WHILE walking with his dog on a Swiss mountain range sometime in 1941, George De Mestral (1907-1990), a Swiss electrical engineer, noticed that the bottom of his pants as well as his dog’s body was covered with plant burrs. He had a hard time removing the burrs that led him to an intellectual, curious inquiry.
Through a microscope, De Mestral discovered the burrs contained hundreds of very tiny hooks that led him to create a new fastening system, now popularly known as the Velcro. Over the years, we’ve seen and enjoyed the benefits of many products that copied the characteristics and features of nature. This approach is called biomimetics, also known as biomimicry.
Another example of biomimetics is the Eastgate Center, an office building in Zimbabwe that uses no air-conditioning and yet maintains its cool temperature, regardless of constant humidity in its location. Simply or not so simply, depending on where you’re standing, designers copied the natural ingenuity of termites to maintain the coolness of their mounds.
With this in mind, I wish people would continue to invent more of these products that are copied using the template of nature. The key lesson is easy to understand—the solution to our everyday problem is nearby. It’s right before our eyes, except that we’re blinded by our proximity to it, or we’re not conscious in actively seeking problems and solutions.
Charles Kettering (1876-1958), another electrical engineer who perfected the diesel engine, auto ignition system, and chrome painting and was credited for the formulation of Freon for air-conditioning and Duco lacquers, said: “A problem’s solution exists alongside the problem itself.”
In becoming an inventor, Kettering advocates that we should appreciate the value of problems. It’s a trite expression, but I will continue to say it here: “Problems are opportunities.” The challenge, of course, is how to turn them into excellent situations.
So, what’s exactly true and new? Everything is true, but there’s nothing new to what I’m saying here. In fact, I’ve said it a countless times before. And if you’re truly interested and serious, you have an obligation to your customers to have some direct, personal knowledge of their problems. The answer needs serious chomping and chewing.
Go ahead, go to your lawn, garden, if not the forest so that you can see the trees. Make assumptions that nature can give you the solutions to some pestering problems. Build upon nature’s idea, explore it, or even turn it around to see what comes out of it.
Eat that ugly frog, first thing in the morning. If you have three ugly frogs before you, choose to eat first whatever is the ugliest. But not literally, says Brian Tracy. The frog here represents the most difficult, recurring problem that’s pestering you, your customers, and your organization. In other words, don’t procrastinate.
When you have the luxury of time, put your ideas in a piece of green or any neon color index card. Post ot in your bulletin board where you can revisit it from time to time. See if you have a new perspective. Test and retest your assumptions. If not, sound off your ideas to few of your trusted friends, even to old fogeys.
Viewed from a wide-angle lens, adjustments to your discovery may be more of the rule rather than the exception. So you better watch out. For instance, what did you learn after visiting the tomb of your dear departed parents and grandparents in this Halloween season?
Why do we have to clean and paint white the tombs of our departed relatives every year? Can’t somebody invent a paint plaster that needs no repainting? What kind of animal or plant does not wither in time? Can we duplicate it and formulate a paint that needs no repeat brushing?
There’s got to be a better way. And I know what you’re thinking. You have a question that says something like this: “How do you generate an innovative solution to a problem when viable ideas appear to be remotely apparent?”
My answer is quick and simple. You have to be born again. You’ve to go back to your childhood and ask a lot of whys. Never mind if it will sound like child’s play. That will be more entertaining.
Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.