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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What we Need to Learn from Nature

Julian Vincent, Professor of Biomimetics at the University of Bath, and a team of researchers wrote a paper in 2005 titled; “Biomimetics: its practice and theory”. It’s one of the earlier papers that really began to put biomimetics into context from a critical and pragmatic engineering sense. I have been dying to put this in a post, but there are so many different ways of approaching the content that I’ve been running around in circles. So let me get to the punch line and work my way back from there.

Here are two superb diagrams – cue sesame street music – can you spot the differences?:

Copyright © 2006 The Royal Society - A diagram of Engineering approaches to solving problems at an array of scales.

Copyright © 2006 The Royal Society - A diagram of Natural approaches to solving problems at an array of scales.

Noticed the big differences?

Information vs Energy

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