A Prescription for New Ideas

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In past blog posts we have shared our views on why the San Diego Zoo finds biomimicry so exciting (see previous post, Butterfly Sparks Industry Revolution). Recall that our attempts to save species are increasingly compromised by their loss of habitat in the wild. Habitat is disappearing due to the depletion of resources. Biomimicry is learning from nature. If we could look to nature for inspiration for future innovations, it is quite possible that the plants and animals might “speak to us” about new technologies, designs, and products. All could be more sustainable, efficient, effective, and, from their perspective, take strain off of the environment.

How could a trip to the San Diego Zoo be part of a prescription for new ideas and game-changing innovations?

Coming to the Zoo is a chance to slow down. Life in the 21st century is moving at a fast pace, yet you may have noticed that great ideas tend to happen when the mind quiets down and is not multitasking. In the shelter of a zoo, you can momentarily forget about the monthly reports and predictable routine (as hectic as it might be) waiting back at the office. Great ideas also happen as one steps away from personal silos. I have noticed that I have great ideas when I travel, and often it is not even at the destination. They seem to pop up at the airport, simply because I am out of my routine (please ignore the irony that I work at the San Diego Zoo).

A trip to the Zoo is different for every individual, and part of that is because you bring “you” to your encounter with nature…your training, beliefs, and curiosity. Maybe you are crazy about pandas, or snakes give you the shivers, or find the grace of giraffes fascinating to watch. Any vista of nature—sights, sounds, and smells—is not random, yet no two people will see the same thing. What one experiences are patterns: patterns that are unconscious analogies for the challenges you face each day. These analogies take many forms and are visions feeding into the imagination. At the zoo you are minutes away from the wilds of Madagascar, New Guinea, and South America. It is definitely not the cubicle or conference room at the office.

The Zoo is a different, far larger world of stimulation, where the less restrictive the analogies, the bigger the leap one can make. These analogies twist and turn and begin to map themselves point by point into a mental picture that is not yet a solution but suddenly captures your attention. That close-up image of the butterfly’s wing or the gecko’s toes suddenly, amazingly, speaks in a language that has meaning for your problem at work. Welcome to the world of biomimicry, as inspiration “pops” into existence.

What is the San Diego Zoo’s role in biomimicry? A visit to the Zoo seeds the imagination with new thoughts, images, and analogies that may inspire great ideas to change the future. It starts with you. You belong in the Zoo.

Jon Prange is the venture business manager for the San Diego Zoo.

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