Part 1: Why Biology is Good for Business

Our natural world is giving way to a digital transformation as we uproot to a new environment. We are advancing technology and man-made structures at a rate beyond the foresight of our imaginations. We are like a blind man walking or a baby absorbing new information every time the digital frontier evolves. Either way we can be confused at times and struggling to understand our place in it.

Over the past few decades we have started to see a shift in how we build technology. Biology or biomimicry is providing radically disruptive ideas from the simple observation of the living. In 3.8 billion years of evolution, nature is showing that is still has an upper hand on a lot of man-made technology.
Janine Benyus has led the Biomimicry movement and Biomimicry.org defines it:

“An approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies. The goal is to create products, processes, and policies—new ways of living—that are well-adapted to life on earth over the long haul. The core idea is that nature has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with. Animals, plants, and microbes are the consummate engineers.”

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All around the world sustainable and biophilic design practices are dominating the future of buildings. The Bloomberg European Headquarters in London opened October last year and is now one of the most sustainable buildings in the world and encourages social interaction between people. Melbourne’s Council House 2 (CH2) in Australia mimics the thermostatic infrastructure of termite mounds, allowing it to regulate its own internal temperatures, to a large extent, naturally. The Living Future Institute seeks to design buildings that act symbiotically within the ecosystem they inhabit.

As our external structures get redesigned, our internal structures are not adapting fast enough

How often do we end up walking past a park on the way to work or home and feel a sudden connection or elation in our emotions and then enter a building for it to disappear. Our personalities and desires are replaced by a facade that adheres to somewhat daft rules on behaviour to mimic a machine. This is only compounded further by initiatives such as well being-at-work that do not truly connect with our desires or natural instincts. These initiatives can often leave underlying logic, culture and ethos of the organisation unchecked.
Organisations that are still locked in a rigid structure with a focus on hierarchy, KPI’s, siloed, defensive and reactionary mindsets are strangling the natural ability of its employees.

We are trading power and evolution for control

So how can an organisation incorporate Biomimicry?
Start with information accessibility. If you are an executive or business owner, employing the services of biologists or biomimics can help identify how you can apply biological principles to your workplace. Giles Hutchins or Frederic Laloux are two biomimics who have already developed frameworks implemented all around the world in top organisations.

Humans have a stronger ability identifying the principles of nature than man-made engineering principles. It is for this reason we should encourage design and creativity to reflect nature based systems so that adoption and understanding is widespread and clear.
In Permaculture, one of the design principles states, use and value diversity. By encouraging polyculture in a business from people to skills trained, we build resilience. This switches the mentality of disruption from a threat to an opportunity.
One of the biggest transformations we are seeing today is a move toward self-organisation or decentralisation in a workplace structure. This is a strong principle already found in nature and empowers individuals to lead when they see a problem. It creates an inclusive culture and as a result tips the scales from control to untapped power and evolution that individuals can bring to the workplace.

Today we see a host of biomimicry processes applied to business approach:
Industrial Ecology and Symbiosis / Closed Loop Economics / Circular Processes / Blue Economy
Aims to find a beneficial relationship between natural resources and industrial processes to produce commodities that have no harm to the environment. It is studying material and energy flows through industrial systems to quantify this process for ecological stability. The key principles are:

  1. Design systems with no waste
  2. Keep products and materials in use
  3. Regenerate natural systems

Cradle-to-Cradle
It is understanding the biological (natural) and technical (man-made) nutrients of a product. Manufacturing clothes for example, will have off-cuts that may be discarded. In this model, the off-cuts would be used to make more shirts and sold at a discount. The user would pay for shirts based on the period of time they will use them. When they outgrow or desire a new design they return it to the manufacturer. They would then separate the biological and technical nutrients and reuse or return to the natural environment.

Business Ecosystem Mapping
As they say in the food world ‘from paddock to plate’, it is understanding all elements within your business and then mapping where they come from and who is involved in the process. A business ecosystem will evolve overtime and the benefit of mapping it is so you can identify, test and select alternative options to create and capture value. Startups such as Wattcost are helping homes and small businesses become savvy with their energy expenditure. By mapping the ecosystem, you are creating points of research for you to go find new beneficial relationships.

Systems Thinking
It is a perspective that allows us to understand the systems we work in to influence the quality of our lives. It involves, a unique vocabulary for describing systemic behaviours and offers a range of techniques and devices for visually capturing and communicating about systems such as causal loop diagram.

Eco-literacy
Provides education focused on sustainable living, recognising the need to understand how nature sustains life. I can recommend this article on Seven Lessons for Leaders in Systems Change.

While the above examples mostly focus on industry processes. I have listed 3 below that transform the way employees think and businesses are structured:

  1. Otto Scharmer’s Theory U tool-set
  2. Peter Senge’s Organisational Learning
  3. Bill Torbert’s Action Inquiry and Global Leadership Frameworks

The biomimicry field is growing with stories of business implementation. Leaders now have the opportunity to leverage these early adopters and begin allowing the natural flow of human intelligence to flourish.
All you have to do is ask nature, literally >>> https://asknature.org/

Stay tuned for part 2 as we deep dive further into the Biomimicry movement and principles.

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