Biomimetic file 206: Impossible Logic

How reasoning on impossible assumptions can be a powerful rule of thought

Image: Creative commons. An imaginary number* is a complex number that can be written as a real number multiplied by the imaginary unit i, which is defined by its property i2 = −1. The square of an imaginary number bi is −b2. For example, 5i is an imaginary number, and its square is −25.

Highlight: “Microelectronic devices are currently fabricated by using processes that are intrinsically two-dimensional, and the inter-connectivity required in complex systems is achieved by stacking and connecting planar layers of circuits…on the other hand biological structures arise by constrained self-assembly, and are usually three-dimensional (3D)…a new research demonstrates that biomimetic principles of design and self-organization can be applied to generate multifunctional electronic systems of complex, three-dimensional architecture…”

Insight: An important field of mathematics deals with so called imaginary numbers* with practical applications in areas such as microelectronics; as a matter of fact most of our modern devices (e.g. mobile phones) exist because of these algorithms. This field makes outrageous assumptions which defies the fundamental rules of mathematics: assuming that the square root of a number can be a negative entity. Yet, by setting accurate reasoning on this single impossible outcome, an entire field of mathematics was developed and the outcomes of the predictions are undoubtedly correct to the point of being the basis of modern electronics!

What this field of mathematics clearly demonstrates is that it is possible to come up with accurate outcomes even based on inaccurate assumptions. The key is to know (and keep track) that the assumption is incorrect but that the logic surrounding it is correct. It is a very powerful trick to reveal hidden outcomes which would otherwise remain invisible by applying conventional logic.

This mindset can be applied to business: sometimes businesses have to deal with complex happenings that don’t seem to have any apparent solutions.  Yet, looking at problems from another perspective and anticipating changes to come based on impossible assumptions can help to forge strong strategies.

For instance lets imagine the following scenario: An insurance & financial advisory company is about to launch their new offering for retirement. Like it is common practice before the launch of a new insurance package, they develop a computer model which simulates various scenarios based on in-house algorithms developed by their analytical mathematicians. One of the tests involves running a range of impossible outcomes and in this particular case one of these assumptions is that everyone in the United States lives up to 100 years hold (obviously impossible). While running this assumption into the model an unusual behavior is noticed in the algorithm and quickly rectified. Once fixed they continue to run the models based on realistic life expectancy assumptions based on real life data and the product is soon after launched. The point here is that without this impossible assumption the error would not have been noticed as the odd outcome remained too small to be seen under normal realistic assumptions…

Are you stuck with a complex problem that does not seem to have any solution? If so, perhaps try the above approach by projecting outcomes based on false assumptions; you may be surprised with the outcomes…

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 or natural systems 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…

http://www.bluestrike-group.com/

Biomimetic file 186: Tubular Micro-motors, Spermbots

How to manage uncontrollable business processes

Image source: American Chemistry Society. Control*: the power to influence or direct people’s behaviour or the course of events.

Highlight:“Recently, a new generation of tubular micro-motors was invented by harnessing motile spermatozoa as propulsion force for rolled-up micro-tubes (Spermbots)…motile bovine spermatozoa are trapped inside 50-μm-long micro-tubes that have a diameter that is slightly larger than the head of the sperm cell…The flagellum serves as driving force that propels the micro-tube forward…Since the micro-tube consists of iron nano-membranes, it can be steered externally by magnetic fields…”

Insight: The organized processes that surround uncontrollable randomness in the reproductive cycle are an inspirational business philosophy:

As in life processes, there are areas of businesses operations which are controllable* and others which are simply not. Indeed, there is a difference between complex and chaotic in that the latest is uncontrollable. Some typical uncontrollable aspects affecting businesses would include the global economy fluctuations, weather related events, strikes, road traffic, various accidents, natural hazards, terrorism…

Yet being uncontrollable in itself does not mean that it cannot be managed. The only way to manage the uncontrollable is to accept in the first place the fact that certain things are simply beyond influence. Businesses which ignore uncontrollable parameters without adequate planning integration put themselves in danger because these aspects are associated with significantly greater risks…

By accepting this very fact, a business can more effectively focus on other controllable aspects but also work towards building risk management procedures surrounding the uncontrollable. In other words the trick is to treat the uncontrollable as a risk in order to apply risk management procedures that are to be incorporated in an overall management strategy.

It sounds simple but it is actually quite tricky and many corporations simply haven’t gained a clear map of where their uncontrollable aspects are. Do you have control?

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 or natural systems 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…

http://www.bluestrike-group.com/

Biomimetic file 184: Surface Tension

How to overcome obstacles with minimal risks

Image source: Seoul National University. Surface tension*: The cohesive forces among liquid molecules are responsible for this phenomenon. In the bulk of the liquid, each molecule is pulled equally in every direction by neighboring liquid molecules, resulting in a net force of zero.

