biomimicry sz

It’s Earth Day.  What can we learn from this miraculous mother?  Billions of years of life on Earth have created an enormous array of elegant solutions to almost all conceivable challenges.  Man’s hubris may trick us into thinking we can outsmart nature, but perhaps we’d be better off just learning from it.

Take fractals, for example.  Jeffrey Ventrella is our resident fractal expert, having literally written a big thick book on these mind-bending mathematical shapes that repeat self-similar patterns with an infinite amount of detail. (That’s a mouthful, I know!)  In nature they can be found in places where optimizing detail is desired- like our lungs, which benefit from having as many nooks and crannies as possible to pass oxygen into our blood.  In the man-made world, fractals are used to increase the efficiency of an antenna and the absorption of acoustical materials.

This imitation of nature as a means for solving complex human problems is called ‘biomimicry’ and as Dale Wannen tells us, business schools are enthusiastically exploring the possibilities.  Velcro is a classic example, invented in the 1940s when an engineer noticed the ingenious way that burs attached to cloth. Today we have bullet trains modeled after a kingfisher’s beak and phone networks reconfigured based on ant behaviors.  Now that’s cool.

Thanks for the tips, Earth. I guess those billions of years of experience you have are valuable after all.  Perhaps we should spend more time paying attention to what this powerful planet has already invented and less time trying to conquer it.

Written and photographed by Natasha Juliana. Curious about WORK?  Sign up for a free trial!