On a cluster of very specific hills in Michoacán, Mexico, fir tree boughs are laden, even dripping, not with snow but with orange and black wings. The monarch butterfly is here for the winter. The monarch butterfly, the only insect that migrates, travels thousands of miles from its summer homes in Canada and the United States to its winter home in Mexico. The butterflies that return northward each spring are not the same group that flew south; rather they are the fourth generation of the ones that arrived in Mexico. The butterfly and leadership, what do they have in common?
The butterfly can be used as an illustration to explain some of the concepts of biomimicry, using examples from nature as a basis for management innovation. Most obvious is that monarch butterflies physically adapt to changing conditions. You see one as a caterpillar, chrysalis, then butterfly. Though their different forms, they are still butterflies; they maintain integrity through self-renewal. We can take away from this that we can still maintain the core mission of our enterprise, but the visual of our mission will take on different forms.
Their flight south is also an adaptation to changing conditions. The butterflies embody resilience through variation but also redundancy. Their flight patterns are redundant; they return to the same cluster of hills in Mexico. The variation is in the generations that arrive and return. This teaches us that cultural change does not mean a completely new company; rather it is a different generation of the company, suited to the upcoming season instead of the past season.
The use of biomimicry as a metaphor for company transformation began in the 1990’s with Janine Benyus book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. Now these ideas are transforming the world of management by emulating nature’s designs and core principles into leadership lessons. For a brief listing of the principles of biomimicry, you can check out the hack “Management Innovation According to Nature’s Genius” from Chris Allen of Biomimicry 3.8 at www.managementexchange.com.