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BIOMIMICRY

:
Tool for Innovation at All Levels of Organization
The global climate is changing at an unprecedented rate. As governmental regulations and social values react, businesses are also undergoing radical change to benefit as proponents of sustainable development. In searching for clues on how to conduct business in a successful and socio-environmentally responsible way, we can look to nature as a guide. Ecosystems can be seen as economies that have been, until recently, extremely prosperous. Almost 4 billion years of research and development experience have left nature replete with examples of successful survival methods. Acknowledging innovation as a critical part of success in the business world, this paper introduces biomimicry as a framework for driving innovation for positive financial, social and environmental change. The application of biomimicry for business is actually two undertakings: the first is to learn various components of nature, such as the designs, systems, and processes of the natural world through the sciences of biology, ecology, psychology and others; the second is to identify how these components of nature contain solutions or innovations applicable to the organization. This paper will primarily explore how biomimicry can inform the management of small and medium sized businesses (SME), although the ideas can certainly be adapted to the management of nonprofits, larger firms, communities, and even one’s individual life. © 2010 Strategic Sustainability Consulting Zai Kang Chang

Contents
BACKGROUND ................................................................................1 THE NEW BUSINESS CLIMATE ...........................................................3 WHAT IS BIOMIMICRY? ...................................................................4 BIOMIMICRY: PERSPECTIVES FOR INNOVATION ..................................6 BIOMIMICRY: METAPHOR GENERATION FOR BUSINESS.......................8 FIRST PRINCIPLES............................................................................10
Basic Physical Laws ............................................................................... 10 Basic Ecological Principles .................................................................... 11

BUSINESS APPLICATIONS OF BIOMIMICRY .........................................14
Natural Concept to Product Concept/Design: Interface, Inc ................ 14 Physical, Natural Design to Product Design: Shape Optimization......... 15 Natural Principle to Business Principle: Industrial Ecology ................... 16 Species Behavior to Management Principles: Collective Decision Making .................................................................................................. 16 Ecosystem Principle to Business Principle: Creating a Community ...... 17 Natural Community Principle to Management Principle: Reducing Intra-Staff Competition ......................................................... 18 Natural Principle to Management Strategy: Organization as an Organism .............................................................................................. 19 Species Behavior to Management Strategy: Swarm Intelligence ......... 22

SUMMARY AND NOTES ON THE EXAMPLES ........................................24 LEARNING TO USE BIOMIMICRY .......................................................25
1. A Proactive Strategy is Prompted by Internal Desires within the Company............................................................................................... 25 2. This Means Substantial Change ........................................................ 25 3. Leadership ........................................................................................ 26 4. Assess Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, And Threats ............ 26 5. Vision for How Biomimicry Can Add Value to Your Business ............ 27 6. Becoming a Learning Organization ................................................... 28 7. Common Knowledge of Ecology and First Principles ........................ 29 8. Feedback........................................................................................... 29

CONCLUSION ..................................................................................30 REFERENCES ...................................................................................32
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Background

Currently, economies and business operate without accurately valuing many of Earth’s complementary services. These services, including recycling of wastes, oxygen production, provision of fresh water, maintaining soil quality and countless others, are severely undervalued or, in some cases, not valued at all. As populations grow and the resource appetite of wealthy nations increases, we are seeing global signs of environmental collapse and degradation. It has become well understood that the processes we perform to maintain our economies are interfering with the natural world’s ability to provide these services we utterly depend upon for survival. All other species have, for hundreds of millions of years, thrived on this planet without intergovernmental agreements and protocols and have served primarily to increase and diversify the versions of life on this planet. What can our society learn from natural society about existing and thriving in the long term? The economy is a key driver of the direction of society, therefore, those concerned with the long term well-being of society desire a sustainable economy, or one “that preserves and enhances a well-functioning ecosystem; provides humans with the products and services necessary for a good and dignified life; provides opportunities for fulfilling work and self-realization; achieves and maintains economic justice; and utilizes resources at a sustainable rate that does not deplete future generations.”1 These goals cannot be met through
1 Milbrath, Lester W. 1989. Envisioning a sustainable society: Learning our way out. New York: SUNY.

the industrial processes we currently undertake. The basic flow of our industrial processes has not significantly changed since the industrial revolution—it is primarily a linear one, extracting resources, producing products, and then relieving unused wastes into the environment. The design of future operations must evolve to be in line with natural systems: we should not emit more carbon than plants can absorb, we should not take more fish than can reproduce and we should not dump more materials than the local ecosystem can metabolize. Society must not degrade the very natural systems it depends upon to survive. CEOs of many large companies are getting more attention from the media as they increasingly fold sustainability into their core business practices. This is in order as positive reports show CEOs are expecting to see increased customer retention and attraction and a drop in operating costs.2 But if half of the nonfarm gross domestic product (GDP) is produced through firms that have fewer than 20 employees3, it would be wrong to say sustainable business development is alive and well in businesses. Small businesses, defined by the U.S. Small Business Association, are independent firms with less than 500 employees. They account for half of the electricity and natural gas consumed by
2 “2009 Greening of Corporate America.” McGraw-Hill Construction. Web 20 Oct 2009. http://construction.com 3 The Small Business Economy for Data Year 2005. Rep. The Small Business Administration, Dec. 2006. Web. 06 Oct. 2009. <http://www.sba.gov/advo/research/sb_econ2006.pdf>.

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com/news/2008/02/18/big-impactgreening-small-businesses?page=0%2C0 5 Laszlo.greenbiz. economies. Kathia C.4 The crucial advancement of sustainability in small business will be hard-fought and to the immense benefit of local communities. 605 2 . (2003) p.”5 4 http://www.the commercial and industrial sectors. the impending large-scale environmental changes will certainly change the entire business landscape. The emerging problems in the business world and society at large call for a new paradigm. one where organizations “learn in harmony with the dynamics of their milieu in order to co-evolve and create value. and the global environment. Regardless of the size of the business.

businesses. can last unless it cares for all of its resources and capital— human. Many larger companies are instituting “green” policies. and are moving towards business practices that are more profitable and more responsible. and environmental. The strategic self-interest of businesses lies in being aware of facts. figuring out how to adapt to and incorporate these changes into a specific organization presents challenges for smaller organizations because there are fewer relevant models of change. in more recent times. Surely. not all organizations can afford to take these measures. creating a sustainability plan or instituting a new wing of the company? As we now begin to keenly ask how we should design our products. 3 . This could explain why. p. and industries in a sustainable manner. Get Smart. companies such as Walmart. best-selling author on green business. Those that want to survive will have to make key management decisions to adapt to the new business climate: one that is more conscious of our intricate connections with each other and with our planet. Andrew Winston.The New Business Climate It is easy to see why big business has been blamed for much of our present day environmental destruction and climate change. Proactive companies are realizing the principles that have brought about the current state of environmental degradation are not relevant anymore and create less advantage. No company. 2. untenable resource extraction. creating offices of sustainability. trends. a $400 billion dollar company. and climate change are all facts of our new and emerging reality that point to the need for large-scale change. Environmental degradation. financial. opportunities. Major economic and social variables are changing and businesses cannot be sheltered from the effect these forces will have on our economy. have been on the forefront of championing environmental and social issues. Get Smart.”6 6 Winston. sustainability is at the very core of survival. Andrew Green Recovery Get Lean. Many proactive companies are merging their bottom line with the common good. we only have to look to nature for inspiration and this is the realm of biomimicry. In fact. and Emerge from the Downturn on Top: “…Survival and sustainability are truly not at odds. and Emerge from the Downturn on Top Harvard Business Press. writes in Green Recovery: Get Lean. without hiring large consulting firms. or society. and potential pitfalls that affect future profits. Currently. but all must incorporate the new ideas of sustainable development in some way to survive in the changing business climate. Then how do smaller organizations innovate towards sustainable development. or hiring consulting firms to make their steps towards sustainability.

