With summer drawing to a close, I find myself wanting to make the most of the beautiful weather. The other morning as I walked along the beach watching the water draw out to the ocean and the waves come back in I noticed a lot of seaweed and ‘stuff’ in the ocean. I go for a walk most mornings and evenings with my wife and two young boys. It’s a great way to start and end the day. The point is that it has taken a few days for the seaweed and ‘stuff’ whatever it might be to wash up on the beach. But it did wash up.
I’ve recently been pondering a number of challenging and complex problems. Some are challenging because there is a lot of information to consider and compute, and others because the pathway to any solution is mired in politics, bureaucracy and a great deal of uncertainty.
Increasingly, I find myself looking to nature for answers. Intuitively this feels right to observe the way things play out in nature. Biomimcry is a growing field and one I believe we can look towards to support new ways of thinking and tackling problems. For those who will do what I do when not familiar with a term, and jump to google for a definition of Biomimcry, I’ve saved you some time. Biomimcry is “The design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modelled on biological entities and processes.” according to the Oxford Dictionary. A form of innovation by emulating nature.
Biomimcry is already applied in many fields, as disparate as architecture (check out: Michael Pawlyn’s TED talk) or in Medicine where we have improved needles from understanding how mosquitos piece our skin. How might it be applied in a leadership or management perspective?
Paying attention and being aware is a crucial capability as a leader. How often do we look to the clues that nature is offering us? The beach eventually washes clean. If you are patient the right answer will emerge. There is a clue here about being patient, letting the right answer emerge when the time is right and not pushing to get an answer.
“Before people even start to tackle a problem, their state of mind—and their brain activity— predisposes them to solve either by insight or analytic processing.”
Kounios & Beeman (2014), The Cognitive Neuroscience of Insight
Walking on the beach I feel good and my mind, like the waves coming into shore, wanders in and out of the problems I hope to solve. Insights are sudden, but they are proceeded by substantial periods of unconscious processing. Positive mood is correlated with greater levels of creativity and insight, possibly because it lowers the likelihood of anxiety which tends to narrow ones focus and attention onto a problem.
So in our desire to have certainty, to have the answer and to get things done quickly and make it happen, we may have to forgo certainty and be comfortable in the clarity that the right answer will emerge. So what I’ve learned is to sit back, relax, go for a walk on the beach and let your mind wander a bit…
Nick founded and leads Chrysalis Advisory, providing Strategy, Leadership, Culture and Business Development Advisory.