Biomimetic file 199: Metamorphosis

Why undertaking a major business transformation is becoming a necessity

Butterfly Metamorphosis

Picture: Kingofwalpapers. Metamorphosis* is a biological process by which an animal physically develops after birth or hatching, involving a conspicuous and relatively abrupt change in the animal’s body structure through cell growth and differentiation.

Highlight: “Locomotion ability, efficiency and reliability are key targets for a good robot…The linkage mechanism for robot locomotion is a discontinuous-constraint metamorphic* mechanism…Inspired by controlling strategy of the motor nervous system in peripheral vertebrae to the locomotion, researchers have developed complex mathematical algorithms to improve robot motor control and drive strategies…”

Insight: Never has the business landscape been so unpredictable as it is now considering the fact that businesses are facing multiple threats ranging from political instabilities, disruptive trends (e.g. the rise of robotics, 3D printing, online based services…) or mounting environmental pressures translating to stronger regulations. All these add-up to tremendous pressures put on businesses to drastically change their medium to long term strategies; it is no longer a matter of choice but an absolute necessity if a business is to sustain throughout the century.

Moving forward and drastically changing directions is not an easy decision to be made by companies as the outcome could be ultimately catastrophic if the wrong analysis is made and the transition is not managed adequately. The below are key points to consider:

  • ensuring the analysis and predictions are robust and reflect the reality (there is nothing worst than to base a change strategy on wrong initial assumptions);
  • ensuring the change will benefit the business (and not the other way);
  • ensuring a progressive transition;
  • ensuring the change strategy actually reflect the threats faced;

Are you concerned about the present and future trends on your business?  If so, perhaps be proactive in keeping-up with the rapidly evolving landscape and plan a change strategy for the medium to long term. As with a butterfly hatching from its cocoon, a proper business transformation will reflect three distinct phases:

  • Unchanged phase: the business appears to look good but it is in fact unfit for the changes to come;
  • Changing phase: The business may seem dull or facing difficulties when it fact it is getting a defense ready (apparent chaos is a sign of change, this phase must be closely monitored and managed. It is also wise to inform the stakeholders that the business is undergoing a transformation which is usually quite well received if communicated well);
  • Changed phase: A new business arises which, if successful,  looks much better than the initial one in terms of fitness and market competitiveness.

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 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…

bluestrike logo

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

Biomimetic file 198: Lords of War

Why setting appropriate business defenses is increasingly becoming a priority

sea-battlePicture: Sea Battle scene, Sheet from the album of Adrian van der Salm, 1707

Highlight: “One of the parade examples of agent coordination through a shared environment is the use of chemical markers, or pheromones, for path planning in insect colonies…Researchers have developed a digital analog of this mechanism that is well suited to problems such as the control of unmanned robotic vehicles…several promising mechanisms have been developed for general agent coordination and air combat missions…”

Insight: Social insects can teach us a great deal about defense strategies that can be applied to business. In order to defend their elaborate nests and colonies, certain species of ants have developed remarkable behaviors that are marvels of logistical adaptation.

In today’s world, businesses are increasingly facing harsh competition and threats from multiple angles which can at any time jeopardize the entire organization and its future to operate. Threats can be in the form of digital breach (hacking), physical (e.g. terrorist) or most often ethical wars (stealing of information and copyright infringements).

A  key strategic framework can be summarized in three phases:

a) Prepare: Be aware of the potential threats. This is a constant effort that needs to be flexible and adaptable to the dynamic conditions of the world. Like in a war situation room, major businesses should always be on their guards and on the look-out for potential developing threats;

b) Sense: It is not enough to be aware that a threat is out there, one must also be able to sense a potential attack. Setting-up defenses is key to the business integrity, whether it is firewalls for IT infrastructures, facilities check points or trackers to identify legal breach;

c) React: In times of crisis, if caught by surprise, one does not have time to prepare an appropriate defense and is likely to react the wrong way, causing major and lasting damages to the business (this is often underestimated and realized too late). That is why it is so crucial to anticipate and have a defense ready in case;

In the end, running a business is not much different then fighting a war in that strategic planning and readiness are key to success. Are you fighting a business war? If so, perhaps remember the “PSR approach” and that readiness is key to sustainable success…

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 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…

bluestrike logo

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

Biomimetic file 197: Quantum motion

How Probability Charts can be Powerful Business Tools

566_image

Image source: Lithium atom electronic wave, CNRS. *Note: The Schrodinger equation is used to find the allowed energy levels of quantum mechanical systems (such as atoms, or transistors). The associated wavefunction gives the probability of finding the particle at a certain position.