A more recognizable form may be found in Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex on the Flight of Birds in which da Vinci examined the flight of birds and then proposed mechanical constructions to replicate the flight behavior. apt for a time when information in the life sciences is becoming increasingly available. but only the first will be included here as it is the most applicable: “Nature as model.com/2008/12/ 8 http://www. companies must match the situation causing the inefficiency with a similar situation found in nature. “You can’t imagine that someone else may have a different perspective. an assistant professor at Harvard Business School who studies 7 Benyus. skin of sharks. Janine Benyus. More recently.html . Karim Lakhani. change in plant species of forests. But problems that are difficult in one domain may be trivial to solve from the perspective of a different domain.What is Biomimicry? Biomimicry comes from the Greek bios. and other natural treasures. She gives a threepart definition of the word. means imitation. Source: conservationreport. because the “problems” are extinct. Bad adaptations or processes are weeded out by natural selection and therefore do not exist. Biomimicry expands the comparison base to include the patterns of nature as well. This is a profound concept. leaves of plants. i 4 innovation says. different companies face similar problems. Velcro was inspired by the hooking mechanisms found on seeds. the term has been popularized by biological sciences writer and avatar for biomimicry. The idea of drawing inspiration from nature most likely dates back as far as man began imitating things around him.”8 Hundreds. Evaluating the similarity between the problems of two companies will reveal if a solution to one is a solution to the other. Of course in nature. Biomimicry is a new science that studies nature’s models and then imitates or takes inspiration from these designs and processes to solve human problems…”7 Even within industries. there are only solutions to the inefficiencies. beaks of birds.fastcompany. (1997) p.com/magazine/140/made-tostick-stop-solving-your-problems. if not thousands of innovations have come about studying the habits of social creatures. Janine. Seen as an exercise in pattern matching. meaning life and mimesis.

can be taken quite literally. a designer can simply adapt the physical design characteristics of an owl’s wings and employ them in his own design for a wind turbine.treehugger. Source: http://www.php All around the world. there are not only a large number of ‘solutions’ from which we can learn. in this way.greenwavelength. That is to say. Where the previous examples have adapted the physical design specifications of nature. other metaphors can be made between nature’s processes and principles and those of our own.The principle behind self-healing plastics were inspired by our own body’s ability to heal from wounds. Because every piece in nature is a process that is conducive to life and every species has the refined designs of billions of years’ worth of evolution. Source: www. but also a wide variety of types of solutions we can learn. The metaphor of biomimicry. The Eastgate building uses 10% of the energy of conventional buildings. Architects have studied termite mounds to inform the design of energy efficient buildings. Source: keone @ Flickr Solar cells are being developed that take notes from photosynthesizing plants.com/ tag/biomimicry/ Termite mounds must be kept at 86 degrees F.com/files/2006/08/ biomimetic_buil_1. the designs of nature are modeled as physical design solutions to various engineering problems. 5 . they manage to do this within one degree while the outside air fluctuates from 34 degrees F at night to 104 degrees F in the midst of a scorching day.

leadership. organizations can avail themselves to a new type of natural resource.15 (2005): 1. For example. nature has overcome serious design problems and accomplished 6 Bhushan. remarkable engineering feats9 while managing to look great in the process. effective. 1997. increased adaptability. At the species level. In the information age of the 21st century. healthy. “Biomimietics: lessons from nature—an overview. an organization does not necessarily require outside resources to innovate towards sustainability and can rely on its own human capital to generate these types of ideas. the natural world can be a source of inspiration for an unlimited number of ideas. Replicating this idea on a smaller scale. leaves falling from trees make homes for smaller insects and animals and eventually degrade into the soil to provide resources for future plant and microbial growth. With further study and some creativity. cycles.”10 By adapting nature’s time-tested and conducive-to-life principles we can create lean. effective.” Grand Rapids Business Journal 23. and energy through seven stories without any motors or mechanics. Biomimicry is a field of study undertaken to look at the designs. http://www.xhtml?story_id=11000004JX7M. water.Biomimicry: Perspectives for Innovation A well-observed characteristic of the natural world is its efficient use and re-use of existing resources. Daniel. there are repeated principles 9 that have proven to be conducive to persistence. 30 Oct. Indeed. Designing for better innovation. Eco-efficiency and complete re-use are basic tenets of nature and should be models for our own society. Why nature? Primarily because every system found in nature is conducive to life. relationships and communications are all areas crucial to successful business growth and are all areas in which nature has a wealth of experience. When we look for the principles and strategies of the natural processes that permeate our world. in her seminal work Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature highlights the decades of work of ecologists:11 Every species that exists today has gone through an exhaustive Darwinian refinement by nature to be an efficient. processes and even management strategies. and often beautiful example of a way to survive. “Biomimicry: A Natural Progression. P. ecosystem level. You’re looking at how it can move its food. you’re not cutting it down to build a building.newsfactor. 10 Schoonmaker. New York: HarperCollins. Janine M. and mechanisms by which other species have thrived and then adapts these principles to our own products. processes. the idea and the ability to profit from it are priceless resources.com/ story. Web. Through biomimicry. and efficient business and industrial systems. Learning how to capitalize on the ideas found in nature is an invaluable tool. 2009. Bharat. Janine Benyus.” Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society 367 (2009): 1445-1486. Print. Catherine Bragdon. if you look at a tree. how you can take that knowledge and use it to make a better building. 11 Benyus. Newsfactor. and at the broader. 7 . of Biomimicry Guild’s business development department points out. Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. one completely renewable and free of emissions or negative environmental effects—that resource is the idea. “(With biomimicry).

7 . Nature uses only the energy it needs. not a goal. Nature demands local expertise.Nature runs on sunlight. but a means to remain continually adaptive in the ever-changing business climate—a source for new conceptual and practical business applications. Nature banks on diversity. Nature taps the power of limits. Nature curbs excesses from within. Biomimicry for business is then. Nature fits form to function. Nature recycles everything. These overarching observations on a variety of scales from the family of field mice to the Amazonian rain forest are key principles nature continually employs to maintain her elegance and balance. Nature rewards cooperation.

there have been numerous metaphors linking the company to a runner in the race’s most difficult parts. and the surrounding community. the system continues to create more and more niches. Examples include: paying unnecessary disposal fees. The state of war is a metaphor used by many corporate strategists and business writers to explain the importance of strategy and seriousness of competition. customers. Employing the right metaphors for the role of business at the outset is a critical task of the leader. and processes used to fulfill that perception. many cooperative and complex relations are thriving. Robert C.” Teaching Business Ethics 3 (1999): 27-35. While this particular metaphor 12 MacFarlane. This is because animals must hunt and risk their lives to obtain food. overproduction. it is often in the most difficult parts of a race in which the leaders change positions. either metaphorically or physically to analogous human problems. To the contrary. Businesses can adopt this principle of extreme resource efficiency as a basis for reducing wasted resources that were once thought of as fixed. 1999. strategies.13 Similarly. structures. the way a CEO perceives the role of the company then determines the mission. and even the economy. Businesses also employ metaphors to inspire or motivate in daily operations. “Re-Evaluating the Realist Conception of War as a Business Metaphor. Since the economic downturn in 2008. It is a way to highlight nature’s problem solving ability for the purpose of adapting its solutions. A better way to think about business: How personal integrity leads to corporate success. However. stalled inventory. 11 Nov. Like many of the examples in this paper suggest. and over-processing. 13 Solomon. drawing inspiration for more abstract business applications will require an understanding of the less tangible processes of nature and natural principles that are not immediately visible. competitors. unnecessary transportation. Web. as we have seen in the case of Countrywide Financial’s role in the 2008 economic downturn. necessary costs or never thought about at all. They note. In this type of ecosystem many of the ecological principles mentioned below are in full swing: nutrients are being cycled over and over. and the system itself enhances its location rather than . Bruce. there exist metaphors for businesses to be part of a cooperative community and develop relationships that are not about undercutting and profit maximizing. something like a large mature forest or established prairie. high utility costs. biomimicry introduces a set of illustrations that are based in the wisdom of nature and natural principles. To get a sense of how an environmentally restorative system operates.Biomimicry: Metaphor Generation for Businesses Metaphors have a profound influence on the business world. Unethical business decisions can result in disastrous results for the company. New York: Oxford University Press 8 helps the reader understand the circumstances of businesses in the downturn through the illustration of a marathon. nature is extremely efficient in the use of resources. 2009. This metaphor typically evokes a characterization of war devoid of a moral dimension. all niches are filled (a variety of species make good use of the nutrients in the system). Janine Benyus uses the illustration of a Type 3 mature ecosystem.12 The way a person thinks about business shapes the behavior and attitudes he or she has towards fellow employees.

