Innovating using nature’s principles: Biomimicry
Alkemio recently joined a ‘Webber’ design session in Utrecht. My takeaway from participating in the Webbers event: the need for Alkemio is clear!
Webbers are professionals from the public sector, universities and the private sector that want to reorganize the energy transition. They want to achieve this by collaborating, learning and innovating. These Webbers have a strong tendency to connect with others (hence the name, referring to the network of a spider web). The Webbers lead multi-disciplinary collaborations, bringing together education, the public sector and the private sector.
Some of the key questions that arose during the session:
- How do you make sure you really reach out to anyone you want to reach, in a fair and equal way?
- How can you make challenge management more autonomous?
- How can you use AI to connect people?
- If you have worked out a solution (e.g. on circularity) in 10 suburbs, how can you make it into a guideline such that all other suburbs can easily adopt?
The main goal of this Webber’s session? Developing a tool that allows the Webbers to collaborate effectively on transition-related challenges. Clearly for Alkemio great to see that they already identified the need for such a platform! The audience was split in groups, where each group would go through several rounds to brainstorm about their pain points in collaborative projects and to identify solutions to these pain points. One central theme: Biomimicry.
Biomimicry (literally: imitation of the living) aims to take inspiration from natural solutions and translate these principles to human engineering. The approach aims to favour choices that are already tested by nature, where these natural solutions have had millions of years to prove themselves.
Example: In 1941, Swiss engineer George de Mestral was removing burrs from his dog and decided to take a closer look at how they worked. The small hooks that he found inspired him to create Velcro. Another example is the aerodynamic shape of the bullet train, based on the a kingfisher’s beak.
So what were the pain points?
Some of the issues that were identified by the Webbers are:
- There is almost no cross-silo collaboration occurring
- Knowledge sharing is limited
- It is hard to reach out to every possible stakeholder and involve them
- There is no open-science platform that facilitates the permanency of knowledge
- Innovation is closed, meaning that people only tend to show end-products, not their progress and lessons learned that can be far more valuable
For us, the main question is: how could Alkemio provide in relieving these points?
We’re actually already very close. The platform encourages organizations and individuals to collaborate on a challenge, where they can share their relevant knowledge. Furthermore, the platform allows these communities to learn from other (possibly related) challenges. As the platform is open to anyone, all types of stakeholders can join and start collaborating.
Lastly, Alkemio will keep all information hosted on the platform openly accessible, unless there’s very sensitive data that users wish to keep internally. That includes the progress that has been made throughout the collaboration.
How does Alkemio relate to nature?
Insects, such as ants, have societies with millions of members. These ‘social’ insects are quite simple individually, but collectively they are brilliant, having complex functional systems within their environment (such as routing traffic and allocating labour or resources). I’m not saying Alkemio’s individual users are simple (not at all!), but I want to underline that we can reach much more collectively.
Next to this intra-specie collaboration, inter-specie collaboration is also often seen in nature. This is also called ‘mutualism’. One example of mutualism is the collaboration between the clownfish (or Nemo for the Disney lovers) and anemones. The anemones provide habitats for the clownfish, and the clownfish fight off predators from the anemones. Such multi-disciplinary collaborations is what Alkemio facilitates.
Maybe even stronger is the relation between Alkemio and the principle of biomimicry itself: exchanging information and ideas between fields that may not have established channels for cross-communication, such as biologists, engineers and architects in the case of biomimicry.
Learn from biomimicry!
Not collaborating with and learning from other disciplines can be a huge loss. We should mimic the act of biomimicry and seek to learn from all kinds of fields and directions. This is how we can accelerate innovation and build a better future, together.