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Last Updated on January 30, 2018

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

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                          Dr. Jamie Schwandt

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                          Published on January 16, 2019

                          How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

                          How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

                          We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

                          You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

                          You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

                          That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

                          Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

                          1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

                          Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

                          We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

                          To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

                          At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

                          The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

                          2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

                          Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

                          The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

                          In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

                          It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

                          It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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                          So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

                          • Are you a great strategist?
                          • Are you an effective planner?
                          • Is Project Management your strength?
                          • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
                          • Are you the ideas person?
                          • Is Implementation your strength?

                          Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

                          3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

                          One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

                          Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

                          Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

                          Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

                          4. Take Time for Planning

                          “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

                          One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

                          You can take the time to think about:

                          • What’s the purpose of the project?
                          • How Important is it?
                          • When does it need to be delivered by?
                          • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
                          • What are the KPIs?
                          • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
                          • Who is working on this project?
                          • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
                          • What tolerances can I add in?
                          • What are the review stages?
                          • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

                          Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

                          5. Focus on Priorities

                          Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

                          Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

                          One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

                          1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
                          2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
                          3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
                          4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

                          James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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                            The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

                            If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

                            If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

                            6. Take Time Out

                            To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

                            If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

                            Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

                            In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

                            Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

                            7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

                            Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

                            I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

                            Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

                            If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

                            8. Stop Multitasking

                            Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

                            So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

                            When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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                            If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

                            9. Work in Blocks of Time

                            To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

                            I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

                            Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

                            Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

                            Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

                            Then take another 10-minute break.

                            Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

                            By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

                            10. Get Rid of Distractions

                            Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

                            “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

                            Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

                            If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

                            11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

                            You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

                            Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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                            Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

                            12. Take a Time Audit

                            Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

                            Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

                            You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

                            Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

                            Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

                            At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

                            If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

                            13. Protect Your Confidence

                            It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

                            When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

                            Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

                            When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

                            Final Words

                            A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

                            The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

                            If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

                            Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

                            Reference

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