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Honigbiene im Olivenbaum (c) Elke Barbara Bachler

Why I am into TRIZ & Biomimicry.

Honigbiene im Olivenbaum (c) Elke Barbara Bachler

As you might know I am collecting biomimicry news, using paper.li to do so. Some days ago I stumbled across an interview with Janine Benyus, published via wired.com. She is talking about the dawning of an eco-industrial age, where production plants are not only eco-friendly, but a prolific part of  the biological cycle – a welcome friend instead of an indispensable foe.

Visionary? For sure. Unrealistic? No, wouldn’t say so – difficult, and a lot of mind changing necessary to achieve a paradigm change like this. But definitely worth a try – why not end the war of jobs versus conservation?

That’s quite revolutionary thinking. However, I do not believe in destroying big companies or the industry – I do believe in changing the rules for what’s being economic. We’ve got an interesting expression in German: Kostenwahrheit. You might want to translate it cost transparency or cost interdependence.

Kostenwahrheit means that if we calculate costs not for closed corporate systems, but for interconnected entrepreneurial-governmental-social-biological systems, some undertakings are not economic, but the opposite.

Just think of generating energy using nuclear power plants. It might seem a cheap way to produce electricity – as long as you do not account for the massive long-term damages of accidents like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. Were these costs (or adequate insurance costs) part of the price of electricity generated by nuclear power, do you think we could afford it?

That is why I am into biomimicry. To understand and learn from the system we live in is key to wealth and well-being imho. Given, it is not easy to apply biological technologies, we are still in the learning phase. However, interesting cognitions are made every day, and fascinating technical solutions are based on these cognitions.

Just look at bees. There is swarm intelligence, they use most cunning structures, are part of the plant reproduction cylce … plus beeswax and honey are simply good products. I’d say bees set quite an example for industrial engineering.

There is much to be learned from bees – e. g. their decision making process is based on honesty. Bees dance to give directions. And the way they dance does not only describe where and how far away an interesting location is, but also whether it is worth to fly there, compared to the suggestions of other scout bees. Sounds like fiction? Have a look at the book of Cornell University biologist Thomas Seeley, Honeybee Democracy (short introduction via futurity.com).

Honeycomb structure benefits like robustness, ductility, light weight and surface gain are well known and applied in many ways. Architecture, light weight construction, catalytic converter, packaging design … you name it. Keeping in mind that for products to be robust and light at the same time is a technical contradiction more often than not – and voilá, you are in the midst of TRIZ.

The “Theory of Inventive Problem Solving” is based on patents, and all the knowledge that is stashed there. It offers a set of methods, using five strategic (even philosophic) parameters:

  • Enunciate the underlying functions and focus on them
  • Solve contradictions completely, without any trade-off
  • Define the ideality of systems and start problem solving with that ideal status in mind
  • Look for and use all kinds of resources within a system, even negative ones
  • Think in interfaces to overcome physiological inertia and create something truly new

TRIZ has a lot to offer, especially for technicians. And I do like its formula for ideality – maximum benefit without cost or harm.

So … biomimicry shows us sustainable process design and is also a source of interesting technical solutions; TRIZ helps to analyse challenges wholistically and suggests a knowledge-based, proven way to meet them. I’d say the combination of biomimicry and TRIZ enables biologists, designers and technicians to work together – which might be one of the key factors to bring on an eco-industrial age.

And I’d really appreciate to experience such an age. Not only because Hans Hammerschmid, the creator of the Johammer J1, said something that got me thinking. We talked about our economy and its flaws. I mentioned – in a quite cynical and morbid way – that at least our planet will survive, and some of our species might, too. He replied that if we do not willingly and consciously learn to change our ways, but are forced to, we will simply start anew, making the same mistakes all over again. Darn! That rings true, doesn’t it?

So … if we wait for the sky to fall on our heads (quoting Chief Vitalstatistix here) we will not be able to live up to “survival of the fittest”. Instead we might face the same fate dinosaurs did. Do we really have to do that? I’d prefer to evolve from homo prudens to homo sapiens – from merely intelligent to really wise. We do have the means. Let’s get on with it.