Highlight: “Researchers have studied natural photosynthesis processes in a range of species from terrestrial plants to aquatic algae in order to specifically better understand the micro processes involved and to apply the findings to fields such as Photonics using quantum theories…”

Insight: In the field of Quantum Physics scientists have to deal with happenings that are impossible to see without high tech instruments. However, the field has managed to develop robust mathematical tools to predict the behaviors of these systems with a remarkable high level of confidence.

For instance, the Schrodinger equation* (personally my favorite of all equations), allows to predict the position of a subatomic particle at a given point in time. It is not possible to know exactly where it is but what this tool provides is a powerful prediction of its position range illustrated as a probability of occurrence within a narrow space and following specific patterns given the dynamic conditions.

This ideology is applicable to businesses especially large corporations which have to deal with complex prediction models. There are a range of factors which cannot be seen or known for sure but using the right tools and assumptions can give a good idea.

As an illustration, lets say a large agribusiness is facing production losses from insect invasions on its fields and would like to apply an Eco-friendly spray (that is just me being optimist) to control it. Since insects migrations are non static and have a high degree of unpredictability in their patterns, it is not possible to know for sure where exactly the impacts will be. However, models based on a number of realistic assumptions such as previous events or weather conditions can help to chart a probable path of these events to prepare a meaningful action plan which would be more economically viable.

Are you facing situations which require mapping an invisible complex happening? If so, perhaps consider mapping the outcome on a probability chart as this will set a strong basis for strategic decision making and risk management.

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 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…

bluestrike logo

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

shrodinger

Biomimetic file 192: Anger Management

How containing frustration is key to ones business integrity

octopus-inkImage source: creative commons

Highlight: “Octopuses are widely admired for their intelligence, their skill as escape artists, and their extraordinary ability to camouflage themselves…Materials scientists are also taken by the adhesive properties of their tentacles. By controlling the pressure in their suckers, the Cephalopods can rapidly grab onto and then release themselves from just about any surface they come across as they make their way along the ocean floor…researchers at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea have made octopus-inspired adhesives…the adhesives can be used in the transfer printing of nanomaterials to make flexible electronics and compound-semiconductor devices on silicon…”

Insight: The common octopus when in sense of danger has a rather drastic reaction, it releases an ink like substance that allows it to escape quickly while temporarily blinding its surrounding occupants. On the other end other octopus species adopt a very different strategy by mimicking (skin colors/patterns and behaviors) their environment in order to blend in…

These two very different cases of stress adaptations within the Cephalopods provide inspiration to yet another key business philosophy. While we all once in a while face situations where we feel like a quick escape, in business that is rarely a good idea. Indeed, containing ones frustrations is a key asset that will allow to overcome most situations. As a matter of fact in the business world frustrations and challenges are omnipresent and learning to contain and hide negative emotions can only be beneficial in the short and long term. Blending, in order to  escape smoothly, is a rather good strategy even if it means to temporarily accept situations that go against ones beliefs…

Are you facing difficulties at work and feel frustrated to the point of “slapping the door” ? If so perhaps adopt the strategy of a mimic octopus rather than that of a short tempered ink escapee!

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 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…

bluestrike logo

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

 

 

Biomimetic file 189: Lifeline Reserves

How being financially prepared can be crucial to businesses in times of need

honey-pot-ants
Image source: Honeypot ant, strangeanimals.info

Highlight: “Many insects, notably honey bees and some wasps, collect and store liquid food for use at a later date. However, these insects store their food within their nest or in combs… Honey ants are unique in using their own bodies as living storage, used later by their fellow ants when food is otherwise scarce… When the liquid stored inside a honeypot ant is needed, the worker ants stroke the antennae of the honeypot ant, causing the honeypot ant to regurgitate the stored liquid from its crop…”

Insight: While it is common sense that businesses should put money on the side for times of difficulties (like individuals should), the preparation is often obviously not enough.  Indeed, it has become almost common practice, especially for large corporations, to deal with financial difficulties in the easiest way possible: through moderate and sometimes massive manpower cuts. This practice is commonly simply the result of failure to anticipate business slowdowns which are in fact inevitable.

