Mother Knows Best

Think you need to be totally original? Not so. Mother Nature is a brilliant source of ideas, and leaders who create a line-item in their budgets for bio-mimicry are cashing in on her plethora of innovative solutions to today’s biggest challenges.

What exactly is Mother Nature solving?  It’s actually kinda personal.

From bullet trains and their sonic booms to the glass panel on your smart phone to your bright blue underwear, Mother Nature isn’t relegated to your day’s weather forecast anymore.

The Japanese Shinkansen Bullet Train is the fastest train in the world. At speeds of 200 miles per hour, travelers were impressed, but not with its noise pollution. As the train emerged from tunnels, it created a loud sonic boom, causing nearby residents to complain. Eiji Nakatsu, the train’s chief engineer and an avid bird-watcher, posed the challenge, “Is there something in nature that travels quickly and smoothly between two very different mediums?” Kingfishers! These birds dive from the air into bodies of water to catch fish, and they create almost no splash. Nakatsu redesigned the train with a similar nose. Not only did the sonic boom stop, but 15% less electricity is used while the train travels 10% faster.

The key to adopting from Mother Nature is forming the better question and “asking” the species, what is your secret?!  For example, instead of asking how to make a noise reduction device, ask a Kingfisher how it moves seamlessly from air to water and ask an owl how it flies so silently. Answers from these two creatures were combined to solve the Shinkansen train issue. Instead of asking a software coder for more color, ask a Morpho butterfly and a peacock how they got so blue. Make-up, detergent, textile, and cell phone manufacturers immediately applied this intellectual property to their products.  Yes, your smartphone’s glass panel and your girlfriend’s bright blue eye-shadow can thank a peacock.

Utilizing the Biomimicry Taxonomy to solve your next design challenge is straightforward.

  1. Think action. Find the verb for what you want to do, not the noun for what you want to create. How would Mother Nature…capture, store, disperse, time-release, etcetera?
  2. Change perspective. Try a different angle. For example, studying how mangroves and penguins remove salt from water might offer you more insight than studying desalination systems created by humans. Seriously.
  3. Flip the question. Instead of asking how Mother Nature stores water ask how she keeps water out or stays dry?

Erin Leitch, Director of the Biomimicry Specialist certification program at Biomimicry 3.8, shares that biomimicry can even influence and shift systems and cultures, not just products.  Mother Nature’s genius can teach us a thing or two about dealing with scarce resources.  According to Leitch, “The Namibian Beetle lives in one of the driest deserts in the world. The Namib lives on the southwest coast of Africa. It collects all of the water it needs from ocean fog using the unique surface of its back. Microscopic bumps with hydrophilic (water-attracting) tips and hydrophobic (water-repelling) sides cover its hardened forewings, which it aims toward the oncoming fog each morning. Water droplets materialize out of thin air on its back, then slide down channels into its awaiting mouth.”

Borrowing from the beetle, as a business leader, how might you design and develop a tailored strategy to create an affinity with the resources you need to attract?  For example, are you experiencing a lack of creative ideas and a shortage of talent? Is your current talent attraction, retention & management strategy conducive to creative thinking, experimentation and collaboration? How might the Namibian Beetle help you find better solutions and resources?

AmyK International’s headquarters are north of the world-famous San Diego Zoo. In addition to hosting 5 million visitors every year, the zoo is leading a bio-inspiration initiative, built with the vision to bridge the gap between industry’s problems and nature’s solutions. With the question, “How might we tackle species and environmental conservation by using tips and tricks from Mother Nature?” the zoo is looking to help Mother Nature help herself. Drawing inspiration like this to build more resource-friendly innovation is pretty darn cool. Thanks, Mom!


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