Hint: Follow nature’s stealth machine: the owl
Creative people ‘borrow’ ideas from one field of interest and apply them in another to solve problems.
If we stick with ‘what we know’ and are familiar with we can be blind to new ways of ‘seeing’.
- Whether it’s the person you’ve been with for decades.
- The job you’re tiring of.
- The life you’re frustrated with.
- Or the confounding technical problem you’re charged with solving.
In the world of business, economics, science or art — the act of seeing from an ‘oblique’ perspective is a commodity highly sought.
Why? Because it’s a rare skill.
Divergent thinkers are adaptive thinkers.
- Innovative by nature.
- Creative solution-makers by design.
Yet most schools educate children into a focused convergent mindset.
This becomes reinforced in college with exams testing specific knowledge.
And is entrenched in the workforce as ‘follow-the-system’ processes that dumb and numb the mind.
So how can one ‘see’ with eyes that are trained to blinker distractions, like a race horse intent on the finish line?
… Taught to focus on problem?
… Teased by the volume of information begging to be understood, yet narrowed by tunnel vision?
There is an answer: Nature.
The original source of creative insight.
Waiting patiently for us to see the solutions in the world around us.
It's a natural resource for those willing to see ideas and cross-fertilise man-made problems with nature’s evolutionary solutions.
Scientists call this biomimicry. And it’s changed the way problems are solved in engineering and science.
“Biomimicry is an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies.”
Nature’s ideas are turning up in unusual places as the quest for elegant design and answers to society’s ever-pressing need for speed, innovation and environmental protection escalates.
The natural world offers a hothouse of ready-made solutions, all we need do is distill them.
For me, nature offers the ultimate metaphor-maker. Pointing the proverbial olive-branch to answer life’s mysteries.
It offers organic solutions to what we grapple with in our navel-gazing world view.
If we pause, seek and observe, nature helps us connect the dots.
But only if we dismiss the ‘quick glance’ and deepen observations to see possibilities.
Let’s Look At Nature’s Natural Innovators
“You could look at nature as being like a catalog of products, and all of those have benefited from a 3.8 billion year research and development period. And given that level of investment, it makes sense to use it.” Michael Pawlyn, British Architect. Author of: Biomimicry in Architecture
Here’s An Example:
Designers working on the Japanese 500-Series Shinkansen bullet train (which began operation in 1998 and is now superseded) looked to nature to solve the problem of machinery moving at high speed without the accompanying noise factor.
Residents 400 metres away could hear the sonic bangs made by earlier models entering underground tunnels.
Eiji Nakatsu, engineer and former director of the company who created the railway system, is also a bird lover.
During the design stage of the bullet train, he attended a lecture on birds.
It got him thinking about the noise problem from a different perspective.
This ‘creative pause’ shifted his perspective and he sought inspiration through nature’s ‘stealth machine’: the owl.
The team discovered that an owl’s feathers have rows of saw-toothed (serration) feathers protruding from the outer layer. These enable near-silent flight by altering air turbulence and absorbing noise.
Nakatsu applied this design feature to the bullet train’s overhead serrations. Today the concept is found in aircraft design and ski gear.
The kingfisher influenced the train’s cone-like nose.
When searching for prey, the kingfisher skims the water before diving to snare a fish with its elongated beak.
It moves quietly and with ease between low pressure (air) and high pressure (water) — a similar problem faced by the bullet train as air pressure changes on entering a tunnel which created sonic-level noise. Nature’s design created an elegant solution.
The owl and the kingfisher — a perfect pairing for sleek speed and hushed performance.
So What Do Owls, Kingfishers and Bird-loving Engineers Have To Do With You?
Each was: Swift. Silent. Smart.
Sounds like a trilogy to aim for.
Swift to swoop on opportunities.
Silent as deep thinking and patterns emerge.
Smart in capturing connections and making sense of them.
When you look at solving problems and frustrations in your life, what (or whom) do you turn to for inspiration?
The past? Friends? Self-help books?
While we stay locked in our own blinkered view, problems can feel insurmountable.
And we can be our own worst enemy. Literally digging ourselves into a ditch by walking round and round the problem until it’s impossible to see beyond the hole dug.
While you may not be designing the next bullet train — you may be solving a very noisy problem that’s threatening to run you over
Noise and speed can be problems whether designing the bullet train or experiencing everyday problems.
Here’s How To Assimilate The Owl And The Kingfisher Into Your Problem-Solving Process
Consider the problem and state each element simply.
Nakatsu’s problems were: increase speed and decrease sound.
Apply the law of association. Look at your interests or elements of the natural world that you’re curious about.
What is something in nature that has already solved this problem in order to survive predators?
STEP ONE: Open curiosity
Research. Read widely. Ask questions. See the familiar as if unfamiliar.
STEP TWO: Apply divergent thinking by expanding what could be possible
Observe. Create. Record. Draw diagrams. Map your ideas using words, symbols and images.
STEP THREE: Use convergent thinking by refining ideas and looking for patterns
Synthesise. Group ideas. Create labels. Remove information. Add in other pieces. Build links.
STEP FOUR: Rest
Walk away from the problem. Give your mind a break.
Enjoy one of your passions.
Listen to a talk on it. Read a book about it. Watch a movie about it.
STEP FIVE: Wait
The creative pause is where magic happens.
But only with …
... A Fertile Mind.
How fertile is your mind?
Or, is it a barren, vacuous state where ideas flitter in and out, yet never take root?
I’m not a scientist. Nor an engineer.
I doubt I’ll design the next train that will travel at ever-increasing speeds as newer models become available.
But I know a mind’s fertility matures with good nutrition.
- Protein-rich food.
- Protein-rich books
- Protein-rich experiences.
And the openness to explore links that at first appear unrelated.
This is about looking for patterns. Being an observer of life.
Someone who is:
- Swift to swoop on opportunities.
- Silent as deep thinking and patterns emerge.
- Smart in capturing connections and making sense of them.
Nature’s metaphors help me plant seeds in those with whom I work.
And this happens by getting out of a ‘problem-focused’ mindset and looking at the world around for inspiration and solutions.
I help people build more productive lives. (Note: I didn’t say ‘live’ more productive lives.)
Because it’s in the creation, the making, the searching for patterns — along with the effort of ‘building’ meaning that each of us moves beyond the obvious and mine our world, our relationships and ourselves.
We have the solutions within us.
The connective tissue between problem and solution surrounds us.
Creative Minds Create Links.
Solving problems is about opening your mind to the natural solutions found right in front of you.
The ones that offer evolutionary links that help us adapt to our fast-paced world by observing nature’s already evident answers.
If you want to solve the unsolvable, get back to nature.
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