managers or others will avail themselves to the vast inventory of successful strategies contained in the natural world. and many others in the life sciences.depletes it. With a firm understanding of nature’s inner workings. “Bio-Capitalism a natural example. The inspirational knowledge within nature is being learned and made available on a large scale through ecologists. Learning the scientific “first principles” of these ideas in nature will serve to lay a foundation from which management can build the biomimicry perspective. 14 Gold. By understanding nature’s principles. if our human societies. and processes. Jordan. Further direction and discernment will choose an appropriate idea to benefit the organization. Biomimicry introduces metaphors of interdependence and community that are echoes of conscious capitalism and corporate social responsibility. leaders can draw illustrations. and technical examples into the business world.14 Careful observation and study of a flourishing ecosystem filled with plants and animals also shows that it is fuelled completely by natural sunlight and does not intake more resources than it requires. animal biologists. behaviors.” Corporate Knights Forestry Issue (2005): 42-43 9 . economies. metaphors. The rest of nature has found ways to exist sustainably. and businesses mimic the underlying designs and processes of nature we will be many steps closer towards sustainable development as our non-human counterparts have found it.

the First Law of Thermodynamics states energy is neither created nor destroyed during these transformations. Matter is similarly “conserved” during these transformations because the number of atoms before the transformation (in the firewood) is the same as the number of atoms that remained after the reaction (in the ash and smoke). Fossil fuels are combusted primarily for the resulting heat energy. Energy of these various forms is constantly changing from one to the other. . Although plants require carbon dioxide to live. for these first principles govern life as we know it in the natural world and form the essential foundation necessary to comprehend how the world is designed and operates. a pollutant and greenhouse gas. motion. all human activities resulting in material pollutant we reside along with us on Earth. this means all the years of sunlight that went into the wood transformed completely into other forms of energy. With a firm understanding of natural systems. primarily. Currently. one is not limited in the number of associations that can be made between a successful natural solution and a successful business solution. as the managerial applications of biomimicry will vary widely. etc. animals. Every material thing we create can be thought of as a recombination of atoms and molecules that have been on Earth for billions of years. in one form or another. on earth and in the universe. THE EARTH IS A SYSTEM CLOSED TO MATTER AND OPEN TO ENERGY To understand this second principle.First Principles Biomimicry as a discipline can be broken into two processes: learning from nature and applying what was learned. an idea that brings us to the next point. such as coal or oil. Plants stored the energy from 10 BASIC PHYSICAL LAWS MATTER AND ENERGY CANNOT BE CREATED OR DESTROYED All known forms of energy. and others. Much attention should be paid to the following paragraphs. Indeed. insects. We cannot escape this principle. light. think of a fossil fuel. For an organization to benefit from the biomimicry perspective. exist in various forms including chemical. the climate change crisis is due to the surplus of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This means the material pollution of our human activities also stay around with us. they are simply a form in which energy is stored. Unhealthy buildups of chemicals results in pollution. but in the form of carbon dioxide. During the changing from one form to another. the concentration is too great to be useful. heat. heat. The energy in fossil fuels was laid down in prehistoric times from the bodies of plants. By burning these fuels the carbon atoms again redistribute. We know the carbon atoms in fossil fuels are primarily from the carbon atoms of decomposed bodies of prehistoric organic life forms. An example of this is when firewood is being burned: the energy stored in the wood (from years of gaining energy from sunlight) undergoes combustion and releases that energy in the form of heat. the method for developing the biomimicry perspective will not. But fossil fuels do not inherently contain energy. For our example. it is essential to gain a fundamental understanding of ecology and basic scientific principles.

Source http:// sciencebitz. if one were to take all butterflies out of an ecosystem. Although the field of study is extremely wide-ranging the following paragraphs will present several ecological principles thought to be relevant to the scope of this paper. In fact. Since every bit of matter and energy is used so efficiently. and interactions with the physical environment on a variety of scales. which would result in less plant growth.the sun. Inherent in this set of relationships is the idea of feedback. and ecosystems as economies. Whereas energy in the form of electricity is more ordered and . they convert that energy into heat. the remaining heat is released to the environment and can be seen as wasted energy. Earth is a system closed to matter because the total volume of material on Earth stays constant and it is open to energy because energy comes from the sun and is eventually lost as heat.com/?page_id=12 INTERCONNECTED. herbivores ate those plants to gain a portion of their stored energy. BASIC ECOLOGICAL PRINCIPLES Ecology is the study of the interaction of organisms with their environments. heat is more disordered and is harder to collect to perform work. the energy is stored in the form of sugars and is consumed by a herbivore. and carnivores ate herbivores to gain a portion of their stored energy. there would be less pollination occurring. Energy from the sun is absorbed by living things such as plants and nonliving things such as rocks. Fossil fuel technologies capture only a fraction of this heat to make electricity. For example. heat is released out of the system. During the metabolic process of the herbivore. etc. The field of study includes the study of species population growth. Example analogues include the company as an organism. but much of it dissipates into the environment. Some of the heat is captured and ordered into a useful form of energy. everything is connected to everything. when something is off or missing. In the case of a plant. genes as ideas. all the energy found in fossil fuels can be linked to energy from the sun from hundreds of millions of years ago. In the case of nonliving things the heat is almost immediately radiated back out in the form of heat (think of a parking lot on a summer day). As the fossil fuels are burned. Stored energy in the fuel combusts to release heat energy while the carbon molecules that once made up the fuel disperse as carbon dioxide. BALANCED FEEDBACK SYSTEMS Ecosystems are a complex web of relationships involving a series of flows of matter and energy. Basically. ENERGY TENDS TO SPREAD OUT OR DISSIPATE The second law of thermodynamics can be summed up by the concept of entropy: energy in a closed system tends to be less available to do work. Any combustion of a fossil fuel demonstrates both of these facts. Readers are encouraged to envision business management equivalents to these concepts. feeding relationships. competition/ relationships between species. which in turn would affect the diversity of herbivores attracted to those plants. useful to do work. some species in 11 To summarize.

their rate of growth is larger than the rate of growth of their primary resource (the hare). reproduce. or a similar species may differentiate as they co-evolve. In the water cycle. Notice that in cycling. As 12 The niche. is frequently used in modern business language. Competition can be broken down into intraspecific competition and interspecific competition. The lynx population then decreases proportionally due to this constraint. resource partitioning—one species will be driven toward a slightly different niche thereby avoiding competition. die. Source: http://www.com/products/product. Intraspecific competition may be intense because it is between individuals of the same species. Suppose there is a population of lynx and hare on an island. or receiving information from.ljcreate. No processing of a material results in something that is unusable for the next step in the process. The atom transfers to some carnivore as it consumes the herbivore. Interspecific competition occurs between different species conflicting over a shared resource. clouds form. This is an example of nutrient cycling. and so on at their hearts content. produce waste. thereby scaling back the resources required to fulfill the needs of the population. A species niche can be seen as the habitat and resource consumption needs of the species. moisture builds in the sky. resulting in rainfall. the population of the hare. With a decreased hare population there will be less food available for the lynx population. Soon enough the carnivore dies and is decomposing in a field where the atom and parts of the animal become nutrients in the soil for plants. Species inhabiting the same niche will result in either extinction of one species. Different conditions can make the feedback less graceful. eventually there will be a large pack of lynx hunting for a small number of hare (high intraspecific competition).edu/ papers/bio/long/ RESOURCE CYCLING An atom in a fruit is consumed by a herbivore roaming through the forest. there is a crash in the lynx population and the hare would slowly increase in number. All materials are converted into forms that are usable for other life-forms. a molecule of water will transpire from the leaf of a tree into the air.northwestern. Inevitably. grow. The lynx would continue to eat. . asp?id=589&program=158&curr=1 The lynx population is reacting to. Source ccl. thus within the same niche. but cycling occurs in nature on many scales.the ecosystem will notice. a term adapted from ecology. However. all materials are re-used. Rain is absorbed into the soil and subsequently absorbed by the tree for the process to continue.

