Individual creativity exercise
Brief description of creativity technique
Biomimicry can be used to create solutions in product development and problem-solving processes, taking inspiration from nature. For example, the shape of bird wings has inspired the shape of airplane wings. Similarly, colour camouflage is inspired by nature. In biomimicry, structures, technical solutions, colours, functionalities etc. from nature are studied and transferred into product development and problem solving.
Exercise for skills at the level of:
Learning objectives of the exercise
Biomimicry is a great tool to use in product development and problem solving that
- increases creativity by honing the ability to observe and find interesting elements in nature to be transferred in product development/problem solving,
- encourages the application of creative, metaphoric and analogic thinking to product function. The ability to see possibilities also amplifies outside-the-box thinking and smart application of the idea. The assessment of the application’s creativity is case dependent and qualitative and linked to the aim of the project and accuracy of the idea.
The development process of biomimicry contributes to the development of different soft skills that are greatly needed in work environments, including problem-solving skills, analytic skills, openness, attention to detail, ability to focus and divergent thinking skills.
Biomimicry is a fundamentally interdisciplinary method for encouraging students to be observant of the complexity of the natural world and our interconnectedness to it.
Skills developed/enhanced by the exercise
In person: 1⁄2 hour or more
Online: 25 minutes synchronous—15 minutes to explain and assign topic and 10 minutes for follow-up discussion—plus time to complete exercise
How many people are needed?
One, or more (better for individuals, pairs or small groups)
In person: sketch paper and/or camera, pencil, journal, template, PowerPoint, internet access, devices or access to nature
Online: PowerPoint, internet access, devices, template, and students will use sketch paper and/or camera, and possible access to nature on their own or as homework
Instructions for conducting the exercise
Step 1. Introduce biomimicry with practical examples to help students understand the method. Inspire students to explore nature’s patterns and strategies and mimic them as they design their own solutions to a problem.
Step 2. Instruct students to find at least one example in nature of one of the following principles and write and/or illustrate (drawings and/or photos) the adaptation.
- Restrain excesses within the system
- Limit energy to necessities
- Form follows function
- Recycle everything
- Reward cooperation
- Thrive on diversity (The template is loosely based on a template designed for the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education and for course preparation, examples filled in can be consulted in the linked pdf. Link to PDF file.)
Step 3. Ask students to describe business world/ human problems that relate to the nature operating principles. Again they can write and/or illustrate (drawings and/or photos) to describe this problem.
Step 4. In class or as homework, students fill in the template using at least one observational example.
1. Students identify which operating principle(s) they have found in nature,
2. an example for, a business product or service that could be improved using this principle,
3. and then apply some aspect from the nature principle as a solution/improvement to the business/human problem and explain the adaptation.
Case study from desk research
Bullet trains inspired by Kingfisher birds: Japanese engineers faced a challenge to upgrade their high-speed bullet trains because the displacement of air ahead of the trains created a massive amount of noise. As the trains entered tunnels, the vehicles would often create a loud shock wave known as “tunnel boom.” This caused structural damage to several tunnels. The design team determined that they would need a more streamlined nose emulating the Kingfisher bird. Kingfisher birds have specialized beaks allowing them to dive into water to hunt while making a minimal splash.
Wind turbines modelled after Humpback whales: A Harvard-led research team determined that Humpback whales use bumpy, tubercle fins for propulsion, which enable the whales to choose a steeper angle of attack. The angle of attack is the angle between the flow of water and the face of the flipper. With Humpback whales, this attack angle can be up to 40 percent steeper than a smooth flipper. Due to these small ridges, sectional stalls occur at different points along the fin. This makes a full-on stall much easier to avoid. This design feature was applied to wind turbine blades to reduce drag and thereby improve power output.