The other morning, the Biomimicry Institute presented a webinar called “Introduction to the Biomimicry Process and Defining Your Challenge” supporting their Biomimicry Global Design Challenge for student teams. The goal of The Biomimicry Global Design Challenge is to mobilize thousands of students and professionals to tackle climate-related challenges using biomimicry, or nature-inspired design. It’s an opportunity for people to experience designing solutions through a new lens as well as a chance to get support to take their innovation to market. Finalist teams compete for the Ray C. Anderson Foundation’s $100,000 Ray of Hope Prize (R). This is the first time challengers can submit videos which can be accessed from this link: https://biomimicry.org/biomimicry-student-design-challenge-finalists/. Past Ray of Hope Prize winners include a soil restoration solution inspired by hardy alpine plants, and a water management system for urban farmers based on how living systems collect, store and distribute water. Teams can be mentored and have a wonderful resource at the Biometrics Toolbox. It’s a worthwhile event, that I plan to keep an eye on.
Though I think it was only the day before it was presented that I heard about it, it’s been an eventful two days. I’m not even sure where I found it — or even where it might have found me! Still, it was fascinating to learn about the process of designing a biomimicry project and I was very caught up in it until the presenter Megan Schuknecht, director of design challenges, focused on the challenge. Then, I thought, “my mind doesn’t work that way, I’d better split.” As I reviewed my notes, I realized my mind does not work that way only in technology, science, or, if we must go there, mathematics.
However, the global design process spiral illustrated in the webinar, despite vocabulary differences, is too similar to the process of organizing novel writing. Schuknecht delineated the stages of designing a project as: Define, “biologise,” discover, abstract, emulate, and Evaluate Fitness, all of which spirals around iteration. In the process, the definition stage is designing the right questions to aid in research. The questions should not be so generic that research becomes inefficient or so limiting, that the teams may miss more obscure fixes. Nor should they be so broad that research becomes unmanageable. Good design questions might begin “how might we…” In biomimicry, “how can we . . .” means “how does nature. . ..”
In writing, we set our goals often through questions like those in a character sheet. Plot usually stems from character. So when authors “biologise,” they are observing human nature. In the discovery phase, biomimicry practitioners focus on what they call “stakeholders,” acknowledging that fixing a problem in New York City would require different thinking than the same problem in a small town in upstate New York. When authors “biologise,” they are observing human nature. In the discovery phase, biomimicry practitioners focus on what they call “stakeholders,” acknowledging that fixing a problem in New York City would require different thinking than the same problem in a village bordering a rainforest.
Taking it a little further, do the concepts of Main Character, setting, goal, and conflict fit into that model as easily for you as they do for me? Perhaps connections, however tenuous, can also be made between abstract and summary, emulating nature and representing the truths of human behavior, evaluating fitness and revision, as well as iterations and drafts.
Especially in this toxic political environment, biomimicry is becoming not only more difficult, but much more essential. Just like contests for new and unpublished authors, competitions like “Biomimicry Global Design Challenge” nurture critical thinking, help train students and scientists to face overwhelming issues with intelligence and creativity, and insure that we will never run out of the kind of new ideas that keep humans alive.