Innovation Engineering

Biomimicry is a novel approach to innovation.  One way to make biomimicry relatable and permeate more quickly through an established organization is to integrate it with innovation approaches that are already familiar to and widely-used by employees.

BioTRIZ exemplifies how integrating biomimicry with a popular innovation approach can make it more accessible.  BioTRIZ is an integration of biomimicry and TRIZ.  TRIZ is a familiar engineering problem-solving tool developed by Soviet inventor Genrich Altshuller and his colleagues in the 1940s. It is a matrix where intersections represent engineering trade-offs; for instance, a vehicle with higher horsepower usually requires more fuel. At each intersection there is a cell containing a technological principle(s) for resolving a trade-off. If the vehicle’s body is made more aerodynamic, it’s rate of acceleration / top speed increases without requiring more fuel. In the 2000s, a team of researchers at the Centre for Biomimetic and Natural Technologies at the University of Bath in the UK, developed a revamped version of TRIZ by identifying biological principles for overcoming the same trade-offs.  Trade-off resolutions recommended by BioTRIZ are different than those recommended by the original TRIZ (only 12% overlap), which evidences that biology often solves problems differently than we typically do with technology. In technology, especially at small scales, the manipulation of energy may account for up to 70% of the solution, whereas in biology, energy never figures into more than 5% of the solution. Instead of manipulating energy, biological solutions tend to leverage information (control mechanisms) and structure (material arrangement). For example, HVAC systems which allow humans to live in a variety of climatic zones are energy intensive; but penguins survive extreme cold because their feathers are short, stiff, and interlock to trap a layer of air beneath that provides 80% of the penguin’s thermal insulation. This is a much more energy efficient solution to temperature regulation than a typical HVAC system. Thus, BioTRIZ builds from a familiar innovation approach, while introducing new problem-solving principles.

IEI am curious to explore how biomimicry could be integrated with other innovation approaches and tools; for instance,Innovation Engineering.  Innovation Engineering (IE) is a scientific system for growing a culture of never-ending innovation that increases innovation speed up to 6x and decreases risk 30-80%.  Over 1,500 companies and 15,000 managers have been educated in IE.  I met the founder and CEO of the IE Institute, Doug Hall, in September 2013.  Doug is interested in exploring how biomimicry might enhance the IE system.

I’m in the process of developing materials for the IE Institute. To start, I’m compiling descriptions of biological strategies and biomimetic inventions for use as ideation stimulus. These materials have the potential to spark meaningfully unique ideas for product, service, or systems innovations. Doug Hall piloted some of my materials at a recent IE Executive Program – a recurring 1.5 day training program where executives learn the fundamentals of IE – and the response was positive.  I’m excited to refine these materials and test them on a broader audience. Stay tuned.

What other proven innovation approaches might be strengthened by biomimicry…and biomimicry likewise strengthened through association? Let’s take a lesson from biological systems and cultivate more cooperative relationships!


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