Developed by Brian Hanley, Master's of Engineering degree candidate at Lehigh University

Biomimicry

bio

I. Individual 

“The smallest feline is a masterpiece.”

― Leonardo da Vinci

I stumbled clumsily down the dirt path just above the statue garden near Goodman campus, blue notebook in hand. I shuffled through tall, wet grass bustling with wasps and spider webs. The coffee lingered on my burnt taste buds. Cicadas hissed all around me.

 

Observing nature is like tasting wine. Everybody tries it; nobody understands. How could they understand? The complexities of and relationships within the earth system are both infinite and intertwined. Incomprehensible is the sheer variety of life.

 

Human beings, like nature, are imaginative by necessity. We act not only instinctively. We also observe local and global networks of relationships so far beyond our grasp, and comprehend that complexity, despite the horrific odds.

 

In Part I, the statue garden served as my model and mentor. Meditating on old, uprooted tree trunks, I discovered inspiration. But I felt inspired, not because a particular invention dawned on me, but because through observation, I encountered a problem that nature already solved. Trees require structural support and a steady source of nourishment. Roots support and provide trees with essential resources. Black ink careening across a blue notebook, I sketched different root-inspired products. One was an irrigation system powered by gutter water. Feasible or not, the irrigation system grew out of a proven technology, one that nature meticulously crafted over hundreds of millions of years.

II. Group

“To have a great idea, have a lot of them.”

― Thomas Edison

            For an early dinner, Glenn Adams and I met at the Malaysia restaurant on Fourth Street. I had no expectations about Glenn or Malaysian cuisine. Though I was unfamiliar with each, each seemed pleasant in its own way.

 

We sat and shared ideas over warm mango tea. I showed Glenn sketches of individual products separated thematically. He led me through an impressive, illustrated stream of consciousness, dumbfounding me to my core. Glenn and I think and invent differently. But our styles of thought and invention, however distinct, proved complementary. Together we articulated whole ideas. Individually our ideas remained fragmented.

 

Part II taught me how to transition from an individual to a group creative process. In a group brainstorming session, creativity depends largely on respect. If one group member dominates the discourse, creativity ceases to be a two-way street, becoming a single traffic jam. Aware of that, Glen and I concentrated on exchanging one conversation at a time. We deliberately listened before speaking, asked questions before providing answers, and sought not domination, but collaboration.

 

Chances are, both Glenn and I are capable of tackling great feats alone. But together, our chances for success doubled. As a team, we brainstormed twice as many ideas and solved twice as many problems as we did individually. Together, we tackled twice as many feats and that is a basic fact of mathematics.

III. Presentation

“The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.”

― Leonardo da Vinci

Part III tested the groups’ abilities to succinctly articulate their creative processes. The content of the presentations sufficed overall. Most teams elucidated their sources of inspiration, design concepts, and use of creativity techniques. Their products ranged from the practical to the ludicrous. Worthy of note: both ends of the feasibility spectrum inspire creativity, the farfetched in particular. Imagine if, in 1776, an entrepreneurial student promoted Velcro, a product inspired by burrs sticking to his dog’s fur. Critics and skeptics alike would have deemed the idea ludicrous. But in 1948, the idea stuck. The point being, no idea is too stupid or too crazy to consider. Nobody should self-impose constraints on their own or anybody else’s ideas. The next big invention could be a “Surveillance Spider” or a “Squirrel Drone,” you just never know.

 

Generally speaking, styles varied from group to group. I preferred PowerPoint slides with little to no text. Visual guides tend to captivate the audience. Verbose slides lead it astray. I also preferred products with names to products called “number one, number two, and number three.” Even ridiculous names bring products to life and make inventors more memorable.

IV. Conclusion

“There’s a way to do it better—find it.”

― Thomas Edison

In summary, Part I required cultivating mindfulness. I rediscovered that the natural world mentors those who listen to it closely. Part II tested the class’ teamwork skills. Collaborating with Glenn ignited my own creativity and visa versa. Part II reinforced the observation that “it is the human friction that makes the sparks” (Jonah Lehrer 2012). Finally, Part III was a test of strong verbal, but also visual communication skills. While most of the presented products will probably never make it to market, presenters conceived of their classmates as potential customers. The presentation served as a six-minute sales pitch, and our products were products of nature.

 

It is really quite convenient. Humans are constantly grappling with different pains and problems. Fortunately for us, the natural world has been providing solutions to similar quagmires for eons. Biomimicry bridges the gap between countless human problems and myriad solutions found in nature. If animals, plants, and microbes are the real engineers, then maybe inventors are nothing but observers attempting to mimic a near perfect model.

 

 

 

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