Highlight: “a group of engineers, led by a researcher at the Seoul National University, have just created a machine that can jump on water…the engineers studied the mechanics behind the Water Strider, an insect that can easily jump upwards from a pond. It’s an ability that’s poorly understood in insects in general…The trick, according to an analysis of a high-speed film of Water Striders, is to push down on the water with the maximum velocity that the surface tension can take. The further the insect’s leg pushes down, the greater the surface tension that builds under the leg and the better the upward jump. But if the leg pushes too far, the meniscus—the curved water surface—can’t take it and gives way, allowing the leg to sink…it’s necessary to find the optimal balance: push down hard enough to make maximum use of the surface tension, but not so hard that you rupture it…”

Insight: The water tension analogy is an inspiring business philosophy: The faster an obstacle tries to break the water surface the more difficult it is to go through it; as a matter of fact hitting water at high speeds is similar to trying to go through a concrete wall and a guarantied catastrophic outcome.

Is there something blocking you from moving ahead? If so, perhaps consider a slower well-thought pass-through rather than trying to rush. A slower path is often associated with significantly lesser risks than fast aggressive actions. However, rushing through is always an option and sometimes succeeds (not without risks);

The point to retain here is that if one goes too fast, beyond a certain threshold point, than the failure rate increases sharply…

Diagram: Economic models follow similar trends: if you try to go too fast in trying to reach the financial break-even point by pushing aspects such as initial cost benchmark, the sales are likely to collapse. It is all about finding the right balance between time and cost…

The adequate planning of the completion speed of any project (time management) is crucially important in its success rate. It can be really tricky to find the right balance that will keep a project on the track of a successful completion. The reality is that in life some situations are subject to risk taking while avoidance is the norm. Which path would you choose?

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 or natural systems 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…

http://www.bluestrike-group.com/

Biomimetic file 183: Group Power

The human brain is composed of billions of neuronal connections, yet in all this “mess” organized thoughts arise. Picture source: University of Rochester Medical Center

Highlight: “the collective behaviour and nest architecture of social insects can inspire innovative and effective solutions to human design challenges…Individual social insect workers exhibit relatively simple behaviours, but collectively, colonies can perform complex functions such as routing traffic, allocating labour and resources and building nests that provide physical and social services… Unlike most human operations, social insects accomplish such feats without a supervisor or centralized control; instead, colony-level patterns self-organize, or emerge, from local interactions that elicit positive and negative feedback responses…”

Insight: Breakthrough innovative ideas most often arise from individual minds (or at most a few individuals) rather than larger group thinking. Yet, group thinking is key to adjust decisions that are to be applied within the group and/or beyond; it is an integral part of the delivery process. The paradox between restricted and larger group thinking can be challenging in modern change management strategies.

The common pyramidal top-down hierarchies of modern administrations is outdated and slowly showing signs of fading. Most corporations still restrict strategic decisions within a close circle  without any feedback from other layers of management. While strategic thinking will always be led by a few individuals within a group, managing the risks of the outcomes is a different story and group interactions can really help to clarify and mature a concept; the larger the group the more confident the outcome will be…

In nature feedback mechanisms are omnipresent (e.g. the climate system, heart bits., insect wing flapping…)  and contribute towards systems stability. Without dynamic feedback (negative and/or positive), systems would rapidly go out of control and collapse.

Are you planning a drastic  change? If so,  perhaps consider applying a robust collective feedback process before moving ahead. Social interactions (with some moderation) is key to future leadership and risk minimization…

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 or natural systems 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…

http://www.bluestrike-group.com/

Biomimetic file 182: Ripple Effect

How anticipating change can minimize business risks

Image source: pcwallart.com.

Highlight:”Researchers at UC San Diego have revealed a new mode of propulsion based on how water snails create ripples of slime to crawl upside down beneath the surface!…that explains how and why water snails can drag themselves across a fluid surface that they can’t even grip…The main finding is that soft surfaces, such as the free surface of a pond or a lake, can be distorted by applying forces; these distortions can be exploited to generate propulsive forces and move…the secret is in the slime…”

Insight: If one drops a mass in a steady lake, it is easy to visualize the ripples. With a bit of practice one can even anticipate the patterns that will result from the interaction that the ripples have with the shore or other obstacles. On the other hand, if you drop the same mass in the open dynamic ocean, the waves, the wind and other factors will make it significantly more difficult, if not impossible, to observe and predict these ripples…

The philosophy in this simple observation is interesting when applied to business: if you are going to implement drastic changes in an organisation it is wiser to do so during times of stability. If one waits for a period of crisis (e.g. a financial downturn, a political unrest or simply internal difficulties) to apply drastic changes, it will be more difficult to predict the impacts resulting from these changes and therefore they will be associated with a high risk factor…

Entropy is a measure of instability in natural systems, the more systems are  disturbed the more chaotic the outcomes, it is a universal principle with fundamental implications in the behaviors of the systems that surround us.

