survive but also thrive in the years ahead are those that are agile, responsive and adaptable. Such firms of the future are able to continually redesign themselves for resilience. These are characteristics we find with great abundance in Nature. The more we tune-in to the natural world around us, the more we open up to the answers all around us in Nature. After all, Nature has been dealing with transform and volatility for over 3.8bn years. Biomimicry offers a framework and toolset for understanding how to best explore and apply Nature’s strategies for sustainable business and beyond. In the words of Albert Einstein:
‘Look deep into Nature and you will find the answers.’
2) How does biomimicry spur creative innovation?
There are many levels at which Nature’s inspiration can spur our innate creative potential. At one level, the biomimicry methodology requires us to reframe our design challenge and ask entirely different questions. Biomimicry asks us to explore how Nature solves our design challenges, or more specifically, the strategies Nature uses to perform the functions our design needs to perform. This reframing, pausing, reflecting, exploring and attuning with Nature’s wisdom generates a burst of creativity for all stakeholders involved in the process, which itself then leads to further exponential co-creativity within performing teams.
What can often be over-looked or under-valued in our rationalistic paradigm, is the sensuous and soulful, as well as the scientific, aspects of Nature’s inspiration. In attuning ourselves with Nature, we allow an opportunity for our analysing left-brain and contextualising right brain hemispheres to align and also for our head, heart and hands to cohere. This can bring profound shifts for individual and collective logic, leading to further bursts of creativity where the innovation is truly transformative in challenging business-as-usual methods and mind-sets.
3) What new direction will biomimicry take in the coming years?
As explored in the book ‘The Nature of Business’, think of applied biomimicry – or rather ‘Nature’s inspiration’ – as layers within a pyramid: ‘places’ at the base of the pyramid, then ‘products’, then ‘processes’, then ‘people’ and finally ‘purpose’ at the top of the pyramid.
There is a plethora of ‘Nature inspired’ applications at the ‘places’ level (architecture and infrastructure) and also at the ‘product’ level (biomimetic design). One only has to Google-search ‘biomimicry’ to come across a great variety of ways that we are copying Nature’s forms for the emulation of our human designs (e.g. the Bullet train and the kingfisher’s beak, for instance). There is plenty of work to do for biomimetic designers and architects in the years ahead and much to be done to align our ways of designing to that of Nature’s.
At the ‘process’ level, there has been applied inspiration from Nature in the areas of energy and resource flows for many years, for instance industrial ecology, where the ‘waste’ output of one process becomes the ‘food’ input of another. Cradle-to-cradle and ‘circular economy’ processes apply ecological-thinking for inter-organizational manufacturing processes. What is interesting, and still embryonically emerging, is the embodiment of Nature’s inspiration at the informational process flow level. This can explore technological processes (for instance, the internet forms a similar pattern to mycelium webs found in soil beneath our feet) and also the rich domain of human interactions, team dynamics, leadership approaches and stakeholder relations. This brings us into the next level up the pyramid where the emergent future of Nature’s inspiration ventures into: ‘people’.
There are obvious Nature-inspired ways of translating behaviors and patterns of communication from the natural world for human relations; for instance, the different leadership approaches we find in flocks and herds, as well as the behaviors we find in swarms and super-organisms such as ant colonies and bee-hives. Yet, what is sometimes over-looked is that we too are very much expressions of Nature. Leadership-of-the-future is asking us to attune with our own authentic human nature – a shift from egotistic, heroic, command-and-control leadership to heartfelt, emergent, ecologically-attuned leadership approaches. For instance, the rich seam of ecological psychology explores the human psyche and its attunement with the natural world. In gaining a deeper resonance with our true self (beyond the illusory confines of our ego-self) we open up to our deeper sense of purpose, whereupon the purpose of our organizations and wider stakeholder community may align. This brings us to the pinnacle of the pyramid: ‘purpose’.
Ultimately, real sustainability is being in harmony with Nature by learning to participate as co-creators in the immense beauty of life, anything less is unsustainable. The more we open ourselves up to our inner nature, our local neighborhood and the wider world around us the more we attune with the wisdom in our midst. The diversity of our individuality is what makes for the richness and resilience of our collectivity: the co-creativity of life spawns from diversity within unity. This wisdom is as relevant for politics (true democratic representation) as it is for sustainable business, as it is for community regeneration.
In short, Nature’s inspiration can help us re-align minds, hearts and souls with Nature. It helps us remember that we are Nature. The bright future of biomimicry lies in its scientific, sensuous and soulful understanding of Nature’s wisdom beyond the confines of yesterday’s divisive logic of dog-eat-dog competition and isolating separateness.
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View a short video clip on business inspired by nature here