While it is sometimes indeed inevitable to lay people off in order to keep the business afloat, the practice is exaggerated and often unjustified. A common excuse sounds something like: “we are worth billions in assets but we don’t have enough cash flow right now to pay salaries!”. What businesses should do instead is perhaps to set aside special accounts with high interest rates to prepare specifically  for times of economic slow down; that is readily available cash money on the side (not only assets such as properties that take time to liquidate).

With such simple measure in place it becomes much easier to absorb economic difficulties while maintaining the workforce through a financial storm which usually only last a matter of months. Also worth highlighting is the fact that the damages resulting from manpower losses verses financial savings gained from manpower cuts is often underestimated as corporations often struggle to recover and need to reinvest heavily in hiring and training of new staff; not to forget the damages induced to the brand.

Do you fear for your workforce future? If so perhaps consider setting up special manpower bumper accounts as a lifeline for the workforce…

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 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…

bluestrike logo

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

Biomimetic file 188: Dormant Processes

How seemingly useless initiatives can be dormant powerful assets

genes-759x415Picture source: University of Washington

Highlight:“Scientists from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia have used a world-first technique to change a single letter of DNA in human red blood cells, triggering them to produce more oxygen-carrying haemoglobin…The technique could lead to new treatments for sickle cell anaemia and other life-threatening blood disorders…it has been done through an innovative process that activates a naturally occurring gene that’s normally dormant after birth…”

Insight: A large part of the genetic code is apparently useless! At least this is the conclusion that some geneticists come up with considering the fact that most of the genome does not code for anything we have been able to identify yet (e.g. morphological traits, immune response…). The most serious hypothesis on the matter suggest that nothing is in fact useless but that a large part of our DNA is composed of so called dormant genes which would only come into action at a certain point in our lifetime, for emergencies or for very specific tasks that may never come to use…

This concept is rather interesting and inspiring when applied to the business world. Indeed, in war as in business, the best strategists have always been the ones who think out of the box and seemingly do things that don’t make any sense to most until it actually turns out to be a winning formula.

Similar oddities can also be seen in modern business mega-trends, such as some corporate sustainability practices, which raise many questions on whether they are useful at all to a business considering that they may not have clear positive returns. The point to make here is that if everything in a business has a clear purpose as intended by some, than perhaps this entity is not suited enough to anticipate rapid changes that could differ drastically from the norm. Indeed, besides key business objectives, there should always be dormant processes which may become a lifeline in times of need (this is especially true for large organizations).

Anticipation through dormant processes is in fact the best back-up plan a business can have. Considering regular business failures materialized by massive manpower cuts as an easy response, it is obvious that  many businesses do not have adequate dormant processes to cope with change…

Have you ever come across business practices which don’t seem to make any sense? If so beware of jumping to conclusions as in due time you may simply regret not to have done the same…

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 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…

bluestrike logo

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

Biomimetic file 172: “DNA Origami”

Why learning from crisis situations should be an important business practice

image-20160523-11025-keou90Image source: Shutterstock. Crisis*: A time when a difficult or important decision must be made.

Highlight: “a recent development has the potential to massively improve our lives: an engine measuring 200 billionths of a metre, which could power tiny robots to fight diseases in living cells… researchers have managed to make micro-propellers using tiny strands of DNA. These strands can be stitched together so freely and precisely that the practise is known as “DNA origami”…However, DNA origami lacks force and operational speed, reducing its robotic function…to overcome that, they have produced nano-engines that can be operated with beams of light to work pistons, pumps and valves (a process referred to as ANTS in reference to the extraordinary ability of ants to lift items much heavier than themselves)…. Made from gold nano-particles bound together by a heat-sensitive chemical, the nano-machines are strong, fast and simple to operate, making them extremely practical for future applications….”

Insight: Sometimes true innovation takes the courage to detach ourselves from everything  that we know or believe to be right and to tackle a problem from a very different perspective. “Copycat” practices or behaviors towards a problem are all too common in modern societies.

