Oblique Thinking Hour – Biomimicry

Photo by Nathan Dumlao / Unsplash

On September 13, 2022 we held our second Oblique Thinking Hour with 18 attendees. The format of the workshop was to explore how we could inspire biomimetic thinking to help us think of creative solutions to problems. We tested out a new card deck we developed which can be used to inspire biomimetic thinking. The card deck uses a picture and a system in nature and a brief description of the system to help inspire new ways of thinking about any problem.

Problem Statements

Using a shared document and a few prompts, we asked participants to share a problem they've been thinking about, either from their life, work, anywhere really. With the seeding prompts of:

  • "I am worried about _______",
  • "I wish I could change_______", and
  • "If I could wave a magic wand, I'd_______",

we received a bunch of ideas.

Participants used +1 to vote on problems, articulated by others, which resonated with them. A few of the top problems were around creating better work cultures, worry about running out of money, creating shorter work weeks and ways to recenter life toward joy and kindness.

Presentation

Beth Duckles shared some slides about how biomimicry has been used in building design. She gave examples of buildings with biomimetic attributes – meaning that the design includes attributes that mimic the natural world. For example, one building was constructed with an air conditioning system based on termite mounds. She asked participants to consider ways in which looking to nature can help us inspire our work in teams and organizations, and wanted us to explore the new ways of using biomimetic ideas.  

Introducing the Cards

We then shared a tool with the folks who joined us to deal three random biomimicry cards (out of a 50+ card deck) which suggested natural systems that might be interesting to consider. The idea is to offer up a constrained set of random examples to inspire thinking around biomimicry and to encourage discussion. This could be useful to help consider connections might exist between the biological example and the problem the group is considering.

Breakout Activity

Everyone was then put into groups of two or three, where they were asked to connect with one another first. Then they were invited to choose one of the problems and imagine ways in which that challenge or problem could be addressed, or better understood with a biomimicry lens. Participants were encouraged to re-deal by refreshing the page if they couldn't find inspiration from the first set.

We repeated this activity twice and there were a range of interesting discussions that came from the report out:

  • One group talked about the problem of homelessness in terms of water, flow and rocks in the river.
  • A group talked through the idea of creating a shorter work week as connecting to an iceberg. That the amount of time to rejuvenate could equate to what is below the surface of the water in an iceberg.
  • Another group discussed how clay being activated by water is much like money being active / inactive for people to use and spend.
  • A group discussed burnout and a chicken hatching from a shell, playing with ideas of what the burnout is - is it the initial breaking of the shell? Does the solution start with one little peck?
  • Another group talked about the connections between public transit and mushrooms, which creates mycelial networks for nutrients to go where they're needed.
  • A final group talked about the challenges of overwork from the perspective of poison ivy, and thought of the ways that poison ivy could help set boundaries around overwork.

What other systems might inspire us?

We asked the group to share other biological systems that inspire them so that we can make our deck of cards better, and here are a few they came up with:

  • Fruit trees
  • Protective coloration
  • Large scale weather systems
  • Self-regulation/self-balancing
  • Plant + Fungi networks
  • Beans
  • Wild Tomatoes
  • Wild Strawberries
  • Insects
  • Animals
  • Symbiosis
  • Old trees

What could this be used for?

The group then talked about how these ideas could be used, and here are a few suggestions folks had (below are paraphrases or direct quotes):

  • Encourages a safe space for folks to contribute in work settings and teams.
  • It could be an interesting way to get out of your own perspective, such as envisioning yourself as the element/animal.
  • Nice way to find a new metaphor to explain something.
  • Great way of showing abstraction as a practice.
  • Helpful tool for people who communicate differently to build a shared language.
  • I liked that it's ok if you "read the card wrong" - the value her is in the story you draw from the card's suggestion.
  • Low barrier to entry; it felt very easy to just get going with the cards.
  • Many neurodivergent people communicate anecdotally, which can be perceived as disruptive or distracting in outcomes-driven spaces – this would be a helpful mechanic to show the benefits of that communication.  

How might you use these ideas? What would you do with them?

Further Reading and Other Resources

Summary

We were able to demonstrate a set of biomimicry cards which can be used to prompt new ways of thinking about any problem. Feedback showed that in some cases the cards were easy to use as inspiration, and at other times were a bit challenging. With clear instructions to re-deal the cards if necessary, all groups were able to make progress and rethink a range of problems using biomimicry concepts. The energy of the facilitation was quite good, and people felt challenged (in good ways) and inspired to bring this kind of thinking to more of their work and problem-solving. If you'd like for us to help you plan a biomimicry session, let us know.

Here at Organizational Mycology, we're working to bring facilitation, and consulting engagements that can help you and your organization navigate these complexities by finding ways to bring forward differing perspectives so that you can co-create a robust and resilient organization.

To get a sample of how we work, and how we think, come along to one of our Oblique Thinking Hours run the second Tuesday/Wednesday (depending on time zone) of every month.

Jonah Duckles

Jonah Duckles

Dunedin, New Zealand
Beth Duckles

Beth Duckles

Borhane Blili-Hamelin

Borhane Blili-Hamelin

NYC
Dan Sholler

Dan Sholler