Aulay. or those with larger genetic variation are better suited to adapt to changes in the environment. The greatest diversity and amount of nutrient cycling occurs during the midsuccessional period of a community. 16 Mackenzie.” Ask Nature. while the fish’s waste is thought to be absorbed as nutrients. the population’s gene pool will. or living together between symbiont and host. Clownfish swim unaffected by the stinging capsules of the anemone. which are the coded information sets for building and operating the organism. along with environmental factors produce the physical and behavioral differences one can observe. 2001. reproduce and pass down the genetic traits that have enabled them to survive. begin to include more individuals with that gene. Web.org>. involving two or more different species. Ball. The small differentiations between the gene sets of two individuals within a species.15 Genetic variation. As communities proceed through succession the species composition changes.. Andy S. which aids survival or reproduction in a particular environment is an adaptation to that environment.Mutualism is a type of symbiosis relationship.com Adaptation.asknature. 2009. Print. be it behavioral. 15 “Relationship protects from predators: clownfish. results in benefits for all parties.. Any heritable trait (capable of being transmitted to the next generation). Genes are made up of DNA molecules. A community is a collection of species that occur in the same place and time. The Biomimicry Institute. 13 Example of typical stages of ecosystem succession. Oxford: BIOS Scientific Ltd. <www. over time. If a gene produces a physical or behavioral difference resulting in a survival advantage.tutorvista. anemones.graphicshunt. The Clownfish scares away predators of its host. 2nd ed. Virdee.com/. Ecology. the sea anemone. The sea anemone provides protection for the fish by using its stinging capsules to capture prey. It is a subset of an ecosystem.php . This process is called natural selection. Genetically diverse species. morphological or physiological. The complexity of communities increases as succession progresses. The relationship. and Sonia R./lithosere. Source: www.16 Those best adapted to the environment (at the time) are the individuals that will survive. 27 Oct. Community and succession. or “survival of the fittest”. The gene pool is the total set of genes present in a population. Source: www.

no two stones.3 billion. but how far does this analogy of “nature as designer” go? Does the analogy have solutions to our social or more seemingly distinctly human activities such as business management or product life cycles? The examples will be presented with labels describing the link between nature and business. By learning and adapting what is already successful. engineering-based problems. Entropy became the company’s fastest bestseller. What they found that day was this:”They came to realize that no two things are alike—no two sticks. All of the biomimetic inventions are examples of the power of our human minds and their ability to learn and adapt. Inc. Interface produces modular floor coverings. This let the pieces be installed in any direction while still maintaining the desired overall look. a company valued at $1. Being 14 able to use the biomimicry metaphor on a variety of scales and contexts will be crucial in developing associations and solutions for the organization’s specific desires. Interface also greatly reduced installation time and production waste as compared to more traditional tiles. the design of the tiles hid any replaced tiles among the older ones—this meant longer life for the flooring and less inventory for suppliers. the scope of the metaphor will adapt to better illustrate the new perspective. the first case study is labeled. . INC.” this classifies the type of relationship between the natural phenomenon and the business application: a concept in nature inspired the design and concept of a product. but also include structural optimization. “It’s total chaos. gathered his design staff to go out into the forest one day.. This exercise is not the whim of a boutique carpet producer but of the world’s largest maker of modular carpets. NATURAL CONCEPT TO PRODUCT CONCEPT/DESIGN: INTERFACE. and desalination techniques. For example. ever. The dye on the pieces of carpet was randomly placed to mimic the chaos found in nature. chemical engineering. or carpets. Inc. “Natural concept to product concept/design. Ray Anderson. no two leaves. As the context and emphasis of the perspective changes. By doing this. Chairman Ray Anderson.” said Interface. Not only did it cut down on Interface’s operating costs. named Entropy.” This realization of the concept of chaos within order—an idea that permeates nature—gave rise to a line of carpet tiles.Business Applications of Biomimicry A quick search of the term “biomimicry” will be replete with thousands of inspiring and cutting-edge examples primarily in the areas of product design and materials engineering. Chairman of Interface. we can quickly gain an advantage that took eons to evolve naturally. The metaphor for the organization as a organism in the food web may enhance the perspective of the organization as it relates with other organizations in its business environment while viewing the organization as a collection of individuals will be conducive to exploring the intra-company relationships. yet there’s a pleasant orderliness in the chaos. The intention was to immerse his designers in nature so they might come back inspired with a new design. It is easy to see the vast potential for biomimicry as a strategy to solve tactile. The ecological metaphors will be applied liberally.

we can look to nature that has designed structures that adapt their shape to optimize the use of materials. many machines rely on their designed structures 15 The shape is mimicked from the boxfish and is designed to reduce drag. Web. The design of the carpet tiles allows for random placement and easy re-placement.eartheasy. The structure of the car optimizes strength and minimizes material use resulting in a 30 percent lighter automobile..11 (1993): 2143. This summation of the set of observations then became the conceptual inspiration for a line of products. L. which allowed Interface to use mergeable dye lots and create individually unique tiles that install non-directionally. Similarly.” American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics 31. If we are to use less material resources but maintain quality of structure. taken one cognizant step further to be characterized as. No precise measurements or testing were done to determine the extent of disorder among the sticks and stones.17 Scientists have specifically looked at trees and bones to study how they grow and adapt to weight loads. The front-end improvement in product design resulted in reduced wastes and costs for Interface. Tsai. both static and dynamic.com/about. NATURAL DESIGN TO PRODUCT DESIGN: SHAPE OPTIMIZATION During the construction of a building.php?id=1 PHYSICAL. Designers at DaimlerChrysler developed a concept car using these principles of shape optimization to make a lighter automobile with increased fuel efficiency. .com/blog/2009/06/ biomimicry-why-the-world-is-full-of-intelligent-design/ 17 Chen.com/ contemporary/biomimicry. science has developed stronger and lighter designs for structures. The purpose of the frame is to give structure and carry and distribute the load of the building. and W. “Shape Optimization by Using Simulated Biological Growth Approaches. after the foundation has been set. The idea of disorder was associated with carpet design.designboom.to maintain under fatigue load.html This type of mimicry has taken a set of observations about a natural setting. http://www. Noticing that trees maximize strength and minimize material by growing material where it is needed. yet there’s a pleasant orderliness in the chaos”. a frame is constructed. J. Source: http://emergentarchitecture. Source: www. C. “total chaos.

have now become a valued asset. imitating or employing the physical design specifications of a natural structure or behavior. the pharmaceutical plant Novo Nordisk A/S. Existing as a community to share resources exhibits a lower impact than an individual company that would obtain its resources “from scratch” and results in improved financial performance. It is being promoted worldwide by The Journal of Industrial Ecology and networks like Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives (ZERI).symbiosis. These types of mimicry can be classified as physical. system. heat. the plasterboard factory Gyproc A/S. while relationships with other companies and the community fosters a mutually supportive environment for all involved. the enzyme producer Novozymes A/S. Whereas in a more traditional industrial system. that is. A fixed amount of resources is being partitioned in an efficient manner. as well as the waste company Kara/Noveren I/S and Kalundborg Municipality have set up operations in close proximity with the intention of recycling each other’s by-products. As can be seen in the figure below. natural design to product design.This type of biomimicry has been the treasure trove of engineering and designers. formerly known as “wastes”.dk/industrial-symbiosis. one would see byproducts such as steam. the oil refinery StatoilHydro A/S. for example. This concept of industrial ecology is perhaps the most prominent example of a biomimetic process. Six companies: DONG ENERGY Asnæs Power Station.aspx The residual products of the companies in the 16 . and flyash being passed on to the environment and becoming a liability. the power station’s waste heat is being sent to warm the fish in the fish farm while the residual steam is being piped to Novo Nordisk. SPECIES BEHAVIOR TO MANAGEMENT PRINCIPLES: COLLECTIVE DECISION MAKING Collective decisions made by social animals are increasingly being recognized as very important to their success. One of the decisions bees must make as their colonies expand is that of choosing a promising new hive location. Scientists are studying the communication behavior of bees because they must work and thrive amongst thousands of other bees of the colony. NATURAL PRINCIPLE TO BUSINESS PRINCIPLE: INDUSTRIAL ECOLOGY Resource cycling is wonderfully displayed in an industrial park in Kalundborg. Effectively. The decision process is surprisingly successful in choosing a suitable location. the recycling company RGS 90 A/S. which would normally be considered as waste and a liability. Denmark. The swarm blocks what sociologists call “groupthink”—an obstacle to good decision making A diagram of the industrial ecosystem of Kalundborg adapted from http://en. the entire system was designed specifically to have each company fill a niche in the ecosystem.

