Biomimetic file 148: “Submerged Dryness”

Why avoidance rather than confrontation is sometimes a better business alternative

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Image: Creative commons. Metal corrosion is the single most problematic issue for offshore and sub-sea developments.

Highlight: “Objects that are kept underwater eventually succumb to the inevitable decay associated with being submerged – metal rusts, wood rots… These effects could be delayed in the future by a new type of rough coating that “deflects” water…The material uses the same strategy as water-walking insects such as water striders…”

Insight: The potential for water repealing technologies are overlooked. Indeed water corrosion related damages amount in the billions every year in sectors as diverse as static (e.g. Desalination plants) or mobile (Ships) submerged systems. An effective technology that will prevent corrosion will revolutionize these sectors and provide release from an ongoing financial burden. While various innovations have been tried such as keeping surfaces electrified, the problem remains. Perhaps preventing contact of surfaces with water altogether is the solution and nature provides multiple examples of such…

The above point of avoiding contact altogether rather than finding anti-corrosion solutions due to the contact of materials with sea water is inspirational when it comes to business. Indeed, sometimes when confronted with a problem removing the cause of the problem rather than finding a compromise can be a simple solution.

Lets illustrate the above point with the following case study: A well known consulting business is doing extremely well with offices globally. A branch in Jakarta is seeing a fast growing business and the teams operating from this office have become well respected by the clients but also within the global group for their particular expertise in financial risks management. This specific team is headed by a Managing Director to develop the business while the consulting aspects fall under the leadership of a Principal to whom 10 highly experienced staffs have been assigned. One day the Principal who has been in this position for the past five years moves-on with other interests and summits his resignation; pressured to find a replacement rapidly in order to keep the heavy work load of the team alive the MD quickly hires an overseas replacement from the UK external to the company who had prior similar experiences. After about 4 months in the role the MD notices a range of raising issues ranging from poor performances, delayed deliveries and staff problems. After an investigation conducting one-on-one discussions with various team members he soon finds out the source of the problem: The new Principal despite highly qualified for the role  does not integrate with the team at all, obvious communication issues with the team combined with a cultural mismatch leadership style creates tensions. Conscious of the implications and considering the strength of the team assigned to him, the MD after consultation with the COO based in the USA decides to remove the Principal and to re-assign him to the Hong Kong office instead with assignment over a full English proficient team. Thereafter, he promotes a senior manager within the Jakarta team to take over the leadership. In this particular case the source of the problem was very clear and the solution to remove the Principal rather than finding other more complex ways to resolve the situation (e.g. providing language and local culture classes) ended up preventing a disaster.

This removal strategy can however only work under certain circumstances and the following two questions must be asked prior to action:

  • Can the problem be attributed to a single source? Often problems are the result of a combination of factors and it becomes difficult to relate to a single source.
  • If the answer to the above is yes, can the source of the problem be removed without destabilizing the situation/system? While it is sometimes possible to simply remove the source of the problem, often doing so could create instabilities or even greater problems.

Are you encountering a difficult to solve problem? If so, perhaps consider the above avoidance approach but ensure that it is in the first place possible by answering the above simple questions. If a problem can be resolved by avoidance, it is a fast and easy solution that is often simply forgotten as an option…

More information: here

What is Biomimetics: the field of gaining inspiration from nature first to solve some of our most difficult challenges. Instead of coming up with our own solutions to a problematic, the odds are that species on the planet already offer an ultimate solution. This simple fact is also another strong case to preserve species at all cost as the intellectual heritage contained within or through the study of species is both irreplaceable and invaluable…

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