Biomimicry as Journey vs DestinationPosted: October 12, 2011
Last week I had an “ah-ha” moment around questions of teaching and consulting biomimicry. It became apparent through conversations with architects, project managers and design students that there are two different “audiences” or “practitioners” of biomimicry (or innovation in general), and consequently two different ways of approaching them.
Explorers – Biomimicry as journey
Explorers are people who don’t care where they end up, and are passionate enough to dive in the deep end without seeing what’s below the surface. They are hungry for process and enjoy the experience of growing, learning and evolving. These maybe companies looking for transformative change, or individuals looking for personal growth.
The experiences explorers are looking for challenge them conceptually and personally. These are often candidates for biomimicry fanaticism, i.e. whole hearted true faith in biomimicry as a solution to every human challenge.
Executor – Biomimicry as destination
Executors do not care how the final result is achieved, they simply want those results. Their personal goal is efficiency of cost and time, and risk reduction. They want to know that the final result will be achieved.
Executors don’t need the same mental stimulation, and are often frustrated by these as distractions. Personal preference is always towards focusing time on what needs to be achieved and how to achieve it.
Pitfalls of both personalities
Explorers who lose their way
Explorers leaping into the journey are likely to fatigue, or become disillusioned if results are not achieved. At the beginning they weren’t concerned by the results and were filled with confidence that these would simply flow from the process. When they don’t flow, or results are few and far between, fanaticism transforms into frustration.
Executors as sticks in the mud
If an executor is unwilling to change, or incapable of exploring paths that do not immediately generate results they often sabotage the process. Projects are hamstrung by evaporating budgets and unrealistic timeframes that do not allow the required amount of creative exploration. Executors can become such painful backseat drivers that it is impossible to veer down unexplored paths to look for deep innovation.
Welcome to innovation
I doubt this is limited to biomimicry in any way. These concerns are likely similar to any creative firm selling innovation to clients who don’t fully understand innovation. As an innovation consultant and teacher, I am beginning to see how I must adapt the paths of my audiences according to their personalities and personal goals. The biggest challenges come when there are direct conflicts between the individual, who is most likely an Explorer, and the company, which most likely fits the model of Executor.
The role of strategic research
Strategic research, which is often an extremely difficult sell to those not familiar with the concept, is critical to help map out the above conflicts. It involves an initial scoping research stage that attempts to define the context of a given project, all the factors at play, and the key fundamental needs of stakeholders involved. It is an initial meta-level survey that empowers all participants to be on the same page within the project.
Strategic research is fundamentally tailored towards defining potential end goals, giving Explorers a target to aim for, while articulating the complexities that will need to be explored in order to get there, which provides Executors context of the paths that will need to be explored along the way.
Strategic research sounds like an extra cost to project managers at the beginning of a project, but anyone who has wasted time following rabbit holes that are clearly of no value when viewed through the rosy lens of hindsight should be able to recognized the reduction of risk created through foresight.
A little time at the beginning to gain perspective is enormously valuable at the end.