Biomimicry simply means imitating nature. By observing and studying nature, its elements, processes, models and systems, through biomimicry, we can design, develop, engineer or emulate new innovations and technologies to solve a range of simple and complex human problems. An everyday example is solar energy which is essentially related to the process of photosynthesis – the solar cell is modelled on the function of a leaf.

The study of biomimicry can provide insights into nature and how natural elements and systems can provide inspiration and solutions for the development of sustainable and environmentally friendly innovations. One of the well-known serendipitous discoveries that is now used worldwide was the development of Velcro®. In 1941 Swiss electrical engineer George de Mestral, after returning from a hunting trip with his dog in the Alps, noticed that burrs had stuck onto his clothes and also on the fur of his dog. Being curious he decided to view the burrs under the microscope to determine why these burrs were sticking to fur. He noticed a large number of little hooks on the ends of the burrs. De Mestral was inspired by these observations to emulate the function of the burrs using synthetic material. He settled on using nylon which was an emerging material at that time and invented Velcro® which is now used widely in a range of different applications.

Incorporating biomimicry concepts into design and innovation processes can provide a number of  advantages when developing new products or solving problems:

  1. Sustainable – Nature inspires products and processes that are natural and adapted to the environment.
  2. Efficient – The natural environment seems to be more efficient than the environments created by humans.
  3. Cost effective – Nature has a tendency to design structures and shapes that utilise materials efficiently thereby cutting down on materials and associated costs.
  4. Energy saving – Nature maximises the use of natural resources by using processes and systems that optimise energy usage.
  5. Minimal waste – In nature, materials and waste are minimised or recycled into value-added products.  Both waste and new materials are integrated in natural systems.
  6. Differentiated brand – Nature has a tendency to create its own unique shapes that define its brand which becomes enduring.

Leonardo da Vinci was an exemplar for utilising the concept of biomimicry through his observations of nature to bring to life his paintings and drawings. Many of Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions were inspired by observations of natural phenomena. For example, Leonardo’s design for a flying machine was inspired by closely studying the wings and flights of birds, while his designs for a parachute and a helicopter resulted from his observations of seed pods and flowers falling from trees.

The Biomimicry Institute’s Student Design Challenge shows some amazing design’s inspired by biomimicry http://www.biomimicrydesignchallenge.com/gallery.

I encourage you to take some time and connect with nature as a means to providing inspiration in your work and personal life. Who knows; your next idea for a new product or design may come from your observations of nature!

Dr John Kapeleris

 

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Inventing the Future

July 5th, 2011 | Posted by John Kapeleris in Future - (0 Comments)

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it” Alan Kay

Value comes from delivering in the future, not the past. As humans we generally spend significant amounts of time dwelling on the past rather than thinking about the future, particularly how we can design the future to create significant value for our clients and our organizations.

The products being delivered today will not necessarily fulfill the needs of customers in the future. Many organizations after they develop and launch their successful products, become complacent and generally fail to continue to innovate or modify their existing products.

Recognizing patterns and trends in global markets that are impacting our lives, our work and our customers is one way of predicting the future scenarios that can lead to new products and markets. It is also important to recognize new patterns that are just brief fads and differentiate them from long-term trends that could be worth millions. The successful leader and entrepreneur must be able to recognize new patterns and trends that can lead to long-term change.

Patterns and trends are simply characterized as sequences of events, ideas, concepts, or behaviours that have economic, social, environmental, cultural or political significance. In hindsight patterns and trends seem logical. The difficulty is detecting them early while they are still taking shape. For example, many Japanese firms in the 1980s were able to recognize emerging patterns and their implications. As a result they were able to dominate particular markets (e.g. quartz watches, memory chips, flat screen TVs) by acquiring patents and research expertise. Timing is also a key influencing factor when capitalizing on new trend opportunities. Moving too soon can easily result in the same outcome as entering the market too late.

To become successful in identifying patterns and trends you need to develop your intuitive and analytical skills. You also need to be aware of and study the following domains:

  1. Driving Forces. What are the driving forces that can impact longer term change? For example, globalization, the aging population, increasing need for food, water and energy, protecting our environment etc.
  2. The Internet. The impact of the internet continues to create change in the way we work, live and play.
  3. Predicting Change. Gaining a deeper understanding of patterns and how they translate to creating change requires further study of six processes through which patterns evolve – extension, elaboration, recycling, pattern reversal, strange attractions and chaos.

