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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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…

Does Biomimicry as a Tool = Sustainability?

Recently I have begun to learn the difference between vision, strategy and tactic. These are not new concepts for me, personally, but until now I had never understood why the specifics necessarily mattered. To help explain this let me summarize these concepts as best I can.

Strategy = What. Tactic = How. Vision = Why.

(Note: enormous thanks to Alex Manu, and apologies for enormous over simplification).

What problem needs to be solved? What need must be met? What opportunity must be taken? These are questions of strategy, that guide the success of an individual, organization or business. The tactical challenge is to resolve those problems, meet the needs, or seize the opportunities. The vision is the driving force behind why anyone would commit to undertaking those challenges.

This has become important to me recently as I realized I was focusing on a tactical tool, while overlooking any strategic vision. If it sounds as though I am speaking in riddles, then you get a small glimpse into the circling chaos inside my mind as these ideas collide painfully together. Let me explain.

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