Source: blc. ECOSYSTEM PRINCIPLE TO BUSINESS PRINCIPLE: CREATING A COMMUNITY A fundamental idea in ecology is the cycling of matter.18 Simply put. 89. and as in the previous example. the bees must present their case and the other bees must see for themselves. • The idea presenter must have an opportunity to communicate the proposition accurately and effectively. Plants are eaten by herbivores.” World Futures 59 (2003): 605-14. “Survival of the fittest” is also used to describe the kill or be killed nature of business. many companies do not have the opportunity to design an ecosystem as happened in Kalundborg. which then return to “waggle dance” the whereabouts and quality of the site. Web.. 17 The bees use the waggle dance among other dances and signals to communicate a variety of messages. In most cases.arizona. Although the companies do not necessarily form a community 19 Laszlo. these metaphors overemphasize the competitive aspects of business while ignoring the critical role of cooperation. .that occurs when people copy one another. However.” The Economist 390. Companies. are beginning to see that the waste they produce can have value for other companies.8618 (2009): 89-90. However. Web. This powerful concept allows companies to turn around the cost of waste removal to create sale profits while allowing another company to reuse their “waste” material.html The key then is the “interplay of bees”. The mission of the Chicago Waste to Profit Network is to encourage transactions between byproduct sellers and byproduct buyers. Kathia C. An example of groupthink is when politicians vote blindly along party lines. or when investors get swept up into a buying craze without good reason. similar wasteto-profit relationship opportunities exist. but they will need to be identified and matched up to create an ad hoc ecosystem. “THE EVOLUTION OF BUSINESS: Learning. • If the stakeholders agree. p.. “It’s a jungle out there” is a commonly used metaphor for the business environment. Stakeholders must then vet the idea individually. they are to actively support the idea. And Sustainability in the Twenty-first Century. which are eaten by carnivores.19 Each company plays a different role in the web. which die and become sustenance for opportunistic feeders and decomposers. Matter in all these stages. the interdependence in communicating the whereabouts of the best site and their independence in confirming this information”. are part of an analogous ecology. • 18 “Decisions. The swarm is able to do this by first sending out scouts to find suitable homes. edu/./TuanBees/TuanBees. 30 Oct. like organisms in food webs. Innovation. 2009. changes form and has value to the organisms of the succeeding class. come back and waggle dance in agreement. decisions. In making decisions collectively.

As individuals. Managers can institute simple changes in work practices to reduce the competition for employees’ time. but not doing so can make employees feel they are not in control of their time and less productive.in proximity they are linked through the symbiotic relationship of exchange. The team achieved an on-time launch of the new product and received several excellence awards for quality. This exercise may come as an unfamiliar challenge because the idea is to not look laterally at competing. Creating a market for a company’s wastes can be seen as an exercise in networking. that is to say. Because the number of hours employees would like to spend at work is limited. NATURAL COMMUNITY PRINCIPLE TO MANAGEMENT PRINCIPLE: REDUCING INTRA-STAFF COMPETITION However specialized each role in the organization may be. 18 Business Allied to Recycle Through Exchange and Reuse (BARTER) and Waste Exchanges Directory are other resources for materials exchange. rather than linear. “The results of the experiment were remarkable. peer companies but up and over to a completely different “species” of company whose treasure is your trash. or forming relationships with other companies whose resources are your unwanted outputs. the organisms in our industrial ecology begin to gain some of the material and energy efficiencies modeled in our natural ecology. it may be difficult or time consuming to institute a balance of time devoted to the group and time devoted to one’s own work. available time interacting with others becomes a limited resource. Waste grease was a byproduct of the operations at Cloverhill bakery and a liability. In other words. the bakery now sells the grease to an oil processor who processes it into agricultural grade fuels. A success story of this ad hoc ecosystem comes from a bakery in Chicago. . or vice versa. at some level there must be communication and interaction among the members of the organization. Employees compete for the time of other employees and for their own time as well. By taking the time to identify a consumer of one of its end products. do a materials audit identify all the inflows and outflows of your business to assess which liabilities can become assets. the bakery has created revenue from selling 2. Being nested in a complex business community such as the Chicago Waste to Profit Network will increase your chances of locating a company to form this type of mutually beneficial relationship.000 tons of oil while creating cost savings in disposal and hauling fees. Employees of organizations with greater interdisciplinary group work or less rigid boundaries must allocate time to make these interactions constructive. there is a limit to the amount of time available for working with the group because of the need to preserve time to complete individual obligations. Joyce K. Professors of management. fewer end products that are not valued by society. Lotte Bailyn. First. which in turn is sold to local farmers. By shaping our processes to be more “closed loop”. Fletcher and Deborah Kolb note: The firm restructured their daily activities into “quiet times” and “interactive times”. On the personal side. The establishment of the concept of “waste to profit” can become a great force to drive companies to design their products and processes in a way that involves less waste. Through the Chicago Waste to Profit Network.

Images of Organization. . and less likely to take work and worries home with them at night. likewise. 21 Morgan. 19 NATURAL PRINCIPLE TO MANAGEMENT STRATEGY: ORGANIZATION AS AN ORGANISM Traditional management may have an organization set up similar to a machine. reduced the number of status reports they requested and found that this made the engineers more. The business model determines the metabolism of the business by dictating the goods and services produced and therefore the requisite inputs. and spatial constraints affect the productivity. Print. skill sets or supplies) to maintain that customer base. 28. Thomas W. even when it wasn’t quite time. Malone. creativity. FIND A NICHE A creature thrives by existing in an environment with no competitors and having ample. and found that the interactions they did have were more productive and focused. California. they are not designed for innovation.”21 If we entertain the metaphor of the company as an organism. less stressed. Massachusetts Insitute of Technology. not less. Curiously enough. G. Ed. renewable resources. productive. Scott Morton. makes decisions. are designed to achieve predetermined goals. such as these. trying to respect quiet time.team members and their supervisor reported feeling more in control of their own time. Managers. escape predation. and innovative. 2003. It will be easier for small businesses to develop ideas on how to expand or jump to new market segments because they have a better defined customer base and more specific geographic market area. and maintains efficiency of the parts. Robert. resource. and Michael S. these types of organizations have difficulty adapting “because they 20 Laubacher. Small businesses have a more informal organizational structure and flexible managerial style and may be able to create small shifts. where each position is specified to function in a limited manner. Inventing the Organizations of the 21st Century. In the information economy. This organizational model may have been effective in the past. required to fulfill their role in the network for the goal of the organization to be met. 1997. They also found themselves thinking twice before interrupting someone. p. need a customer base to subsist upon and require specific resources (ideas. it can be seen as an entity whose survival rests upon its ability to use resources efficiently. temporal. Accounting for your resources and constraints is the first step to using resources effectively. and adapt to the changing environment. Thousand Oaks. to improve workplace dynamics. this may not necessarily mean companies should strive to create new knowledge. Innovation’s purpose is to discover an untapped idea while a culture of experimentation allows the organization to make the move to inhabit that space to create advantage. Employees are replaceable parts. Businesses. and efficiency of the individuals and group.. An operator sets the organization and goals. Traditional management will have much to learn from this metaphor in the ways of becoming more knowledge-centric. The explosion of knowledge in many technological and scientific fields in recent history makes novel ways of aggregating and connecting information just as important as the creation of new knowledge. when circumstances are changing rapidly.20 This illustration allows managers to view the workplace as an intricate and complex ecosystem where various social. diverse. however. companies thrive based on their ability to be the first to pioneer and profit from the resources in the ideaspace. Sage Publications.

