The Power Of Benchmarking Nature And Other Industries To Generate Breakthrough Innovation Ideas
Thomas Edison, who was a methodical inventor, once said “to invent you need an imagination and a pile of junk” (aka stimuli). One of the very best forms of stimuli comes from looking at other industries for ideas, relevant analogies, and problem solving.
Forbes, CMO NETWORK 6/24/2014
Thomas Edison, who was a methodical inventor, once said “to invent you need an imagination and a pile of junk” (aka stimuli). One of the very best forms of stimuli comes from looking at other industries for ideas, relevant analogies, and problem solving. The trickiest part is to figure out which industries to benchmark. That, in itself, requires brainstorming sessions. Biomimicry is an area that has proven extremely fruitful across a range of industries, as nature has solved many problems through evolution, and the best solutions in nature often determined which creatures and plant life survived and thrived. What follows are 10 examples of bio-mimicry and other types of benchmarking outside of nature that have proven highly relevant for new product and service development.
1) Japan’s high-speed Shinkansen “bullet trains”, were designed using some of the aerodynamic principles associated with the long, pointed beaks of hummingbirds.
2) The molecular pattern on sharks’ skin prevents bacteria from growing. This led the Sharklet Technologies Company to apply the pattern to hospital wall coverings to reduce germs that can be spread in hospitals.
3) Bat sonar or “echolocation” that keeps bats from bumping into things by detecting when they get close, is currently being applied to keep drones that fly around from bumping into people and objects.
4) Thistle plants and burrs were the inspiration for Velcro, because they attached and separated easily from soft fabrics.
5) The German company Festo benchmarked elephant trunks, which are extremely strong, forceful, flexible and soft, for use in factories to replace hard, more rigid equipment that was more likely to break fragile items on assembly lines.
6) The lobster industry benchmarked the avocado industry to learn how to separate avocado pulp from their shells, for insights into extracting lobster meat for making lobster salads. The high-pressure equipment used on avocado exteriors, proved a great solution for the lobster industry.
7) I‘ve heard the product and services design firm, IDEO, relate several times how they benchmarked Formula Race car pit crew teams to apply the way they’re organized, to developing nursing stations for hospitals. The analogy is that both types of teams are responsible for the immediate health of their charges, with instantaneous decisions required, multiple sub-specialists on each team, and one individual responsible for giving the ultimate orders that alert everyone when the cars and patients are ready and healthy enough “to go”.
8) When tasked with developing a better surgical clip to reduce bleeding during operations, Johnson & Johnson, years ago, tasked a multi-disciplinary team with benchmarking other types of clips from diverse industries including office paper clips and hair clips.
9) The founder of Pinterest was said to have conceived of the idea for the highly successful platform based on the visual image of the mounted bug collection that he created as a kid.
10) The brilliant, multitalented Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí used bio-mimicry as design inspiration for his building exteriors and interiors. Dragon scales and spines were the inspiration for the roof of the residence Casa Batlló, and the spiral of seashells influenced his unusual winding staircase in his building La Pedrera.
I wrote the book Catalyzing Innovation to start companies thinking about industries around the world they might consider benchmarking for relevance. It’s filled with several hundred categorized, visual examples across industries and countries, to set companies on the path of exploring analogies for new product and service development breakthrough insights. I recommend all firms when embarking on innovation, first take a look at other industries and countries for ideas.