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How to Emulate Life’s Genius: Introducing Biomimicry

How to Emulate Life’s Genius: Introducing Biomimicry

Have you ever noticed the most effective and efficient human creations are modeled from nature? From buildings designed like termite mounds to self-healing buildings developed using bacteria in the concrete; biomimicry is phenomenal approach to solve problems in a sustainable way.

Biomimicry (also known as Biomimetics) was coined by Otto Schmidt in the 1950s and describes the transfer of ideas and analogues from biology to technology. [1] It is the imitation of models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems. Biomimetics and biomimicry derive from Ancient Greece: bios (life) and mimesis (mimetics) is imitation or to imitate.

Using nature to solve problems

Nature has already solved our problems for us. It is up to us to discover how. Nature is a fascinating source of inspiration. It demonstrates how every organism is unique and how it is able to adapt to its own environment. [2]

“Nature is imaginative by necessity and has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with today.” – Janine Benyus

Nature is able to respond to its own needs and find solutions that work. In doing so, nature evolves and lasts through countless generations. Furthermore, biomimicry can be applied to completely transform the way we operate, conduct business, and even communicate. Let’s take a look at how biomimicry can be applied on three levels: [3]

  1. The natural form of organisms are used for inspiration. For example, mimicking the structure of a seashell leading to stronger buildings.
  2. Natural process leading to more sustainable materials. For example, mimicking chemical processes such as photosynthesis.
  3. The ecosystem. For example, mimicking the functional principles of an ecosystem.

Run an organization like a redwood forest

Jay Harman writes in his book The Shark’s Paintbrush, that a business should be run like a redwood forest. Harman informs us that a mature forest is a fully self-sustaining producer of diversity and abundance. He says that,

“Many businesses function more like an invasive weed, where their strategy is to spread rapidly into an area, lay down shallow roots, and use more than their share of local resources.”

Essentially, we overwhelm and destroy our habitat. In her book Biomimicry, Janine Benyus outlines how we should run our company like that of a redwood forest. In the image below, I have outlined her thought process for running an organization like a redwood forest.

    Benyus describes ten key ways to operate like a forest in order to create conditions conducive to further life.

    1. Use waste as a resource.
    2. Diversify and cooperate with other species to fully use the habitat.
    3. Gather and use energy efficiently.
    4. Optimize rather than maximize.
    5. Use materials sparingly.
    6. Don’t foul your nest.
    7. Draw up instead of down on resources.
    8. Remain in balance with the biosphere.
    9. Run on information.
    10. Shop locally.

    Examples of biomimicry

    Let’s take a brief look at some examples of biomimicry in action.

    Gecko tape

      The bullet train

        Cement like corals

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          Passive cooling in buildings

            Self-healing buildings

              Harvesting fresh Water

                A paradigm shift in how we think

                Biomimicry offers us a unique way to see and solve problems. For example, by examining a forest, we find that a forest is actively communicating.

                “Biomimicry is basically taking a design challenge and then finding an ecosystem that’s already solved that challenge, and literally trying to emulate what you learn.” – Janine Benyus

                Similar to how the internet operates, fungal connectivity is taking place between plants. Yet, like the internet, it is also susceptible to cyber-crime, terrorism, and even warfare. [4]

                So, why not examine cyber-crime by examining the threats of fungal connectivity? How could we do this? By using biomimicry as a problem-solving methodology. Let’s take a look at how this could be accomplished.

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                  Biological strategies and inspired ideas

                  AskNature.org is a powerful and free resource to use to explore biomimicry. It offers a way to find biological strategies, inspiring ideas, and resources to problems using nature.

                  For example, let’s say we want to find solutions to cyber security. By simply typing “cyber security” we are presented with unique strategies using nature to solve the problem (see image below). One such strategy is to look at how glands in Sea Hares secrete two compounds protecting the organism from predators by reacting together to create an unpalatable mixture of hydrogen peroxide and organic chemicals. Let’s take a quick look at how this could work with cyber security.

                    Step #1: Clearly define the challenge we are trying to solve

                    Improve cyber security vulnerabilities.

                    Step #2: Search for biological analogies and/or metaphors

                      Step #3: Determine whether the problem is related to form, function, or ecosystem

                      Form follows function (hence, form always comes before function). Think of form as the design of a building, where function is how we use the building.

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                      Step #4: Ask what plant, Animal, or Natural Process solves a similar problem most effectively

                      Using AskNature.org I was able to find the following potential solution: Sea Hare or Sea Snail.

                      Step #5: Map-out the biological model

                        Step #6: Design a solution

                          Using an abstract len, we could potentially use the sticky ink secretion of a Sea Hare as a cyber security protection concept that sticks to dangerous cyber intrusion and completely prevents it from infecting the network/system/device.

                          When we look to nature for solutions to contemporary problems, we find that biomimicry provides us a fascinating and unique way to truly improve everything around us. It offers us an opportunity to redesign everything in existence. In essence, biomimicry brings about answers because it forces us to ask the right questions.

                          Reference

                          [1] Julian Vincent, Olga Bogatyreva, Nikolaj Bogatyrev, Adrian Bowyer, Anja-Karina Pahl: Biomimetics its practice and theory
                          [2] Rasha Mahmoud Ali El-Zeiny: Biomimicry as a Problem Solving Methodology in Interior Architecture
                          [3] SlideShare: Biomimicry Civil Engineering Applications
                          [4] Timewheel.net: Plants communicate using an internet of fungus

                          More by this author

                          Dr. Jamie Schwandt

                          Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt & Red Team Critical Thinker

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                          Last Updated on March 21, 2019

                          11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

                          11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

                          Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

                          You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

                          But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

                          To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

                          It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

                          “What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

                          The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

                          In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

                          Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

                          1. Start Small

                          The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

                          Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

                          Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

                          Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

                          Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

                          Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

                          It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

                          Do less today to do more in a year.

                          2. Stay Small

                          There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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                          But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

                          If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

                          When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

                          I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

                          Why?

                          Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

                          The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

                          Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

                          3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

                          No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

                          There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

                          What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

                          Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

                          This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

                          This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

                          4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

                          When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

                          There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

                          Peter Drucker said,

                          “What you track is what you do.”

                          So track it to do it — it really helps.

                          But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

                          5. Measure Once, Do Twice

                          Peter Drucker also said,

                          “What you measure is what you improve.”

                          So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

                          For reading, it’s 20 pages.
                          For writing, it’s 500 words.
                          For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
                          For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

                          Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

                          6. All Days Make a Difference

                          Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

                          Will two? They won’t.

                          Will three? They won’t.

                          Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

                          What happened? Which one made you fit?

                          The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

                          No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

                          7. They Are Never Fully Automated

                          Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

                          But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

                          What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

                          It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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                          The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

                          It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

                          It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

                          8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

                          Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

                          Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

                          When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

                          The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

                          Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

                          9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

                          The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

                          Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

                          You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

                          But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

                          So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

                          If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

                          This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

                          The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

                          Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

                          10. Punish Yourself

                          Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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                          I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

                          It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

                          You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

                          No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

                          The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

                          But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

                          11. Reward Yourself

                          When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

                          Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

                          The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

                          After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

                          If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

                          Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

                          If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

                          In the End, It Matters

                          What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

                          When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

                          And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

                          “Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

                          Keep going.

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                          More Resources to Help You Build Habits

                          Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

                          Reference

                          [1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
                          [2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
                          [3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
                          [4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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