Want to build an organization that lasts? Create a superorganism.

By Tamsin Woolley-Barker, PhD

For the past 25 years, I’ve studied everything from baboon cooperation in Ethiopia and orca whale innovation in the Bering Sea, to the Argentine ant invasion in my kitchen, and my colleagues at work (not nearly as interesting!), all through an evolutionary lens.

Today, I use that lens to help companies evolve.

I’m a Biomimicry Professional, and a Biologist at the Design Table, and the teams I work with develop biologically-inspired solutions for a Global 500 clientele. We search for the technologies that make life—and business—go.

As an evolutionary biologist, a businessperson, and a biomimic, I’m always looking for the deep patterns in life, trying to find out what lasts. And here’s one thing I know is true:
Organizations can’t keep growing the way we structure them today.

It’s simple math. Like dinosaurs, organizations keep getting bigger, but they need huge bones to support the weight of all that complexity. The more weight, the more bones; the more bones, the more weight. It’s a catch-22. Management is the ponderous skeleton that keeps organizations from collapse. But as they grow, the costs of management rise, and the ability to adapt declines. When sudden change comes, there’s not much a company can do—it’s a sitting duck (or dinosaur) for the next cosmic collision. Hierarchies can only scale so much—we can’t grow bigger bones forever.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with hierarchies. In fact, nature uses them all the time—to stop change from happening. Scientists tell us that cells go rogue in our bodies every day, but a hierarchical system usually stops those cancers from growing. Hierarchies are important and useful. But they aren’t the right structures for adapting to change, and they inherently limit growth.

Change is coming—with shifting supply chains and customer needs, upstart competitors and technologies, resource scarcity and volatile prices, change is sudden, unexpected, and potentially calamitous. Multinationals span many divisions and fractured market segments, their teams cross cultures, languages, time zones, and governments. All of it held together by management. Between technological advances and social revolutions, climate change and peak everything, companies inhabit an unpredictable world of their own making. They are bound to topple and fall.

Meanwhile, they have a mandate to maximize shareholder return. Companies that are beholden to this short-sighted maxim require infinite growth. What happens when they hit the limit? Something has to give.

As an evolutionary biologist, I find myself asking—who inherited the Earth in the dinosaurs’ place?



Message to COP21 leaders: Need solutions? Ask nature.

rome-, italy c-reuters

Right now, world leaders are gathering in Paris at COP21 with nothing less than the future of our planet at stake. Their goal is to create a new international climate change agreement that limits global warming below 2℃. If temperatures rise above that magic number, the UN predicts that between 20-30 percent of plant and animal species could be wiped out. If things continue as they currently are, we will certainly hit that number (atmospheric CO2 levels recently passed the 400 ppm mark, another measure of the damage we’re doing). We know we cannot allow this to happen.

As these leaders work to hammer out plans, they’re going to need to land on solid strategies to limit greenhouse gas emissions and keep our planet’s temperature from rising. Luckily, the solutions are right outside our window.

Nature is full of clues for how we can approach our climate change problems, in ways that not only reduce our climate impact, but help us to “…become producers of ecosystem services” (Janine Benyus). Biomimicry studies and then translates nature’s architecture, design, and engineering strategies to human design. Many of these strategies can apply directly to climate change challenges such as how nature upcycles carbon, harnesses the sun’s power, and creates electricity.

COP21 is focused on developing solid action plans and solutions. In that spirit, we want to share just a few of nature’s strategies and corresponding innovations that can lead us down a more life-sustaining path.