Jay. notes that managers will have to diverge from the management they were taught and:23 22 Poletti. Quicken.22 Innovation through learning. it is possible to obtain a more robust set of solutions and questions. 24 Riggs.html 20 • • • • Enable collaboration by people with diverse perspectives on a problem. from customer to supplier. In nature.org/hbr/hbreditors/2009/09/ how_do_innovators_think. business realities and project future situations. a diversified brain and experience pool is more likely to arrive at a solution in a new way. Many products with small initial demand not suited for mass production. As a manager. visiting scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s management school and Eric von Hippel. the company must be supported by a foundation of knowledge and a culture of learning. Including internal and external stakeholders.” World Futures 59 (2003): 615-623 23 http://blogs. Frank. diversity. Small businesses have the opportunity to be attuned to the specific bioregional space. “Users generate functionally novel innovations because they experience novel needs well ahead of manufacturers…”24 Just as a diverse gene pool allows for increased adaptability in species. and have a deeper place in the community as business owners and neighbors. how do you create a culture of experimentation while protecting the bottom line? Scott Cook founder of Intuit. a group to shape the future. Manage as though we expect creativity from everyone—not just isolated “lone geniuses”. decision-making drifts dangerously away from the businesses optimal level of evolutionary fitness. By placing the burden of innovation on a wider group of stakeholders. small businesses are known for aggressively seeking new opportunities and technologies. brings different perspectives to the table. Wellfunctioning evolutionary systems are attuned to the specific bioregional place.harvardbusiness. “The Emergence of a Sustainable Future: Brainstorming better ways to Globalize at the Esalen Institute.Small businesses tend to be able to pick their path by being more independent and unencumbered by corporate bureaucracy. By being free to make quick decisions. When ownership is too far removed from local circumstances. William Riggs. The bad ideas go by the wayside and the good ones persist. no one organism evolves. They know their customers. In other words. and Ogilvy. the company that brought the financial management program. professor of Engineering systems and Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology posit. . Those who regularly experience interactions with the company or its parts can be considered users. instead it takes a species. Specialized niche markets would not be available were it not for small business. William and Eric von Hippel (1994). Developing a culture of innovation inherently depends on the ability of the business to understand current circumstances. Cultures of continuous learning are prime for continuous adaptation and experimentation. however.” Research Policy 23 (July): 459-469. Respect the fact that creativity thrives in situations where there is slack and redundancy. It takes the perspective of those constantly engaged in various parts of the business’ collectively produced experience to bring to light inadequacies the manager would never have known. and rapid evolution. “The Impact of Scientific and Commercial Values on the Sources of Scientific Instrument Innovation. as a manager it is impossible to have all the ideas or see all the perspectives. Rethink job design and incentive systems in light of what really motivates creativity: intellectual challenge and public affirmation.

Establish trust and come to agreement that profit seeking is not the only motivation in the business agreement. The overbearing example of this would be the companies failing to incorporate basic means of reducing their environmental impact such as improving energy efficiency and waste generation of operations. Exploitation of any of these stakeholders will ostracize the business and develop increasingly competitive and undercutting relationships. CEO at Whole Foods has been spearheading the Conscious Capitalism movement—a paradigm shift calling companies to work for a higher set of responsibilities and morals above profit maximization. cooking the books and lining their own pockets”25. companies have the choice to evolve. Genetic diversity and its causes have allowed for all the successful behavioral and physical adaptation strategies we see today. Realizing relationships.Nature’s designs and processes did not emerge from a large set of genes.nytimes. and employees. in a form of trial and error over billions of years. Relieving tension and promoting community with these stakeholders will allow for further relaxed interactions with customers and others who are downstream of your business. In more comprehensive business models the specific goals are linked and mutually supportive. Small businesses are relatively resource poor. At a time when a “majority of the public…believes that 21 executives are bent on destroying the environment. A conscious company realizes its employees depend on them to provide meaningful work and fair 25 http://query. customer base.com/blogs/jmackey/2006/11/09/ conscious-capitalism-creating-a-new-paradigm-for-business/ Start by communing with suppliers or those upstream in the business. companies can create a business of cooperation with those in their supply chain. making flexibility in creation of ideas and innovation a major asset. Likewise. The genius of evolution that we see today comes from the refinement of a series of mutations. Source: http://www2.com/gst/fullpage. The physical or outward expression of a genotype is a phenotype.html?res=9F04E6 DD1131F93AA35751C1A9639C8B63 . corporations are beginning to look up and see that businesses are a part of the society and customers are there voluntarily. but must do so as quickly as the external circumstances change. John Mackey. Companies must manifest the innovations they believe will catapult them into a profitable ideaspace. Whether this means instituting an in-office waste reduction effort or tying sustainability goals into the company’s mission statement—companies must act upon knowledge to shape themselves to succeed in the opportunities and constraints of tomorrow’s business climate. wholefoodsmarket. Those not matching internal capabilities with the new information environment do not evolve into more fit organizations and risk operating under unsustainable goals or irrelevant premises. By placing priorities away from making profits.

<http://www. the director of the Cap Gemini Ernst & Young Center for Business Innovation in Cambridge. Harvard Business Review. supporting local nonprofit organizations. With little intelligence and no imposed management. “In search of ant ancestors.” Harvard Business Review R0105G (2001): 106-14. and across your organization affect your objectives. Bonabeau and Meyer suggest a key may lie in their swarm intelligence. creativity and efficiency. culminating in flexible and robust collective problem-solving abilities. and Christopher Meyer. a company must realize their employees are members of their family and members of the community with other obligations. or engaging the community by attending local events. Together they can solve difficult problems even though each interaction might be very simple (one ant merely following the trail left by another).popsci. The collective behavior that emerges from a group of social insects has been dubbed “swarm intelligence. described as: Social insect teamwork is largely self-organized. below.” Understand how the connections above. For example.26 (2000): 14028-4029. p.pnas. Source: www. the group can still perform its tasks • Self-organization: the group needs relatively little supervision or top-down control SPECIES BEHAVIOR TO MANAGEMENT STRATEGY: SWARM INTELLIGENCE Social insects such as ants and termites are among the most prolific species on Earth.26 How can businesses learn from these masters of survival? Eric Bonabeau is one of the world’s leading experts in complex systems and distributed adaptive problem solving and Christopher Meyer is 26 Schultz. nature has selected a set of rules for individual insects to perform. charities.com 27 Bonabeau. within. Thomas R.”27 Through millions of years of evolution. “Swarm Intelligence: A Whole New Way to Think About Business.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 97. The realization of community and interdependence comes during the greater realization of the effect companies on the whole have had on each other. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Massachusetts. coordinated primarily through the interactions of individual colony members. their customers and the environment and it is the duty of any business.wages while it is dependent on quality resources from suppliers “upstream.org/content/97/26/14028. Show members of the community your commitment to fostering healthy products. 22 Biologist Anna Dornhaus colors ants to identify individuals and study behavior. 108 . town hall meetings and interest group meetings. This may mean providing an excellent work environment. Web. Demanding more time at work will infringe on the employees other time commitments and create stress—this will feed back into work performance. pdf+html>. ants make up 15-20 percent of the total weight of all land animals on Earth. Bonabeau and Meyer distill the lessons learned from years of research into key advantages of swarm intelligence strategies: • Flexibility: the group can quickly adapt to a changing environment • Robustness: even when one or more individuals fail. healthy relationships and a health community. Eric.full. just as any citizen to uphold the welfare of the society.

empowered to make decisions and work with little top-down management. 2. 28 Ibid. This resulted in an “attrition rate of 4 percent. 111 23 . Have empathy for others in the organization (when people ask you to do something you do notagree with. put yourself in their shoes). 4. compared with 20 percent for the IT industry as a whole. 3.. Donehey provided gaming chips to the business managers with instructions to pass them out to IT staffers whenever they followed any of the four guidelines. in an attempt to encourage individual efficiency with a more hands-free management approach. Always align IT activities with the business (that is. p. keep the company’s overall goals in mind). Use good economic judgment (spend the money like it is your own). Within a year the group was more unified. Be flexible (do not box yourself into one thought pattern). To further encourage the rules.How do managers develop rules similar to the ones ingrained in social insects and reduce the need for command-and-control? An example comes from Jim Donehey. Excessive rule making may interfere with the creative process. 1. Donehey.”28 Small businesses may not require excessive administration to start the ideas of swarm intelligence. when he was CIO of Capital One. applied a set of simple rules to guide members of the IT staff to work towards the same goal.

