Foraging in an unstable economy or why we have to move past the Occupation of Wall Street


Foraging Theory states that animals search and obtain nutrients in a way that maximizes their energy intake E per unit time T spent foraging, producing an expression that looks something like this: E/T. Of course, there is always a seesaw play between optimizing the net rate of energy gain and conserving the most amount of energy. Here is an example:

A colony of ants is following a short trail to obtain profit (they, as a group, have found the shortest path possible to optimize their energy expenditure and maximize nutrient intake). A colony of corporations has chosen a path of greater resource depletion and energy consumption as a foraging strategy. Who survives in the end?

The Occupationist Manifesto

Occupation of Wall Street Movement is a successful demonstration of a problem, but the solution lies elsewhere and is long overdue. I am not an economist. I have a formal training in product design, in a post-industrial economy, where most of the production is being done offshore. This really makes you sit down an re-think your career path. It is either time to adapt existing foraging strategy and go into a tumbling mode, or learn the characteristics of the environment and start a saltatory search.

A key idea here is that environment – be it natural (depletion of resources) or economic (China is no longer yearning to produce goods for export) – heavily defines foraging success. Ultimately, the ecosystem dictates the optimal strategy via the process of evolution. It is up to an organism to coevolve with the environment for survival.

To me, it makes no sense to jump on the bandwagon of companies that continue tumbling about low resource concentration gradient. Now, more than ever, it is important to:

  1. pay attention to the proper aspects of the environment to locate resources and opportunities;
  2. learn to not go back to places where no resources can be found;
  3. plan to optimize energy over a short period of time.

Which brings me to another point: abstract the hell out of space and time

I was always interested in how living organisms cope with the complexity of the world they inhabit. I mean, how much more chaotically complex can our economic system become until it can no longer function? Organisms often abstract time and space to achieve their foraging goals by picking a general direction that seems to have the most resources, but not settling for “peaks”; and solving a problem of what to do along the way. From this, it is possible to derive a general rule:

  1. define a map of opportunities and resources that you want to learn about and plan over;
  2. define a map that simply states where you have searched and what areas you have missed;
  3. put a map of opportunities and resources on top of the search map and try to locate a point which corresponds to the best resource available.

This will help achieve two important desires:

  1. to explore the vast space of opportunities long-term;
  2. to satisfy the need to consume short-term.

Here is an example with Biomimicry and how it fits in with the whole Foraging Theory to counteract the economic chaos we are experiencing right now. The blue map contains examples of opportunities I, as a designer, have explored or wish to delve into. Map on top contains a myriad of tools I can use to tackle these problems or find connections / jobs / networks in this sector. Any designer is more than welcome to try their own foraging map and see what they can come up with as their career choice of tomorrow.

I say, get off the street and back to the drawing board

As a final note, the present Canadian economy is a result of long and persevering mass withdrawal of natural resources and production sector from its soil. The country is losing its innovative, creative, and entrepreneurial potential due to its own inability to compete on the world market.

It seems, we have overstayed our welcome in ecosystems we are not meant to survive in, and the only resilient solution would be to take a step up and reinvent local foraging strategy. I say step UP, because true innovation is not a linear process, it a spiral one. With all the new scientific knowledge, proper technological advancement, and philosophical progress, we are not only able to revive the economy locally, but actually start managing our abundant local sustainable resources and job opportunities for all the stakeholders involved in a smart, conservational fashion.


2 thoughts on “Foraging in an unstable economy or why we have to move past the Occupation of Wall Street

  1. Well said. Corporates are designed in a base that forgets that there are environmental constrains. Nothing, absolutely nothing can experience unlimited growing in this Universe.

    • Chris, absolutely. I would even add that there are two constraints: the first one is definitely the environment and resource characteristics, and the second one is abilities of the organism that lives in this environment (physical, cognitive, etc.) And even though, both an environment and organism can change, it still doesn’t cancel the fact that both have their limits. What’s frustrating is that some corporations view it as a threat, I view it as an opportunity : )

      Also, so awesome to hear from you! Miss our conversations.

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