One of the classic questions in the creativity strategy Synectics is “What animal is like….?” Or “What in nature is like….?” The problem at hand is compared to something in nature that solves a similar problem. There is wisdom in nature. You probably all know the story of Swiss inventor George de Mestral, whose examination of the cockleburs stuck to his pants led to the development of hook and loop fasteners like Velcro. The cockleburs’ structure presented a whole new strategy for sticking things together.
The process of taking ideas from biology and using them to solve human problems is called biomimetics, or biomimicry. There are a variety of resources available to help students understand biomimicry, and perhaps apply it to their own design or invention problems. If nothing else, it will help them view the world around them with more curiosity and wonder—and that’s one of the roots of all creative thought.
An easy introduction to biomimicry is the book Biomimicry: Inventions Inspired by Nature. It is a picture book but is fascinating for anyone from upper elementary grades through adulthood. It includes both examples of problems solved through imitating nature and intriguing ways natural designs might serve as inspiration for problems at hand. It also provides the answer to the question above. How is that billboard like a squid? Squid change color using color-filled sacs called chromatophores. When the squid contracts the muscles around a chromataphore, the color show—relax the muscle and the color is hidden. Contracting and relaxing various muscles allows the squid to create patterns. Some electronic billboards use similar patterns of microcapsules to form messages. Amazing, isn’t it? Similar information, but without specific references to biomimicry is found in Nature Got There First: Inventions Inspired by Nature. Given the identical subtitles, clearly nature is inspirational!
For more information, you might enjoy a National Geographic introduction to biomimetics that might be subtitled, “Did that lizard just drink from his leg?” Or for more detail, see Janine Benyus’ intriguing TED talk below.
Learning more about biomimicry could be a fascinating addition to studies of invention, design, creativity, or biology. I’d love to hear how you use it.