in which case. The distinction between an idea that is derived from nature and one that is an industryderived best practice may not always be clear. An oil company. but an introduction to the possibilities of biomimicry’s application. As biomimicry is still an emerging discipline. value of inclusive perspective gathering. management strategies that are sensitive to workplace ecosystem constraints. Another form of biomimicry is the application of a rigorously studied process or behavior as in the example with the social insects. How organizations are able to take advantage of biomimicry is only bounded by their imagination and knowledge of the natural world. The life sciences that form the basis for biomimicry are. A careful study of management science. may end up coming to a similar solution. legitimate sciences. we have seen different perspectives on ways to approach product design. and experimentation. it is the new perspective that may shed beneficial insight for the organization. decision making. Surely. But this is inherently an unsustainable aim and inconsistent with survivability in the long term. it is possible to use a biomimetic principle to achieve an end that is not conducive to life. for example. Attaining biomimicry’s potential rests on an ability to appreciate the natural world. Industry best practices and biomimetic solutions are not mutually exclusive. We can call it an art of linking and learning from disparate disciplines. may take inspiration from trees and their ability to pull water out of the ground only to increase the rate of extraction of oil. the importance of niche finding. Approaching problems 24 using a natural analogy is just one way to arrive at an appropriate solution. A concept with large governance. and inspiration that is present in the world around us. But this would be missing the deeper and larger picture of biomimicry. beauty.Summary and Notes on the Examples In these examples. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Biomimicry comes in the form of illustrations or metaphors—such as the “organization as an organism” example. of course. . can be applied to something as specific as a paper purchasing policy for the department or the organization may pledge to become a zero waste organization. but the means of linking these data to human processes is just beginning and can be informal and crossdisciplinary. undoubtedly there are other types of lessons to be learned from the natural world that are not yet known. say the natural principle of resource cycling. the value of community. To extract a singular idea from nature and apply it out of context. While it can be argued that all innovations must be derived from “nature” in one way or another the goal of biomimics is not to claim every good idea as their own. It is important to note the disregard for scale in the application of some of these metaphors. without regard for environmental or social consequences is shortsighted and an abuse to nature and humanity. for example. but to pragmatically approach nature and learn from her vast treasures of knowledge. The processes and designs of nature are only effective and sustainable because they adhere to the laws of other life-conducive natural systems. that is. solution generation.

British Columbia: New Society Publishers. 25 THIS MEANS SUBSTANTIAL CHANGE The ideologies of the traditionally managed organization are ingrained and many people are inherently afraid of the unknown. biomimicry is a strategy for innovation generation. According to the ideas of Malcolm Gladwell. Organizations may find employees feel empowered by the fact that they are able to influence the direction of the business. Brian. Change in understanding will give way to a change in attitude. Become informed about why the existing paradigm of business is ruining the biosphere and increasingly separating the rich and the poor. and ecosystem destruction is undeniably evident. For example. The framework for change is quite basic and partially borrows from the framework for change provided in The Natural Step for Business. Encourage thought exploration of basic company goals by asking heretical questions such as “Can we run our business with no waste?” The aim of asking “What would nature do?” is a design question to change the business from the ground up—it is not a tangential pursuit or separate department. but continuous improvement requires continuous learning and applying. Biomimicry is a means for a business to turn the tide and take up our evolutionary imperative. The reader will notice some of the steps themselves are composed of metaphors previously mentioned. Wealth. Present the case by linking the motivations of your employees with the motivations for a new paradigm. Mary 1999. Improving the way small businesses operate will be significant step towards making business in the US more environmentally responsible. Half of the non-farm gross domestic product (GDP) is produced through firms that have fewer than 20 employees.29 100 percent conversion may not need to be the goal. Employees may feel comfortable with the status quo. Altomare. The following set of steps is designed to help the organization produce a work environment conducive to employing the biomimicry metaphor. Change this by making the goals concrete and the means clear. a New York Times best selling author of pop sociology and one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people. A PROACTIVE STRATEGY IS PROMPTED BY INTERNAL DESIRES WITHIN THE COMPANY This starts with understanding the global pattern. negative health effects resulting from poor environmental quality is something we can all agree is something we would like to avoid. 29 Nattrass. The case for climate change. unsustainable resource extraction. The Natural Step for Business. only a “tipping point” needs to be reached for the whole to come around. First try bouncing ideas off employees to get a sense for how to approach an implementation. Like any other strategy it must be planned for and implemented diligently. In the generation process itself. While influencing people’s worldviews is a task requiring . and the Evolutionary Corporation. Ecology.Learning to Use Biomimicry For businesses. it allows the people involved to exercise important skills for innovative thinking.

Start off by conducting an ‘environmental audit’ to assess the material and energy inflows and outflows of your organization. mountaineer. The chalice and the blade: Our history. observe outwards towards the strategy of peers and the 31 Winston. WEAKNESSES. they will look to the ethical and responsible thought leaders in the field that provide experiences relevant to the evolving marketplace.31 Make sure they know their input is necessary and appreciated. management. and competition. our future. medic. and even the world’s environmental challenges. Emergent leaders realize the systems within the employees’ heads. Without knowing the areas in need of improvement. applicable to any implementation of strategy. . an organization cannot realize its potential. leaders can create more contextually sensitive directives. 26 ASSESS STRENGTHS. and navigator become useful in response to the situation at hand. 30 Eisler. the skills and knowledge of the sailor. and customers for qualitative information such as employee assessments of the workspace.30 If a group were traveling the globe. Get Smart. A company must know itself to understand potential outcomes of changing its strategy. work culture. and Emerge from the Downturn on Top Harvard Business Press. hierarchies of power and control. Emergent leaders seek the input of their constituents to help shape the path of the organization while realizing they cannot possibly micromanage for results. at different points in time. Each member has immense value and is. specific mental hurdles are easier to overcome. Prioritize those initiatives with the fastest payback first to realize savings. no one side dominates while the other submits. those wishing to survive must undergo substantial internal change to become more flexible and transparent. as talented workers seek meaningful work. Examples of these include lighting retrofits. community or world.tact and sensitivity. These relatively easy and quick changes will accrue savings that can be turned over for projects with longer paybacks. Cambridge: Harper & Row. quality of interaction etc. and society at large are too complex to predict. The web of interconnections and dependence is larger and stronger in this type of organization. A typical outdated misconception is that all environmental practices cost a lot of money. Each possesses the power to have their say and the potential of the team awakens. Do not forget to include input from employees. LEADERSHIP Let go of the dominator model of social organization. Waste reduction strategies and increased recycling can reduce waste hauling charges. By putting their fingers on the pulse of the change in the workplace. Andrew Green Recovery Get Lean. and energy efficient building improvements to reduce heating and cooling costs. the organization as a whole. After assessing inward characteristics. called to influence the group. Riane 1987. These models consist of a win-lose paradigm involving rank. suppliers. the company’s. The operating environment of all business will change substantially. OPPORTUNITIES AND THREATS This is a standard point. A single controller at the top of a hierarchy is an organization unwieldy in an era of rapidly changing social desires and resource constraints. Get your employees excited to solve their own. In doing so. In the future.

Engage in symbiotic relationships. it will be up to leaders in the organization to set the vision. html 27 For maximum benefit. These corporations may not find value in learning either the first principles or in fundamentally changing the nature of the organization by incorporating biomimicry into the corporate DNA. Enhance the bio-sphere.. to become a learning or evolutionary organization. can be thought of as learning the principles of biomimicry and proceeding straight to the business advantage this creates (See figure below). How can the organization improve its core competencies through biomimicry? The consulting firm. and Hewlett-Packard are beginning to realize these benefits but unless you can afford services of cuttingedge consulting services. If this is the case. Use free energy.. VISION FOR HOW BIOMIMICRY CAN ADD VALUE TO YOUR COMPANY Develop a clear vision and translate it into a meaningful mission statement or objective. Biomimicry Guild translates Life’s Principles of. Cross-pollinate. These corporations 32 http://www. Use life-friendly materials and processes. Embrace diversity.: • • • • • • • • • • Build from the bottom up. As the business environment changes the learning organization should adapt by employing appropriate applications of biomimicry. businesses should choose the route from A to B to C to D.com/guild_biomimicry. Large companies like Nike. Learning/ Evolutionary Organization (B) First Principles/ Need for Business Paradigm Shift (A) Competitive Advantage/ Innovation (D) .biomimicryguild. Adapt and evolve. Merely acting upon the recommendations of a consulting firm may not change the internal functioning of a company compared to if the company underwent the learning process themselves..market at large. . Optimize rather than maximize. GE. that is.into valuable business returns32: • • • • • • • Saving energy Cutting material costs Redefining and eliminating “Waste” Heightening existing product categories Defining new product categories and industries Driving revenue Brand building Principles of Biomimicry (C) These are the typical benefits of the lessons learned from nature. Self-assemble. the learned biomimetics will be only a single injection of innovation while approaching from the left side of the diagram will allow organization to continually discover and employ principles of biomimicry.. This will help identify market segments to engage in and those to avoid.

