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Applying Biomimicry: What Organizations Can Learn From Insects

Presidio Marketing | Tuesday December 6th, 2011 | 0 Comments

3p is proud to partner with the Presidio Graduate School’s Managerial Marketing course on a blogging series about “sustainable marketing.” This post is part of that series. To follow along, please click here.

By By Mila Zinkova

By Kartika Chendorain Tulusan

The Biomimicrist wrote in a recent blog post: “I’ve been applying Biomimetic processes to services, products, and environments and am now thinking more about how nature communicates, publishes, convinces, and makes others aware. There’s wonderful examples of how honeybees collaborate to make group decisions.”

The term Biomimicry, which is derived from the Greek “bios” meaning life, and “mimesis”, which means to imitate was originally coined by Ms Benyus.

Janine Benyus founder of the Biomimicry guild has been consulting several firms on what nature could teach organizations on life’s toughest challenges such as structure of materials, green buildings and transportation. Today hundreds of classic physical cases of Biomimicry inspired projects, such as the termite inspired air-conditioning system building in Harare or the silent Shikansen bullet train design inspired by the Kingfishers beak, exists.

However, Biomimicry can additionally be applied to solve complex social issues by understanding insects. The conference Social Biomimicry: Insect Societies and Human Design investigates lessons learned from bees, ants or termites and what could be translated into biomimetic design. These intelligent eusocial societies built super communities with millions of members, divide labor, search for food and caring of their young. Furthermore, social insects have developed a flexible, robust and self-organizing culture in contrast to humans without a central authority. Although individuals are only capable of simple behaviors, as a collective they have succeeded the most complex environments.

Researchers such as, Bonabeau and Meyer, highlighted how businesses have become fascinated by intelligent swarm performance of ants, bees and termites and have translated these into mathematical models. Unilever, McGraw-Hill, and Capital One have improved their efficiency on task division, organization of people, and plot strategy based on ant-foraging techniques.

How do social insects succeed without a central authority? Marco Dorigo explains self-organization is based on direct physical communication but more importantly through indirect local information, called stigmergy, where one insect modifies the environment inducing a behavior to others to follow at a later time. As such the worker is not “briefed” about its work but is guided, stimulated and rewarded by its task.

For instance, sematectonics inspires a termite to build a higher and higher termite wall and gets rewarded by the actual structure in this case: height. Ants stimulate food sourcing by leaving pheromones while walking that either fade over time or get enhanced by other ants that find intact food sources.

As such, artificial stigmergy algorithms have been applied in several areas such as foraging in networking or routing traffic and identification of shortest path, business work division and artificial intelligence such as robotics. My question is how can we now apply these lessons learned to social innovation especially within communication?

Kartika Chendorain Tulusan is a management consultant, and a MBA Student at Presidio School of Management.

Ms Tulusan aims to leverage her professional experience with her business education towards a career in sustainable management. Her interests are water, radical innovation, systems thinking and scenario planning.

She can be reached under kartika.tulusan@presidiomba.org

Follow her on twitter @kartika


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