Tag Archives: biomimicry

Social Capital:The Bottleneck for Biomimicry?

I’m still on my major social capital kick from last week. Watching Benyus and reading Worldwatch I kept asking myself: what factors control how quickly these ideas get explored and adopted? As excited as I am about the design ideas talked about in our reading, it seems like these ideas may be facing barriers to widespread adoption. Every time I hear biomimicry discussed it seems like the same examples come up: spider’s silk, eggshells, saltwater self assembly and a few others. With all of the exciting opportunities out there there should be a community of researchers developing new ideas every day and a community of engineers figuring out cool new applications, the relatively slow flow of new biomimicry anecdotes suggests that there isn’t. As Benyus said, “it’s not a lack of information, it’s for lack of integration.” The limiting factor isn’t resources or cool ideas, it’s relationships. The faster that Benyus and other biomimicrites can help people with design problems form relationships with solutions in the natural world (and with the silohed-off experts that understand them) the faster the principles of biomimicry can get turned into action.

This points to another interesting question: how do you effectively farm relationships? A little googling indicates that Benyus seems to be using two strategies. The first is broadcast- literally throwing seeds on to fertile-seeming earth and hoping that something edible grows. Through books and active lecture circuits she puts the idea of biomimicry out there, hoping that someone will get excited enough about it to go out and form the necessary relationships of their own accord. Benyus’ “Biomimicry Institute” seems to focus on this strategy- creating resources and disseminating them widely to the public. This is a great way to cover a lot of ground, but the yields tend to be very low and hard to find. Relationships take a lot more than exciting ideas to come to fruition, they take patience, dedication, community support, conceptual clarity, a bunch of other factors not available in a video or a book. There’s also no good mechanism for feedback- it’s difficult for Benyus to know what the relationship-building impact of her lectures have been so that she can tweak them. 

For this reason, Benyus appears to be doing something akin to hands-on agriculture. She’s partnering with companies like HOK to personally provide the patience, dedication, supportive environment and conceptual guidance necessary to build relationships that achieve results. When she’s there on the beach holding their hands, those wastewater engineers can get to their “aha” moment. Trouble is, there’s only one of her and she can only hold so many hands at a time. There’s a business model in there, which may be what she’s going for. She can hire a bunch of “relationship farmers,” train them and send them out into the world as paid consultants. Under this model her capacity to create change will grow steadily as her business grows, but she’ll be tied to serious financial limitations. The “Biomimicry Guild” mentioned on her website seems to take this strategy, offering hands-on services to businesses inspired by these ideas.

I’d be curious what it would look like to apply biomimicry to this “relationship farming” problem. How does nature quickly and efficiently create connections, and can those principles be applied here? Fungal systems distribute spores (ideas) that are designed to shoot out roots (actively seek connections) that find one another and interlock (build community). This might also be a a great opportunity for some of the sociomimicry that we talked about in class. How have cultures throughout the world and throughout history dealt with similar challenges? Looking at the way that social movements have leveraged personally empowering relationships to rapidly mobilize millions might also be interesting.

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