Design, Engineering, Science – Their Differences through the lens of Biomimicry

Is this holy trinity of innovation? Note: Am making sure that strategy and tactics are at the same hierarchy - I think that is critical.

I have had the opportunity to spend some time with amazing people over the last couple of weeks. These include everything from researchers in basic science laboratories looking for nature’s recipes, to architects working on enormous projects collaborating directly with engineers, and the never ending flow of creative students who keep willingly signing up for my design thinking experiments. At the risk of gross over simplification, I’m beginning to see some repeating patterns.

Vision, Strategy and Tactics – the holy trinity of innovation

I wrote about vision, strategy and tactical thinking when I first began this blog, but it has never really been out of my mind. Here is my current synthesis regarding what they mean to me;

  • Vision = WHY. These are the fundamental values that drive an individual or business forward, and ultimately form the framework to measure success.
  • Strategy = WHAT. This defines the opportunities within the vision, or the problems that must be solved, in order to achieve the vision.
  • Tactics = HOW. These are the pragmatic, executable actions that must be resolved in order to achieve the vision.
Innovation occurs when all three elements line up and are achieved. While the above explanation ridiculously simplifies an incredibly complex process, it has helped me frame design process and scientific research in context.

Design as Strategy, Science and Engineering as Tactics

Is anyone offended by the above generalizations? There are of course individuals or sub categories within disciplines that live more one one side than another... perhaps business should also sit on the left page, fitting in at the why/what stage

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Impact of Behaviour

Behaviour is the gold of strategic scenarios. If you can shift behaviour, you may be able to prevent the need for innovation/technology in the first place. The following quote is from a document: “European Green Building Technologies” and it discusses the difference in behaviour between Americans and Europeans:

Europeans don’t seem to be as sensitive as Americans to temperature excursions in the workspace. They find somewhat comical Americans’ insistence on wearing the same clothing in the office year-round and expecting the same 73F temperatures, with little variation. This expectation of year-round constant air temperature is a great hindrance in adopting natural ventilation and radiant space conditioning systems, which can’t promise the “instant response” of overhead ducted, forced ventilation systems.

In Toronto summer is coming on strong right now. There are grumblings about it being too hot (after we have gone through months of grumbling it being too cold), but I am wearing a sweater and pants while sitting at my desk as there is an A/C duct directly behind me transforming my office into an ice box. Being in a condo there is not much we can do about it, and it is surprisingly easy to get used to the luxury of a very cool home.

Also found today is a pyramid / hierarchy diagram communicating the strategic opportunities of how / where to manage water. Unsurprisingly behaviour has the biggest impact. Have a look here.

Anyway, the document above has some absolute gold when discussing the big strategic challenges and opportunities within sustainable green building. I’m going outside to read in the sun.

Strategic Engineering

I need to do a deeper dive into their content. The web site has a superb array of papers and articles, with some excellent discussions around their visions and methodologies of sustainability.

Thomas Auer is a brilliant Engineer I was fortunate to meet last year in a meeting at OCAD University. He works at Transsolar KlimaEngineering, a very innovative German engineering firm that does a wide array of amazing things. More to come on that front.

While looking through my various notes as I reflect on my growing awareness of strategy and tactics I noticed something I had written down. Thomas, as a side thought, when we were discussing challenges in “green” or holistic engineering, outlined a couple of scenarios for how clients approach him. The vast bulk of clients still think in terms of the first option, but his personal focus is attracting more and more of the second option, as that is where the real change occurs. It all sounds like an echo of the discussions I have had within the field of Biomimicry.

  1. Client has moved forward with an idea, but hit a challenge that they can not resolve. They approach the engineers to solve the problem. The engineers are able to chart out a very clear, sequential process.
  2. Client is interested in challenging the scope of their project, and invites the consultant in at the beginning to establish aggressive vision. The engineers are able to shape the project proposal, and develop an integrated design process.

I need to find out if I can sit down with him again and get more information about enabling strategic engineering consultation…