First, here is a small sample of some ways that nature captures greenhouse gases and creates renewable energy:


Carbon-gobbling cacti
The Saguaro cactus uses some of the carbon dioxide it removes from the atmosphere to make compounds called oxalates.These oxalates then combine with calcium ions taken up from the soil by the plants roots. After the cactus dies, the calcium oxalate slowly transforms into solid calcium carbonate (calcite), and sequesters atmospheric carbon dioxide into the soil. (more…)


#ThankOutside: Share what you’re grateful for in nature


With the holiday season approaching, the Biomimicry Institute and Biomimicry Global Network want to share what makes us thankful in nature and invite you to do the same. Post a pic of yourself or a loved one holding a #THANKOUTSIDE sign in your favorite outdoor spot, explain what you’re thankful for in nature, and post to Twitter or Instagram using the #THANKOUTSIDE hashtag. From now until Nov. 26th, we’ll repost our favorites. Don’t have a Twitter or Instagram account? You can send your pic and blurb to hello(at)biomimicry.org.


Read on to learn what the Biomimicry Institute team is grateful for, this year and always.



Urban mobility reloaded: Planning our future cities


By Dr. Arndt Pechstein

Our cities are constantly growing and an ever-rising number of people live on a very small fraction of the world’s surface area. By 2050, about 70% of the world’s population is expected to live in urban areas. Half of the population of Asia alone is predicted to live in cities by 2020. Over 60% of the land projected to become urban by 2030 remains yet to be built. Mobility no longer remains an optional luxury for an elite but has transformed into a non-negotiable to participate in society. Consequently, smart mobility solutions are gaining importance. How do we tackle such a challenge of global dimension? How do we serve people’s needs for mobility while simultaneously sacrificing neither biodiversity and environmental values nor human health and well-being?

The light bulb was not invented by improving the candle.”

Urban mobility Dr. Arndt Pechstein

Reinventing the wheel

Despite our pride of having invented the wheel (which is, by the way, not entirely true given that the golden wheel spider has been using wheel motion for millions of years before us) humans are not the only species tackling mobility challenges. In fact, mobility is an inherent phenomenon shared by all living systems. Everything alive moves, from cells to organisms to entire ecosystems. Over billions of years, organisms and systems have evolved to be remarkably adaptive to their surroundings with regard to transport, mobility, and logistics.



Designing for People Who Don’t Yet Exist

Designing for People Who Don’t Yet Exist


Evaporation: Closing the Gap between Forest and Urban Water Flows


By Jennifer Barnes and Alexandra Ramsden

Have you ever walked through an evergreen forest in the rain? There is a hush all around. The forest floor is spongy and soft beneath your feet, and the layers and textures all around you create a coziness, a feeling of being protected. As you take a deep breath of fresh, clean air, you know it’s raining big drops up above, but all you feel is a cool mist floating down through the canopy.

You can find expansive sections of this forest all around Puget Sound. For many people, it is a mental and spiritual health reservoir, a place that helps us reconnect and remember that we are nature. But it is also an ecosystem services powerhouse. It stores carbon, cleans the air and water, regulates temperatures, and provides shelter and food for critters big and small.

Before urban development, this forest dominated Seattle’s landscape. Dotted with bogs and meadows, with wetlands proliferating along the rich edges between forest and water, the vast majority of the region was forest. And the system operated in dynamic balance.



Top 5 reasons why you should be at SXSW Eco this October!


The Biomimicry Institute, Biomimicry 3.8, and members of the Biomimicry Global Network are joining forces with SXSW Eco to curate a brand-new conference track, focused on nature-inspired ideas, designs and technologies.

Nature, Innovation, and the Future of Design, will explore the intercepts of science, technology and design that are inspired, mentored, and measured by the standards of our natural world.

Playtime at SXSW Eco Light Garden, 2014

If you are in the social innovation and regenerative design space, then this track is where you will meet other social innovators, entrepreneurs and cutting edge leaders thinking about how we can re-align our companies, cities, products, policies and business practices with those of the natural world.

“Creating that marketplace for exchange of ideas and progressive thinking is what South by Southwest Eco is all about.”

