Business Inspired by Nature blog
'Business Inspired by Nature' sums up the process of transformation towards 'tomorrow's company'. Businesses in the future will learn from nature rather than take from nature, and they will be equipped to undertake the transformation needed to succeed in the 21st century.
The innovative partnership between Kew and Biomimicry for Creative Innovation (BCI) can help businesses define their vision for sustainability and resilience within the context of a healthy business ecosystem.
If you have a new idea for a business, conventional wisdom says that you need to write a three-to five-year business plan and then execute that plan. But for all of the business plans written, how many are executed successfully unaltered? In fact, in these increasingly volatile and transformational times, anyone who could write a successful three- to five-year business plan that could actually be executed as written (meaning they could successfully predict the future for the next three to five years) certainly wouldn’t need to be writing a business plan as they would be wildly successful already!
What is nature’s alternative to the old 'plan-and-execute' model?
Nature, actually, has many alternatives to that, one of which is to sense-and-respond. Nature’s organisms and systems are full of feedback loops constantly operating at all scales of time and space – feedback loops that are composed of perfectly matched sensors, receivers, and responders. The sense-and-respond approach allows appropriate positive outcomes to emerge in nature rather than pushing pre-determined goals forwards, regardless of changing conditions.
Sense and respond (Image: Giles Hutchins)
How does that feel in a business setting?
First let’s imagine a typical staff meeting where someone presents a new idea. In the business world (and in our personal lives) it is far easier and safer to be the one who points out all that is wrong with the new idea and why it won’t work. The standard response to a new idea is “Yes, but...”. The discussion of the new idea is typically in offense-defence mode from which there are only two possible outcomes – win or lose. Given how compelling it is to point out what is wrong, the new ideas is much more likely to lose than to win. People leave the meeting feeling smug, angry, defeated, victorious... but certainly not creative and certainly not successful.
Nature does not dwell on what’s wrong. It is much more interested in seeking positive outcomes, whatever that may be for a given set of conditions. So instead of pushing one idea or plan, nature constantly senses and responds, always moving toward individual and common good.
How might this work in a business setting?
Imagine that same staff meeting, but instead of saying “Yes, but...” the standard response is “Yes, and what I like about that idea is... and we could also...”. The new idea is accepted, respected, explored, sensed and responded to. The group leverages its collective intelligence and creatively and collaboratively moves the original ideas towards a positive outcome. With this approach, there are many possible positive outcomes. People leave the meeting with increased energy and creativity, and with feelings of collective success.
When creativity, innovation, and positive outcomes are needed, try sensing and responding with a “Yes, and...” approach and see how it works.
- Polly -
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In the 'Firm of the Future', the essence of the business is social, economic and environmental value-creation that emerges from core values based on a common sense of purpose and a holistic understanding of value of and impacts to the social, economic and environmental dimensions of the world.
It is our belief that organisations which re-shape themselves using nature’s wisdom will flourish through the enormous opportunities these volatile times bring. It is also our belief that the 'Firm of the Future' is a business inspired by nature.
Nature's inspiration. Image by Atos Origin S.A (all rights reserved).
A business inspired by nature follows the successful principles, strategies, and practices developed by and used within nature. In short, nature has had over three billion years to figure out what works and what doesn’t – evolution eliminates unsuccessful strategies.
A business inspired by nature is resilient and can leverage myriad unpredictable disturbances.
A business inspired by nature operates like nature, where waste is food, form fits function, consumption adds value, productivity is optimised, and self-interest benefits the system.
The 'Firm of the Future' is one that is:
- Open to radical transformation using the catalysts of education, innovation, inspiration and collaboration and the tools that a business shaped by nature provides.
- Encouraging synergies across its business ecosystem, engaging with multiple stakeholders in an open, transparent way, and where common values create connections.
- Harnessing the power of social networks and the ‘pull’ media, using crowd sourcing, co-creation, transparent branding and values-based leadership for differentiation.
- Aiming at zero-emissions through innovation, closed-looping and ecological thinking.
- Polly -
Find out more...
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As we plunge into the decade of volatility, businesses are struggling to keep up with an accelerating pace of new risks from unpredictable disturbances. Ranging from volcanic eruptions to crop-killing droughts to shifts in Pentagon spending - all of these have spreading and sometimes compounding ripple effects.