Because the parameters and environments in any given situation change, so should be the mean to achieve a specific outcome with the most efficiency. This human trait has become apparent in emergency situations where crews were faced with unforeseen series of events that required fixing problems fast using whatever available solutions (a famous case occurred during the Apollo 13 space mission where ground engineers had to scratch their heads to guide a flight crew in trouble; there are many other similar cases…)…great innovations have also come from times of war (e.g. the Sonar, code breaking machines…).

The point here is that perhaps we should learn more (or at least remind ourselves) from times of crisis* for everyday solutions management.

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 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…

bluestrike logo

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

Biomimetic file 169: Robot Sea-Snake!

Why routines rather than punctual inspections can greatly reduce corporate risks

skynet snakeImage source: Kongsberg Maritime/Statoil. A catastrophic failure* is a sudden and total failure from which recovery is impossible. Catastrophic failures often lead to cascading systems failure. The term is most commonly used for structural failures, but has often been extended to many other disciplines in which total and irrecoverable loss occurs…

Highlight: “The Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Kongsberg Maritime, and Statoil are developing  Eelume, a self-propelled, aquatic, mechanical serpent… Perfectly adapted to swimming through the water – rather like a real sea snake – it is designed to examine submerged equipment, regularly inspecting it for damage and undertaking simple maintenance tasks using inbuilt pincers and other small tools. If they’re in a hurry, they can use on-board thrusters for a speed boost…”

Insight: We know more about our solar system then about the deep parts of our own oceans! Attempts to explore the deeps have so far failed due to far too expensive technologies and difficulties to overcome the challenges, namely intense pressures and darkness. Rather than sending people in outdated submarines, the solution is clearly going towards automated unmanned vehicles. Because the current unmanned vehicles designs are limiting in movements and lifetime of the batteries it seems logical that the ultimate exploration devices would in fact mimic natural species living in these ecosystems in order to maximize the efficiency of movement but also to blend-in among other life forms. Perhaps in a near future an array of snake-like robots would be constantly patrolling the world oceans building up a world database (perhaps even discovering new species in the process) and mapping the reefs and seabeds. A new challenge for Google?

The above point of constantly patrolling can be applied to business. Failures in businesses rarely happen as the result of a sole mistake but are often an accumulation of failures (catastrophic failure*) which under specific unlikely situations can rapidly escalate to dramatic outcomes. The best way to prevent such an unwanted outcome is through routine checks.

For instance lets imagine the following scenario: a small airplane company in South America operates a fleet of Dorniers (a two engine small-medium airplane carrier). Because of the small size of the company and very remote location in the Andes, this company is rarely subject to third party inspections in line with international aviation safety regulations and has developed a “relax culture”. The planes operate on a daily basis smoothly without issues until one day one plane undergoing a dawn flight suffers from an incident involving low visibility and unreliable instrument readings forcing it to undertake an emergency landing in a forested terrain. The outcome is severe: 10 dead and 15 survivors. After the crash inspectors from the US aviation Safety board NTSB are brought in to investigate the causes. After a few months the report comes out highlighting the obvious reasons for the crash: despite regular checks, this company has failed to implement discipline of its staffs to conduct consistent verification on its planes before all flights in accordance with regulations. During a recent overall checkup which was completed the day before the flight, sticky tapes were put to cover certain atmospheric pressure sensors on the left side of the aircraft and have been left behind after. On the morning of the flight, the technician on duty did not do a routine check which should have spotted the tape neither did the pilot. This simple sticky tape blocking air intake of the sensors has resulted in invalid information being sent to the cockpit instruments during the climb with regards to altitude and speed which has led the pilots in the limited visibility conditions to take the wrong decisions. In this case the series of events leading to the catastrophic failure can be summarized as: omission to remove a simple tape during routine maintenance; failure to undertake a routine check before the flight (2 times in a row from the technician then the pilot); bad weather and thus poor visibility; pilot errors in reaction to the unfolding events. All however relate back to this simple mismatch of a forgotten sticky tape which initiated this series of unfortunate events. It is no hazard that airline pilots undertake predefined checklists at different stages of the flights…

Are you involved with projects that require serious safety checks. If so, perhaps make sure that the most critical aspects undergo predefined stringent routine checks rather than once in while unplanned checks. This simple formality could avoid a catastrophic outcome…

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 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…

bluestrike logo

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

Biomimetic file 148: “Submerged Dryness”

Why avoidance rather than confrontation is sometimes a better business alternative

140973_505

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…

bluestrike logo

www.bluestrike-group.com