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Archive for the ‘Biomimicry’ Category

When Innovation is Counter-Intuitive: Fighting Fire with Fire

Posted by Plish on March 30, 2017

Wood.

A beautiful, versatile material, but humans aren’t the only ones who like it.

Bugs like it.

Fungi like it,

Fire destroys it.

So how do we make it more robust?

Typical approaches are to chemically treat the wood.  Soak it, coat it. But, some of those chemicals are downright nasty to humans and nature.  Plus, they often need to be re-applied frequently to keep the wood in its peak resistant form.

Turns out there’s a simpler, more effective way of making wood resistant to fire, and to critters of all sizes.

In Japanese the technique is called Shou-Sugi-Ban.  It’s been practiced there for at least 300 years, probably longer.

In English it’s called: Fire.

Yes, that’s correct.  Burn the wood.  Char it.  The process destroys the cellulose and leaves charred lignin behind which is much harder to ignite. (Ever try starting a fire with cold charred wood?  It’s possible but not easy)

From an innovation standpoint, I love the fact that Shou-Sugi-Ban is so counter-intuitive.

Often when people encounter a weakness in a material or design, the reflexive response is to avoid it.  Design around it.  This innovation hack embraces the weakness and capitalizes on it.

The technique is simple.  Look at the negatives and see if you can control and/or exaggerate them in time or space to create a solution that renders the negatives powerless at a later time or place.  In this case, fire is typically the end of wood.  However, by putting fire at the beginning of the wood treating process, the wood becomes resistant to fire down the line.

Another example from the world of fire?

For years oil rig fires have been extinguished by using explosions, and now a similar technique is being explored to put out wildfires.

Other examples of this contradiction based technique have directly impacted the lives of millions.

Vaccines for one.  By taking a pathogen and exposing the body to it in a controlled manner –  Voila!  Immunity!

There’s also Desensitization.

It’s used to cure people of allergies.  A psychological version of desensitization is used to cure people of phobias.  In both cases, people are exposed to the problem causing agent in a controlled manner.  Like the wood of Shou-Sugi-Ban, they become resistant to the very things that made them miserable.

So, next time you have a product that has an Achilles heel, see if you can use that weakness as a strength by applying the weakness in a preemptive manner.  The results could surprise you.

 

 

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Posted in Biomimicry, Case Studies, Design, innovation, Innovation Tools, problem solving, Sustainable Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Need Inspiration and Insights Into Human Nature? Don’t Miss These Sites!

Posted by Plish on February 21, 2011

I was recently asked for sites that I go to for online inspiration from a design standpoint.

The first, I’ve mentioned here before.  It’s AskNature.org – an inspiring portal for seeing how Nature solves problems.

The second is a site that I write for on occasion (and wish I had more time to write for), Trendhunter.com. They actually give away a browser toolbar that has a list of various trend sites – it’s a great resource  for ideas.

The last three are wonderful (and sometimes quite entertaining) in that they have a uniquely human touch to them.

The first, HighIdeas.com , touted as “the best ideas (while you’re high)”, often has contributions that make you think, say “hmmm….”  and reach for the Cheetos.  (For the record, I have never contributed to this site)

Halfbakery is a listing of “half-baked” ideas. It describes itself as, “a communal database of original, fictitious inventions, edited by its users. It was created by people who like to speculate, both as a form of satire and as a form of creative expression.” Some of the ideas here are not all that half-baked.

Last, but by no means, least, there is Failblog.   This site is a catalog of failures.  It also has a  subdomain that is particularly thought provoking:  There I Fixed It -Redneck Repairs .   This site is chock full of everyday people’s solutions to everyday problems. (For the record, I have never submitted to this site, though quite truthfully, I probably could have.)  There is brilliance hidden here.

What sites do you find particularly inspiring or revealing of human nature?

Posted in Authenticity, Biomimicry, creativity, Design, idea generation, imagination, innovation, nature, problem solving, The Human Person, Trends | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refocusing Our Powers of Observation – Innovation starts with an “Eye”

Posted by Plish on April 18, 2010

 

Too often we think of innovation as a set of rules, which, if followed, will yield some tidy product or service.  The reality is that innovations are more than a process- they’re the breech offspring of astute observation, brought into the world on the verge of being strangled by dulled, but aggressive perceptions and preconceptions.

An old, entrepreneur boss of mine boasted of being able to visit manufacturing plants and “steal with his eyes.”  He was the epitome of what  Swiss theologian, Johann Kaspar Lavater, described when he opined:“He alone is an acute observer, who can observe minutely without being observed.” 

My boss’s goal was not to copy something directly but to mentally catalogue what he saw – knowing that when the situation was right, he would subconsciously or even consciously, use what he saw as a springboard to something better.

We see, smell, touch, taste, and hear constantly but we are trained to ignore most of it as it gets in the way of ‘being productive.’  Yet, intense observational skills run in the bloodlines of innovators beginning with the very first humans.  

Everyone looked at the heavens. Yet, before even the dawn of the telescope, only a few observed that there were ‘wanderers’ among the stars: the planets.

 Everyone saw birds flying, but the Wright brothers observed and gave birth to the airplane.

As Yogi Berra was purported to have said: “You can observe a lot just by watching.”

Watching is more than light hitting our retinas.  It is seeing with the knowledge and predisposition that there is something wonderfully unique about what we are witnessing at this point in time.  It is cataloguing occurring at the locus  of the senses during an observational moment.

I remember many years ago I was tasked with designing a new locking mechanism for interventional drainage catheters.  (These are minimally invasive catheters that are used to drain cysts in the liver, or kidneys.  The locking mechanism keeps the catheter from coming out of the body during the treatment time.)  The current locking mechanisms all had mechanical keys or switches that would lock the catheter in place.

As I was watching a procedure I noticed Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Biomimicry, cognitive studies, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, imagination, innovation, Innovation Tools, nature, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, Research, The Human Person, The Senses, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Ask Nature – the Biomimicry Design Portal

Posted by Plish on December 1, 2008

There are hundreds of techniques for solving problems and coming up with ideas.  One tried and true method is to look to nature.   By mimicking what we see in nature, we can often solve seemingly unsolvable problems.  Check out this site  where they have put together (and are still building!) a database of biomimicry.  Check it out! 
 
 
 

Posted in Biomimicry, Brain Stimulation Tools, Creative Thinking Techniques, idea generation, nature, problem solving, Science, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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