Problem Solving: Copycat

There’s an interesting article at Fast Company about solving problems by copycatting.

Pete Foley, associate director of the cognitive science group at Procter & Gamble, was looking for an inspired solution to challenges faced by P&G’s feminine-care business unit. Its R&D staff had pursued several approaches, but none of them offered the breakthrough that Foley craved.

So he did the next logical thing: He took his team to the San Diego Zoo.

The zoo is developing a specialty in biomimicry, a discipline that tries to solve problems by imitating the ingenious and sustainable answers provided by nature. In a working session with the company, the zoo’s biomimicry experts made an unexpected connection between P&G’s problem and the physiology of a gecko. Other ideas came quickly, inspired by flower petals, armadillos, squirrels, and anteaters. By the end of the day, the working group had generated eight fresh approaches to the challenge.

Most of us don’t solve problems this way. We start by tapping the local knowledge, and if it’s insufficient, we go looking for specialists. But what if we’re following the wrong protocol?

We should stop looking for experts and start looking for analogues. It’s a big world: Chances are someone has solved your problem already. And she might be an anteater.

Photo by MeiTeng .

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