A paradigm shift is underway to innovate, design and plan with nature in mind, says Giles Hutchins.
Bios – life. Mimicry – to copy.
Throughout our existence, we humans have been copying patterns and forms found in nature. Leonardo Da Vinci and Pythagoras are just two of many well-known inventors who took inspiration from nature. Einstein famously said ‘Look deep into nature and you shall find the answer.’
More recently in 1997, Janine Benyus coined the term “biomimicry” in her book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. Benyus went on to set up the The Biomimicry Institute, which focuses on innovation inspired by nature. Much work is already being undertaken by the institute to enhance design approaches for business products, processes and governance structures by taking inspiration from nature.
Biomimicry for creative innovation collaborative
Since then, a group of specialists from around the world have set up a collaborative called BCI: Biomimicry for Creative Innovation on the following premises:
Business models and practices need transforming to become fit-for-purpose for the world we now live in;
The knowledge, understanding and tools we need for business transformation can be found in nature; and
Business can create the conditions conducive for life (not just reduce its negative impact on life) and so business can ‘sustain’ and also ‘thrive’ in our lifetime and beyond.
BCI’s strap line is “ecological thinking for radical transformation.” BCI builds on what The Biomimicry Institute focuses on to take nature’s inspiration into the heart of business in terms of how it adapts and transforms in volatile times.
Time to transform?
It has become patently clear to many that business is undergoing a metamorphosis.
Due to a perfect storm of social, economic and environmental factors, organizations have little option other than to seek out opportunities in these volatile times, adapt and evolve to what the book The Nature of Business refers to as “firms of the future” – businesses more akin to living organisms than mechanistic monoliths designed for the Industrial Era. These firms of the future can take inspiration from nature at all levels within their strategies and operations. For instance:
Places: intelligent buildings that sense and respond to their environment are effective, vibrant and healthy places to work.
Products: biomimicry is already well established in assisting the designing of sustainable products – just Google ‘biomimicry’ to come up with examples.
Processes: industrial ecology and symbiosis, business ecosystem mapping, systems thinking, eco-literacy, circular processes, closed loop economics and cradle-to-cradle are part of a growing list of approaches applied to shaping business processes based on insights from nature.
People: traditionally the domain of humanists and psychologists, more and more we find nature’s inspiration positively influencing how we engage, empower and encourage our people to build resilience within their diverse stakeholder group. For example, eco-psychology and natural leadership are emergent approaches to help business people deal with complexity and unpredictability.
Purpose: as organizations recognise the need to have a higher purpose beyond ‘short term profit maximisation’ in order to galvanise themselves for the stormy seas ahead, many in business question whether it is ‘good enough’ to focus on becoming ‘sustainable’ by focusing on reducing negative social and environmental impacts. Some forward thinking businesses are realising that ‘reaching beyond zero impact’ means becoming restorative and net positive, where business creates conditions conducive for life, rather than merely reducing the harm inflicted.
Paradigm shift in business: From hurting to helping
Forward thinking businesses look to nature for inspiration. Collaborative, innovative, networking, paradigm shift in businessemergent, dynamic firms of the future are more akin to living organisms gaining great inspiration from how nature builds resilience to thrive within dynamic change. For example:
Nature has been dealing with dynamic change for over 3.8 billion years
Successful species and ecosystems in nature are ones that are resilient, where living beings collaborate, forming niches within diversity.
Whilst the strongest man-made material is Kevlar which is made at around 1000 centigrade in a complex chemical and energy intensive process, spiders make webs which are stronger than Kevlar at room temperature with no pollution.
Waste and pollution is an immense problem for us. In looking to nature we realise that nature does not have waste – waste for one part of the ecosystem is food for another.
Fundamentally, how does the prevalent approach of business (and for that matter, human society) break its devastating illusion of being apart from nature to realizing in reality that we are a part of nature, even with our specialities?
Re-design, Re-connect, Re-kindle
This question of the moment can be answered through three Rs – Re-design, Re-connect, Re-kindle:
New ways of operating and innovating beyond “less bad” into “doing good” (shifting from the take/make/waste economic paradigm to a regenerative approach that heals society and the web of life rather that destroying life in the name of short-term gain.) An example: the Kingfisher Group aiming to be a “net positive” force for good in the world.
Reconciling our human relationship with life/nature and our own authentic human nature (re-establishing our vital bond with ourselves, our neighbors and the web of life within which we are a part of through education, authentic leadership and eco-psychology). An example: the co-founder of Natura Pedro Passo, who instills a business culture that understands our interrelatedness with nature and community.
3) Re-kindling wisdom
Working with the grain of nature and operating within the rules of life on Earth (enabling businesses and societies not merely to “sustain” but to thrive in the years ahead by practicing wise approaches to life that draw on, for instance: symbiosis, ecological thinking, permaculture, systems-thinking and systems-being, business inspired by nature, presencing and indigenous wisdom). An example: Weleda's bio-dynamic philosophy and its holistic approach to all aspects of its business.
Confucius, in 500BC, profoundly noted that:
“He who is in harmony with nature hits the mark without effort and apprehends the truth without thinking.”
In these challenging times for business and humanity, we must realize that to become truly sustainable, human and business life has to become scientifically inspired, emotionally connected and spiritually entwined with nature and Gaia.
Nature and business (as with nature and humanity) must be symbiotic and operate in mutualism for there to be anything resembling a successful outcome. The sooner business realizes the opportunities that come with being connected to and inspired by nature, the better for humanity and the interconnected fabric of life.
About the Author
Giles is author of the new book The Nature of Business – Redesigning for Resilience. For more on Business Inspired By Nature see Giles Hutchins’ blog at www.thenatureofbusiness.org.