Are you planing significant changes in your business? If so, perhaps do so in times where things seem too good to disturb anything…

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 or natural systems 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…

http://www.bluestrike-group.com/

Biomimetic file 181: Electronics Fungal Processing

How changing the form of a problem can lead the path to business solutions

Picture source: stockfreeimages.com

Highlight: “The American Chemical Society has revealed how fungi can extract valuable materials from batteries that would otherwise go to waste…The batteries in smartphones and laptops, particularly the cathodes, contain a lot of lithium and cobalt. Methods exist to recycle these elements, but they are currently more expensive than mining new material… Consequently, a lot of old phones end up in landfill, while Earth’s reserves are depleted. Without recycling, cobalt shortages, in particular, could represent a limitation on battery production and the shift to clean energy…Professors at the University of South Florida, have put three species of fungi to work, drawing on the chemicals they release to extract metals at an affordable price…Batteries are too solid for the fungi to get at them without assistance, so the team dismantled the battery and pulverized the cathodes… This is a cheap process compared to the high-temperature activity currently required. Then the fungis’ organic acids go to work…”

Insight:  In this particular battery recycling case using Fungi, in order for the process to effectively work the cathodes have first to be pulverized and turned into powder form. It is the same product which presented into a different form allows the key process to work…

An important lesson can be learn from this process: when faced with seemingly unsolvable situations, sometimes all it takes is to reshuffle the problem and to find a different way to tackle it. Presenting the same problem differently can often reveal a hidden path towards a solution; it is a simple statement with yet fundamental implications in business and personal life.

The art of knowing when to reshuffle is one that is key both in solution solving and in time management. Are you stuck with a problem? If so, perhaps consider looking at it from a different perspective…

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 or natural systems 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…

http://www.bluestrike-group.com/

Biomimetic file 180: “Immune” Induced Cryptography

How assessing business health can minimize risks

Image source: Jon Han

Highlight: ” Darktrace’s immunity approach represents a compelling new take on cybersecurity…Modeled after the human body’s immune system, the EIS embeds in a computer network and learns what behavior is considered normal for that system… It can then spot suspicious activity and even work to slow an attack, just as the human immune system releases antibodies at the first sign of invasive cells… Where most cybersecurity companies focus on teaching their technology to recognize the digital footprints of malware or building firewalls to block intruders, Darktrace takes a more hands-off approach… Rather than rely on humans to feed them specific examples of suspicious behavior, its algorithms train themselves to find abnormalities—a technique that’s known as unsupervised machine learning…”

Insight: The immune system is a remarkable defense mechanism against external threats. Besides the complexity of the immune response, the simplicity of the approach is one that is inspirational:  Identify – Assimilate – React.

The analogy of the immune system response is a powerful business philosophy:1) Know how to identify the threats, 2) accept and assimilate these threats to ready a defense, 3) react to the threats.

Without the ability to identify and assimilate it is impossible to react with adequacy; Many corporations show obvious signs of this inability…

The constantly changing nature of the surrounding environment requires a dynamic defensive approach and this is becoming more relevant than ever before. Future successful entities will increasing become the ones that are most flexible in their structure, able to adapt and react to continuously evolving risk factors. How healthy is your company’s immune system?

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 or natural systems 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…

http://www.bluestrike-group.com/

Biomimetic file 179: auxiliary power

How positive momentum can be captured to improve business effectiveness

Image source: creative commons. Auxiliary*: providing supplementary or additional help and support

Highlight: “By combining the mouth muscle from a sea slug with 3D-printed components, researchers have managed to build a biohybrid robot that is able to move with remarkable accuracy and do unusual tasks …The mixture of living tissue and man-made parts is a sector moving into its own…The muscle from the sea slug is controlled by an external electric field, which should mean that in the future scores of the roboslugs could be released to carry out tasks such as locating toxic leaks or even searching the ocean floor for black box data recorders from crashed planes, outlasting conventional robots that would run out of battery before the task is complete…beyond the cellular structure being used in the hybrid robot, the particular motion of sea slugs is of interest…”

Insight: When talking about motion it is most often referring to primary thrust but there is another type being left behind called “auxiliary*”. The principle is simple and intends to make use of the primary thrust in order to generate further thrust that make the overall process even more efficient.

A good example would be types of engines used on certain planes, such as an old DC10, where the third engine mounted on the tail is only capturing the energy generated from the two other wing primary engines to generate additional power and gain efficiency.

Swimming sea slugs have a very different way of using auxiliary motion whereby an initial thrust generated by muscle power spreads like a wave throughout its body and is amplified by specialized muscles until it exits, the water pushed in the process  generates the thrust.