Proactively seeking and identifying patterns and trends will allow you to identify new opportunities to invent the future products and markets that can add value to customers.

Dr John Kapeleris

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“Everything that can be invented has been invented. Charles H. Duell, (Commissioner of U.S. patent office, advising President McKinley to close the U.S. patent office in 1899).

We live in a time where more and more ideas are converted into successful outcomes that create value for society. We need people who come up with ideas and new inventions (inventors), but also the people who are able to convert these ideas into successful products, services and businesses (entrepreneurs). Generally both inventors and entrepreneurs are able to come up with new ideas, and share some common characteristics, however, the key difference is that inventors are usually focused on the tangible invention, while entrepreneurs are more focused on the business opportunity. Off course some inventors are also entrepreneurs and vice versa. Inventors are interested in developing a novel product but not necessarily bringing it to market (i.e. commercializing it). Entrepreneurs procure, organize and manage resources (human, capital and other) through a new venture to bring a product to market, without necessarily having invented the product.

Therefore, how can we be more entrepreneurial in spotting patterns and trends, and seizing opportunities that can provide the next breakthrough concept, service or product? The simple answer is that we need to develop our entrepreneurial mindset and the characteristics associated with entrepreneurship.

Following are some of the characteristics of the Entrepreneurial Mind:

  1. Serendipity – The aptitude to identify opportunities through observation or by accident e.g. Scotchguard, Velcro, penicillin.
  2. Flexibility – The ability to change your business to accommodate changes in the external environment e.g. business model innovation
  3. Ingenuity – Possession of original thought allowing new concepts and clever adaptations e.g. Apple iPod.
  4. Niche picking – Identifying specific customer needs and wants that you can deliver faster, cheaper and better e.g. Dell computers.
  5. Speed and multiple agendas – Moving through multiple “gates” and “corridors” faster than the competition e.g Microsoft.
  6. New channels – The ability to notice and exploit expanded or new distribution channels e.g. Amazon.com.
  7. Hypothetical thought – The ability to re-evaluate an existing product or service through questioning e.g. Leonardo da Vinci
  8. Comparative thinking – The ability to see what competitors or other businesses are doing successfully and applying these to your business.
  9. Radical thinking – Developing totally new opportunities that no one else has considered e.g. Apple iPad.
  10. Action and discipline – Developing an action plan, and having the discipline and commitment to implement successfully.

To achieve the above entrepreneurial characteristics we need to undertake further education, mentoring and on-the-job learning. A great service that can assist inventors to better understand the entrepreneurial process in taking their ideas to market is the AIC’s Inventor Service.

Dr John Kapeleris

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“Invention refers to new concepts or products derived from an individual’s ideas or from scientific research. Innovation, on the other hand, is the commercialization of the invention itself” – Daniel Scocco

The words invention and innovation are sometimes used interchangeably. However, they are quite distinct, although not mutually exclusive. An invention is a new creation, device or process, derived from an individual’s ideas or from scientific research, while an innovation is the practical application or commercialization of a new idea or concept (it could be an invention) into something of value in the marketplace, whether it is a new product, process or organizational system. The creation or development of the invention alone does not translate to an innovation. The invention must create value for it to become a successful innovation. We find that many inventions that are patented do not result in successful innovations in the market, in society, in the community or in an organization.

Both invention and innovation begin with a creative process. A curious and open mind, that identifies an opportunity or makes a discovery, is the basis of developing an invention or an innovation. Inventors such as Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison and Shunpei Yamazaki have created a number of new inventions, but only a percentage of these have been successfully commercialized. For example, Leonardo da Vinci was a great inventor but he did not commercialize any of his inventions (e.g. the parachute, personal flying wing, military tank etc). Some of his inventions were successfully commercialized by others hundreds of years later.

 

It can be argued that the iPod is an innovation rather than just an invention, because it includes an innovative operating system, pleasing aesthetics, ease of use and a link to the online iTunes software providing value through a complete user experience. The early MP3 players, however, were simply inventions, some of which later became succesful innovations.

I have often wondered what have been the “Top 10 Inventions” of all time. Particularly inventions that have become significant innovations adding enormous value to humans and society. Following is my list of the top 10 inventions of all time (OK, maybe twelve):

  1. Steam engine
  2. Printing press
  3. Light bulb
  4. Telephone
  5. E=mc²
  6. Automobile/Airplane
  7. Penicillin
  8. Transistor/silicon chip
  9. Computers
  10. Laser

What are your “Top 10 Inventions” of all time?

Dr John Kapeleris

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