Just returned from Biomimicry Education Summit in Cleveland, Ohio with a brand new treasure chest of inspiration and knowledge – ripe for exploration. Humbling connections, heartening speakers, challenging discussions.
I’m glad there was an activity with a Life’s Principles Circle, which turned out to be not a circle at all, but a linear pattern of nature’s strategies (Jawa, you would appreciate!):
I’m also glad this exercise took place, as many interesting debates were put on a table from representatives of many disciplines. There were some interesting discussions around the word “shape”, and what this term means in different professions. A debate around the term “recycle” was an expected one. Yes, nature truly recycles, but do we? Can we equate our understanding of “recycling” to its phenomenon in “nature”?
I was particularly interested in the Be resource efficient on 2011 version of Life’s Principles vs. Optimize rather than maximize on the old 2009 version, which I would like to discuss.
Can Optimize rather than maximize be compared to Be resource efficient?
Optimize rather than maximize
I had an interesting discussion with Michelle Fehler and Rob about this over lunch at the Botanical Gardens of Cleveland.
As Mr. Hoagland pointed out in his book Exploring the Way Life Works: The Science of Biology, to optimize means to achieve just the right amount – a value in the middle range between too much and too little. Too much or too little sugar in the blood will kill. Everyone needs calcium and iron, but too much is toxic. At the level of the organism, optimizing is an intricate dance involving many interesting parts and values. Something that might make the antlers of a deer stronger, like a higher mineral content, might also make them heavier or unable to grow quickly enough. A peacock’s tail can only grow so large in relation to body size before it impedes the bird’s ability to get around.
Michelle gave an excellent example of information overload in the world of advertising. A term popularized by Alvin Toffler in his book Future Shock, is found all too often in the world of contemporary media. I bet, when Marshall McLuhan said that the medium is the message, he could never even imagine the effect of a medium in the world we live in today, compared to the year Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man was published in. In some parts of the world, people are underexposed, having lack of information to base their decisions on. In other countries, advertisement is maximized to the point that it becomes addictive, in that more leads to even more with no spring-back mechanism to keep it in check.
If nature can control maximization by, let’s say, making a peacock with a humongous tail more cumbersome and less versatile when escaping from predators (killing off the gene slowly, but surely); our industrial systems thrive on and encourage such addiction. So, if a peacock would suddenly grow a gigantic tail by guzzling steroids at a nearby gym and felt too heavy and unbalanced during walks, he would probably get a sports car (big enough for his tail) and have no problem procreating.
Be resource efficient
This strategy speaks to me as an industrial designer. Instead of attempting to maximize production at every single node of industrial systems, we have to optimize productive capacities of these systems. In nature, as the costs of maximization rise, the species self-corrects. In industrial systems, as the cost of oil rises … well, companies churn out more gasoline cars.
I would vote for bringing back Optimize rather than maximize and placing it in Evolve to survive strategy. Too much information has almost no chance of a long-term survival in a consumer’s mind, but just enough helps us make associative connections and ultimately – informed decisions.