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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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                          Last Updated on September 20, 2018

                          8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

                          8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

                          You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

                          Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

                          When you train your brain, you will:

                          • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
                          • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
                          • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

                          So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

                          1. Work your memory

                          Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

                          When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

                          If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

                          The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

                          Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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                          Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

                          What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

                          For example, say you just met someone new:

                          “Hi, my name is George”

                          Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

                          Got it? Good.

                          2. Do something different repeatedly

                          By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

                          Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

                          It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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                          And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

                          But how does this apply to your life right now?

                          Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

                          Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

                          Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

                          So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

                          You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

                          That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

                          3. Learn something new

                          It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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                          For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

                          Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

                          You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

                          4. Follow a brain training program

                          The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

                          5. Work your body

                          You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

                          Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

                          Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

                          Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

                          6. Spend time with your loved ones

                          If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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                          If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

                          I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

                          7. Avoid crossword puzzles

                          Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

                          Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

                          Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

                          8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

                          Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

                          When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

                          So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

                          The bottom line

                          Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

                          Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

                          Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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