however it is defined. Incorporating all stakeholders in the idea farming process will help you view your business from more 35 Senge. 33 http://blogs. and internal threats. The Fifth Discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. identifying your business’s role in the community. development of knowledge base and core competencies for the market of the future. 36 Ibid. p. innovation of new products and services. rewards received by companies engaged in sustainable business practices include an increase in efficiency. it is not enough for companies to know how to survive.html 34 Nattrass. 192-198. These types of knowledge have always been important sources of competitive advantage for most companies..36 Having a diverse and independent workgroup will mitigate the costs of mistakes made. among others. Gaining these skills is both empowering to the employee and useful for any organization. Learning organizations must learn how to enhance their capacity to create. and where people are continually learning how to learn together”.34 Most importantly. where collective aspiration is set free.A separate set of benefits will accrue from understanding the value of studying the life sciences. Senge notes. Increasingly talent is drawn towards businesses with matching ideals and ethics. the management’s task is to establish conditions. authors of The Natural Step for Business. or design the workplace processes to create creativity and synergy. 28 BECOMING A LEARNING ORGANIZATION Just as human beings are constantly reacting to new information. create an organization and climate of continual learning. definable and achievable steps towards the vision. Altomare. p. ability to experiment and questioning the status quo to open up the bigger picture are important skills for innovative thinking33 and are developed during the act of employing biomimicry.org/hbr/hbreditors/2009/09/ how_do_innovators_think. Each person’s commitment and ability to learn must be tapped for the entire organization to be adaptive and productive. These benefits include those already discussed in the leadership section but also include experiential benefits and skills learned by employees. what he calls “generative learning”. This is especially important in times of rapid change. Brian.35 Ideas must be encouraged. will be critical in specifying your vision. Peter 1993. where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtures. New York: Doubleday Currency. Associating seemingly unrelated topics. World renowned management strategist Peter Senge describes the learning organization in the often quoted The Fifth Discipline as a place where “people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire. This shift in responsibility is a relatively unpracticed and will require a significant shift of mind among employees.harvardbusiness. becoming a learning organization and employing the principles of biomimicry for innovation. attraction of talent. small businesses are in a better position to offer positions where employees can derive meaning and value. However. improvement of relations with local communities. 14 . Mary 1999. key relationships. According to Nattrass and Altomare. Create organizational or department goals and objectives as realistic. so too must companies be sensitive to social trends. mistakes must be made and lessons must be learned along the way. Remember. biomimicry is not the ends but a means towards known beneficial trends.

to create value and innovate (Laszlo. A 2. 2003): soil conditions. In effect. Imagine trying to manage a plot of Amazonian contemporary. Ecosystems maintain their balance and elegance through constant material and energy feedback Three types of knowledge necessary for systems. Please see FEEDBACK the resources on becoming a learning organization. evolutionary business must have rainforest with its dizzying number of plants. biodiversity loss. As in the case of the swarm intelligence. This allows all employees to feel they have more control in the direction of the whole. 29 Regardless of the position. kinks in the road will need to be dealt with. In nature. Basic scientific management the resiliency of this system is in its diversity. etc. everyone should be somewhat familiar with the role of business in producing wealth disparity. Insight drawn plots of a forest. From there it will be up to the leaders in the organization to propose biomimicry as an engine to diverge from the trend and innovate towards a restorative business model. there is no intent on the part of the tress to send signals. 37 Scarborough. Pearson Education. consumers. It will be easier to see it as an organism. At each point an employee who is in touch with the situation will be able to proactively deal with complications before they snowball. and Thomas W. in offering training and advancement opportunities depended on and dependent upon other organism in to workers. the signals must be simple and easily recognizable while the triggered response must be equally simple and effective. from other sciences. water resource constraints. and relies 3. more nodes of regulation are being created and management is becoming more diffuse. communication requires less management. reduced well-being. while it increases the organization’s base of innovation generation. 6th ed. Spreading the ability to innovate through biomimicry releases the burden of innovation from a limited set of perspectives and multiplies the possibilities with a larger set of perspectives. it offers novel and valuable work experience a culture of innovation and experimentation.37 Although including employees in the community. taller plants shade out the understory. and accurate communication of resource levels. this sends a “signal” to smaller plants that there are is insufficient sunlight here to prosper. resource consumption. but setting up a self-managing organization will go a long way in reducing time spent managing and free more time for leading. Taking these soft data and including innovative work practices may be informal and inthem into the fabric of how you do business will require house. 1999. In outside of the organization. dependence and industry. public health issues and climate change. Small businesses are leaders . fruits. 1. Print. Invariably.COMMON KNOWLEDGE OF ECOLOGY AND FIRST PRINCIPLES perspectives. the market. about system with such interconnectedness. Effective Small Business Management. Zimmerer. efficiency. and animals! But this is not the case. Knowledge outside of the enterprise. Norman M. but in the workplace these are the types of feedback communications that must take place to achieve a type of self-organization.. Sociocultural dynamics both within and on self-regulating feedback to maintain balance.

however. reduce negative socio-environmental impact. processes and designs.38 inefficient and wasteful production processes. our study of the world around us allows us access to successful. a paradigm shift must occur in the goals and means of the businesses that make up our current economy. the design of our industrial processes and business hierarchies are both examples of reductionist tendencies that tend to inhibit change. underlying design tools to shape our economy and companies. At all scales of nature. holistic. which are conducive to survival. Businesses are an integral force of change in the economic and environmental landscape and are in a position to lead the way to become more than just sustainable. To use each employee as a cog in the machine. as traditional and ongoing management suggests. As natural forces designed the environment and all species. Advancements in socioenvironmental practices at the small business level would represent a significant advancement for sustainable development. liberty. and corporate social irresponsibility. interdependent and often nonlinear. If the mankind desires to achieve a state of sustainability. 38 http://www. from a simple leaf to a bustling rainforest. While organizations under more traditional management theory might regard responsibilities to the environment and society as irrelevant or economic burdens. All of the examples found in the paper can be seen as an undertaking of design. Businesses employ a variety of personalities. we see principles. life threatening water scarcity issues. Companies that increase effectiveness. skills sets and knowledge sets. Organizations with a less formal hierarchy may be more adaptable to the management styles and ideas required to thrive in the new business climate.Conclusion Mankind currently faces a wide assortment of global development problems that include unsustainable energy production. Continuing to ignore our dependency on these environmentally-based problems will prove to rob the current and future generations of life. Those companies able to grasp the relatedness in today’s flurry of knowledge will be the first to piece together sustainable systems.html 30 which are complex. and create community will be the ones making intelligent use of those tools. Traditional management thought tries to maintain simple systems for those. Smaller businesses employ much of the nation’s workforce and provide valuable opportunities for employee training. Biomimicry attempts to parallel the survival strategies of nature and the human survival strategy and for businesses this can be an effective tool.gov/our_work/cross-cutting_programs/ water/global_water_crisis. innovative organizations are discovering sources of competitive advantage. Many economic and environmental incentives are in place to radically change the pursuit of business. These manmade processes are inherently unsustainable when considering there are limited Earth-bound resources. Our eyes are only just being opened to the global intricacies we have muddled up. While . Both the scale and the extent to which our systems have degraded the environment are unprecedented. and the pursuit of happiness. is an unrealistic approach to productivity.usaid.

the evolved business will find a wealth of ideas to bring success in a responsible and respectable manner. Biomimicry is a demonstration of the awareness that we too are bound by ecological constraints.understanding the basic natural laws and basic ecological principles is more or less straightforward changing the business model to imitate nature and operate in harmony with natural laws is profoundly complex because it necessitates a rethinking or redesigning of many foundational assumptions. 31 . The act of employing nature’s design requires a humility that was lost in our industrial age. Just as nature flourishes within these constraints.

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