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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Biomimicry at E4S

I had the privilege of speaking for ten minutes at the Entrepreneurs for Sustainability Biomimicry session last night. I presented along with a representative from MOEN who delivered the thinking behind their bio-inspired showerhead and a doctor from Case Western Reserve University. She presented information on bandages and other coverings that can remove moisture and deliver medication. It was bio-inspired by the human skeletal system's ability to take in and distribute out nourishment and liquids through bone loading (how did I do?).

I presented biomimicry as used in the process of strategic planning. This is based on my past 11 years conducting strategic planning events, new product development and learning development sessions. Obviously, not as heady as the Fibonacci sequence or Bone Loading, but three is a charm (and also part of the Fibonacci sequence) and if I was able to merely round out the numbers that will suffice.

The Process

The sessions make use of group decision-making and parallel work. Somewhere between twelve and one hundred people make for a healthy session. Thirty to sixty seem to be the sweet spot in my opinion and falls in line with the
Wisdom of Crowds thinking – groups think more accurately than individuals. The process for facilitating this work covers two to three days and steps through a creative process that takes the group from concept to reality.

When we solve a problem we go through a number of iterations of thought and actions. I have labeled them as:

  • Inspiration – something new or some thing old experienced in a new way that reveals elements that can contribute to a solution.

  • Imagination – the combining of elements, new and old, into all or part of a new solution.

  • Evaluation – testing a solution or set of options against external realities.

  • Engineer to execute – creating the plan and team to implement.

Natural Systems

Crafting a healthy solution to an issue or problem requires that the group acquire new information as a group. The study of natural systems, though at first seems a bit weird, provides a sound base to a group as natural systems (bee hives, ant colonies, geese flocks, the rain forest, tide pools, swamps, rivers, etc.) provide

  • A time-tested, sustainable model

  • A model that stresses effectiveness and efficiency

  • A model that is lean and mean

  • A cooperative model

And nature’s only care is that it works.

Using Natural Systems in the Group

In the spirit of parallel work, a number of natural systems can be studied (books, articles, video, field trip) by small groups, discussed and synthesized to share with the large group in the form of standing presentations. The elements that emerge become critical success factors to the design of the solution.

And there’s more

Work of this nature brings people together into teaming in a healthy, non-hierarchical way.

  • Natural systems familiarity is not based level in the organization. In fact, most people don’t have this knowledge.

  • Everyone learning something for the first time leave no one at an advantage which encourages genuine, authentic relations – not those based on authority or expertise.

  • The study of the unfamiliar allows groups to discuss helpful ways to create change objectively.

  • We too are natural systems and possess the same hardwiring as do all natural systems making it easy to fit into our way of doing things.


The following links direct you to two authors I have found to be very insightful into the thinking and application of natural systems.

Kevin Kelly

Maragaret Wheately

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Trust = Opportunity over Risk

I think it was Norman Vincent Peale who related this thought provoking analogy. It is about the opportunity to walk on a 2x4 board between the Twin Trade Towers (obviously this was written some time ago). Would you do it? He then presents the opportunity to walk across the same 2x4 on your living room floor. How about now? Same task. Same 2x4. The ability to complete the task successfully should be equal, but of course it is not.

In this transitional time in our world, innovation, cross-functional competencies, lateral career development, right-sizing, teaming, and collaboration are all excellent opportunities for individual growth and company profit. In order to encourage individuals to embrace these opportunities it is more advantageous to relate risk more like the 2x4 on the floor that it is versus the one between two high rise towers in order to control the direction of individual or group in a constantly changing environment.

In order to help people make changes that will contribute to a company's success in new markets and to reinvigorate their competitive stature in existing markets, a bond of trust between company decision makers and the implementers of those decisions works best related in an honest realistic way, which is usually uncomfortatble, not life threatening. No one should have to feel their opportunity for success depends on crossing a 2x4 between two high rise towers. Movement will be hampered by the thought that the tiniest slip would present too great a risk.