There are many situations where part of the energy generated is wasted when it could be amplified with such auxiliary principle and nature offers many good examples of optimization.

Drawing from the auxiliary power analogy, a simple point can be made here: when a favorable situation presents itself, it can be leveraged to get an even greater positive outcome (in other words exploit productive situations to their full potentials as it may take a while to have another shot). By learning to identify hidden opportunities in the surrendering environment, one can maximize the outcomes beyond the expectations; it is an art that can be mastered with surprising results…

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 or natural systems 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…

http://www.bluestrike-group.com/

Biomimetic File 178: Spider Silk Armor

Why sometimes AB is a better option than A or B

Image Source: Matusiac Alexandru, Shutterstock. From a legal point of view, a merger* is a legal consolidation of two entities into one entity, whereas an acquisition occurs when one entity takes ownership of another entity’s stock, equity interests or assets.

Highlight: “The US Army is working with companies to develop a new resistant material…possibly the far superior successor to Kevlar, the bulletproof, life-saving material worn by combatants the world over – and it is made from spider silk, one of the strongest natural fibers known to science…Although spiders themselves normally produce this, making a cost-effective spider silk farm is notoriously difficult. After all, they don’t continuously produce silk, and certainly not enough to be harvested…Their transgenic silkworms have been producing a composite silk – as strong as spider silk but far easier to produce…The main advantage of this material over Kevlar is that it’s far more flexible and at least 10 times as elastic. Kevlar is essentially inflexible, whereas Dragon Silk could be wrapped around a variety of complex shapes.”

Insight: The process of deciding where to draw the line in terms of cultivating natural systems or shifting to re-engineered processes can be difficult. Both can offer significant advantages over the other such as cost effectiveness by relying on species do do the work or consistency in output of the engineered product (e.g. precise consistent dimension). The answer is probably a combination of the two; the future of manufacturing relies in more dependency on natural systems combined with engineered elements to improve upon the natural processes (and not to replace it altogether!). As a matter of fact, the full replacement of natural systems by engineered processes is often (if not always) an exaggerated simplification.

In more conventional business models it is not uncommon that situations require either a split or a merger. Both can have benefits over the other but in the end a merger is often synonymous to more stability and lesser risks.

For instance lets imagine the following scenario: A large industrial group in the life sciences industry has ambitious plans to expend its portfolio. For some time they have been on the look-out for two possible acquisitions of smaller companies, one in the DNA sequencers production and the other in the gene therapy and diagnostic. While the original plan was to acquire either one of them, after much consideration they decide that both are worth the investments. After successful acquisition of these two companies the direction is faced with another decision: to either keep them as two separate companies or to merge* the two into a single new company.  The merging of the two offers a stronger offering in terms of logistics (the sequencers are an integral part of the gene therapy business) and competitive advantage while keeping them as separate entities offers more freedom to operate, flexibility and more focus on individual business lines. In this particular case because of the geographical proximity of the two companies the decision was a merger which turned out financially beneficial…

Are you faced with a decision that would involve choosing two outcomes? A point to make here is that when faced with confusion, often the solution is neither A or B but a combination AB of some kind…

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 or natural systems 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…

http://www.bluestrike-group.com/

Biomimetic file 177: Cyborg Stingray & Soft Robotic Breakthroughs

Image source: Karaghen Hudson and Michael Rosnach

Highlight: “Scientists have built a cyborg stingray that swims around using solar-powered heart cells!… From futuristic medical devices to synthetic animals, this coin-sized critter has plenty of potential..Technically known as a “soft robot”, it is comprised of a gold skeleton that is coated with a highly flexible polymer, which is a proxy for a real stingray’s “skin”… Its internal muscles are made of 200,000 genetically-engineered, light-sensitive rat heart cells known as photo-voltaic cardiomyocytes…when these layered cells are exposed to light, they are briefly charged and they contract. This causes the polymer skin to move inwards, which allows the cyborg to swim…”

Insight: Soft robotics and its enormous potential has already been addressed in previous posts of this blog. However, what is additionally interesting to mention about this particular case study is the breakthrough of using controlled motion that combines inert with living systems.

A problem that often arises with motion is the element of scale, powering lets say a human sized object and one that is a few centimeters or even millimeters in size is a very different ball game, not to mention when we start getting into even smaller scales at the cellular or atomic levels. Yet, recently solutions to provide controlled motion even within these ranges has been slowly making successful progress.

A point to make here that applies in many life situations, should it be engineering or management projects, is that scale is often an important parameter that needs to be kept in mind and that requires a customized approach. Often this is underestimated and the common approach of scaling-up without appropriate adjustments or transformations can lead to catastrophic outcomes; in other words, it is not because something works at a smaller scale that it will necessarily (there are exceptions) work on a bigger scale and vice versa…