Montserrat volcano erupting
The business world copes, in part, by allocating ever more resources to risk analysis and management. Unlike in the business world, nature has no ability to analyse data to predict future events and possible outcomes; organisms have to deal with whatever occurs whenever it occurs. To survive such uncertainty, nature manages future risk by focusing on resilience, the ability to recover after a disturbance.
What is it like to focus on resilience versus risk?
As an organism yourself, you know that prevention is far easier than a cure. When you focus on keeping your body healthy and maintain your resilience, you are excited to try the next new activity, love to try new foods, and look forward to rich and interesting new opportunities that await. If you let your body go, you worry about catching every cold that comes through the office, worry about hurting yourself because you never quite heal from injuries: your activities, interest, and optimism are curtailed by risk - you feel old and un-resilient.
Focusing on resilience rather than risk in your business, as with your body, not only helps you bounce back from unpredictable disturbances, but also brings with it dynamic vibrancy, creativity, innovation, and optimism – all of which are part of becoming a Business Inspired by Nature.
To provide innovative solutions to the challenges businesses are facing, Kew and Biomimicry for Creative Innovation (BCI) have formed a unique partnership focused on helping businesses develop a culture that fosters creativity, co-operation, and resilience. Follow the related links at the top of this page to find out more about Business Inspired by Nature. To read more about resilience, see BCI’s briefing “Risk and Resilience”.
- Denise -
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In nature, evolutionary adaptation has led organisms to make optimal use of their neighbourhood and environment, adapting relationships into the most beneficial for any given situation. See this briefing on "Natural Relationships" for examples of nature's relationship types: partners, parasites and pests.
A germinating orchid seed, which requires a specific fungus thus exemplifying nature's relationships
Nature's collaborative approach allows it to cope with dynamic change, to drive innovation and increase productivity; there are elements of nature's strategies that can also help business to flourish in transformational times. A value-driven business 'ecosystem' that is shaped by nature will have an in-built level of trust and resilience that is missing from business relationships that are driven purely by price and contract, and businesses including chemicals company Akzo Nobel and innovative brewer Adnams have delivered financial benefits to their shareholders and environmental and social benefits to their communities by working collaboratively with their value chains.
To provide innovative solutions to the challenges businesses are facing, Kew and Biomimicry for Creative Innovation (BCI) have formed a unique partnership focused on helping businesses develop a culture that fosters creativity and co-operation. Follow the related links at the top of this page to find out more about Business Shaped by Nature.
- Polly Williamson -
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The idea of products or buildings being inspired by nature is well established – you need think no further than Sydney Opera House or cat’s eyes for a couple of examples. But it’s not so easy to think of businesses that have been shaped by nature.
Because we believe in the huge potential of businesses being shaped by nature, we decided to invite a diverse group of business leaders to Kew for the day – to see what happens when you mix business people with botanists.
The results were exciting, stimulating and quite different from anything tried before. As well as having one of the world’s top plant scientists explain how different plants have developed resilience to their surroundings, the attendees worked in teams with plant experts, using individual plant species as an inspiration for new approaches to business.
Business leaders and botanists outside the Alpine House at Kew
Some of the inspiring plant stories that were discussed by the groups were the Livingstone potato (Plectranthus esculentus), Aloe vera, a mushroom and the Callicarpa pentandra tree. Summary notes from these discussions, and slides from the day are available here for download.
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About this blog
'Business Inspired by Nature' is an emergent, resilient, dynamic new collective of individuals with a unique combination of skills, experiences and insights. We have a common goal of creating a healthy vibrant world by bridging business and biology, in other words, ecological thinking for radical transformation. We aim to transform industrial supply chains into business ecosystems, and to merge business ecosystems into natural ecosystems.
'Business Inspired by Nature's' collaboration of professional change agents, biologists and design professionals work with clients to apply nature's principles to business products, processes and systems.
Resilience vs Risk - how nature recovers after disturbance: It's what is embraced in the U.S. as "the new now".. by: Lyle Almond
Resilience vs Risk - how nature recovers after disturbance: Thanks Philip. One of the benefits of taking a resilience-based approach rather than a risk-based ap ... by: Polly Williamson
Resilience vs Risk - how nature recovers after disturbance: This is very interesting. But when does preparedness become fear when resilience becomes hiding unde ... by: Philip Smith
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