Here are the top 5 reasons why you should be at SXSW Eco this year:



Call for Proposals! Biomimicry at SXSW Eco This October


Calling all nature-inspired innovators! The Biomimicry Institute is teaming up with SXSW Eco this year to present a special biomimicry track entitled “Nature, Innovation, and the Future of Design.” And their call for proposals is now open!

SXSW Eco - a party in a conference setting.

SXSW Eco – a party in a conference setting.


SXSW Eco, “creates a space for business leaders, investors, innovators and designers to drive economic, environmental and social change”. Their annual conference which follows SXSW Interactive, attended by over 30,000 per year, “celebrates innovation in technology and design that positively impacts the economy, environment and society”.

“Creating that marketplace for exchange of ideas and progressive thinking is what South by Southwest Eco is all about.” – Forbes

This partnership will help to shepherd biomimicry into mainstream culture and allows for the pollination of cross-sector, cross-industry collaboration within an annual gathering focused on innovation for good.

Interactive playtime at SXSW Eco 2014.

Interactive playtime at SXSW Eco 2014.

The goal of this biomimicry track is to inspire and create bridges beyond a very close-knit biomimicry community. With 7 hours of programming, the conference track focuses on finding the most unique 60 or 90 minute sessions that are interactive, engage the audience and will leave attendees wanting to not only learn more, but take that next step in creating partnerships, collaborating, and bringing biomimicry to the world.

Special Biomimicry Track Themes

  1. Nature’s Hidden Patterns: the patterns and processes that are always there, but elude the human eye (rapid fire presentations) – also open to poster displays during lunch hour
  2. New Insights & Discoveries: learning from related fields and science visualization
  3. Business as Nature: new models of decision making tools
  4. Beyond Biophilic Cities: solutions rooted in genius of place (a series of rapid fire presentations)
  5. This slot is reserved for submissions that do not fit into the above, but are a crowd favorite.
SXSW Eco 2014 welcome party.

SXSW Eco 2014 welcome party.

How to Submit Your Proposal

Because SXSW Eco utilizes a unique crowd-sourced system, each submission must go through their Panel Picker process.

The Biomimicry Institute will post additional information and submission guidelines shortly, so keep checking their page for more info.

In the meantime, if you have questions, please contact Adiel Gavish or Kathy Zarsky.


Re-printed from the Biomimicry Institute. Photo credit: Aaron Rogosin

101 Ways Nature Will Save the World


On Monday, April 13th, the BiomimicryNYC network helped Terrapin Bright Green launch their most recent white paper, “Tapping into Nature: The Future of Energy, Innovation and Business“. The paper, sponsored by NYSERDA, features 101 nature-inspired innovations and where they are in the marketplace  —  from concept to prototype, development and market.

The launch was held at the beautiful Loft Space at Pier A Harbor House overlooking the Hudson River and with views that included our Lady of Liberty.

Over 100 guests including sustainability professionals, business executives, architects, engineers, students and designers joined the festivities, which was also attended by sustainability pioneer Amory Lovins.


Jonce Walker of Terrapin Bright Green with Benita Hussain of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Jonathan Simkins of American Express.




Tapping into Nature: Launch Event


Bio-Beers Event BiomimicryNYC + Terrapin Bright Green


Join us for a special Bio-Beers event celebrating the release of Terrapin Bright Green’s newest white paper on bioinspired innovation.

Monday, April 13th, 2015
6:30 to 8:30 pm
Pier A Harbor House, the Loft Space

22 Battery Place
New York, NY 10280

Enjoy gorgeous views of the Hudson River from the Loft Space of the Harbor House while mingling with like-minded professionals and enjoying light hors d’oeuvres.

The evening will feature a brief introduction to the paper by the coauthors. Terrapin will also provide a limited number of printed copies of Tapping into Nature  for attendees.

This event continues BiomimicryNYC’s BioBeers network building series and is co-sponsored with Terrapin Bright Green and the Open Space Institute.

Eventbrite - Tapping Into Nature: Launch Event

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