Catalyzing nature-inspired innovation in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Organizational Innovation Inspired by Nature

How can living systems inspire and inform new approaches to organizational innovation?

As a starting point for exploration of this question, this resource list was developed for the “Organizational Innovation Inspired by Nature” panel at the 2012 SXSW Eco conference in Austin, Texas. We hope you find these touch points useful and look forward to continuing the conversation. Comments are now closed—thank you to all contributors for sharing additional resources below.


Clay Langdon » McGarrah Jessee (moderator)

Timothy McGee » Biomimicry 3.8

Emily Sadigh » Alameda County Sustainability, Bay Area Biomimicry Network (resource curator)

Julie Sammons » Bay Area Biomimicry Network, StartupNectar (resource curator)

Kathy Zarksy » HOLOS Collaborative, BiomimicryTX (panel curator)

Case Studies

Suggested Applications


Collaboration & Teamwork

  • The Bioteaming Manifesto tackles the challenge of high-performing virtual teams by looking at nature.
  • In this piece on “Natural Relationships,” the BCI consulting group draws parallels between different types of relationships found in natural systems and new forms of business collaboration.
  • This Harvard Business Review article on “Creating Value in Your Business Ecosystem” describes a role and relationships for ‘keystone’ organizations in a market, drawing upon insights from keystone species found in ecological systems.
  • In this classic piece from 1998 titled “The Irresistible Future of Organizing,” Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers describe three conditions of self-organizing systems for human collaboration: identity, information, and relationship.
  • Explore three stages of self-organization for social innovation: 1) Networks, 2) Communities of Practice, 3) Systems of Influence in this piece on “Using Emergence to Take Social Innovation to Scale” from the Berkana Institute.


  • This opinion piece suggests that education would benefit from biomimicry.


  • This white paper describes organizational design and management implications for the U.S. healthcare industry when seen through the lens of complex adaptive systems.


Leadership & Management

Network Design

  • In a simulation described in Science in 2010 (and summarized on this blog), slime molds convergently designed the Tokyo railway network, showing that biological networks developed “without centralized control” may yield solutions to optimization problems.


  • Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. Chapter 7 discusses principles for a closed-loop economy.
  • Business Ecology: Why Most Green Business Practices Don’t Work…and What To Do About It. Describes twelve guiding principles for designing an organizational ecology.
  • Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software offers a broad introduction to self-organizing systems.
  • Honeybee Democracy tells the story of house hunting and democratic debate among the honeybees. Chapter 1 excerpt.
  • The Keystone Advantage: What the New Dynamics of Business Ecosystems Mean for Strategy, Innovation, and Sustainability draws parallels between strategic alliances and biological ecosystems.
  • Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World applies insights from physics and biology to improve organizational leadership and performance, with an emphasis on information management.
  • Learning From the Octopus: How Secrets From Nature Can Help Us Fight Terrorist Attacks, Natural Disasters, and Disease. Excerpt discussing how nature’s security systems are based on adaptability.
  • The Living Company: Habits for Survival in a Turbulent Business Environment. The founder of the ‘learning organization’ concept explores strategies for community, connectivity, and adaptation taken from the world’s longest-running companies.
  • The Smart Swarm: How Understanding Flocks, Schools, and Colonies Can Make Us Better at Communicating, Decision Making, and Getting Things Done. Excerpt on an ant-based simulation used by Southwest to determine efficient plane boarding.
  • Thinking in Systems: A Primer is a seminal book on understanding and solving problems using whole systems thinking.

Resources for Practice

  • Visual overview of the Biomimicry Thinking process as defined by Biomimicry 3.8.
  • Scoping Phase: Use the Biomimicry Taxonomy to help identify the function your design seeks to solve.
  • Discovering Phase: Find natural models for key functions in the Ask Nature Database and find groups of adaptive solutions in the University of Cambridge Map of Life.
  • Emulating Phase: Evaluate how well Life’s Principles are reflected in the resulting design.
  • The Biomimicry Education Network blog provides suggestions for teaching biomimicry, some applicable to teaching it within an organization.
  • This module on group behavior from Arizona State University is designed to engage non-biologists in learning about the process of self-organization.

Training Opportunities


  • BeeDance is a consultancy that works on solutions inspired by nine lessons from the honeybee.
  • Biomimicry 3.8 (formerly the Biomimicry Guild) has pioneered the practice of biomimicry with companies and communities since 1998.
  • Biomimicry for Creative Innovation (BCI) is a network of consultants that applies ‘ecological thinking for radical transformation.’
  • HOLOS Collaborative specializes in sustainable and systemic solutions integrated with the built environment.
  • Toby Herzlich and Company applies biomimicry to organizational and social change leadership.
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Comments (9)

  1. Emily Sadigh Tuesday - 09 / 10 / 2012
    BOOK: The Nature of Business: Redesigning for Resilience discusses how the business "optimizes, adapts, integrates systems...and supports life-building activities"
  2. Emily Sadigh Tuesday - 09 / 10 / 2012
    BOOK: The Nature of Business: Redesigning for Resilience discusses how the resilient business "optimizes, adapts, integrates systems...and supports life-building activities." (
  3. Emily Sadigh Tuesday - 09 / 10 / 2012
    There is an active LinkedIn group on "Biomimicry & Innovation" that folks interested in this topic may like to follow:
  4. Emily Sadigh Tuesday - 09 / 10 / 2012
    RESOURCES FOR PRACTICE: Principles & habits of mind for learning about living systems:
  5. Julie Monday - 15 / 10 / 2012
    Great resource additions, Emily. The Biomimicry & Innovation LinkedIn group is an excellent place to engage in active conversation about these topics with practitioners from around the world.
  6. Toby Herzlich Wednesday - 17 / 10 / 2012
    interested in learning more about Biomimicry applied to Leadership and Organizational Development? I'll be offering a workshop at the Bioneers Conference on Saturday, along with Karen Allen, Certified Biomimicry Professional. The Conference runs all weekend at the Marin Center in San Rafael. Here's the details: Leadership Lessons from the Living Earth: Turning to Nature as Mentor How can we lead our organizations and social change movements to become more adaptive, resilient, locally attuned and life-enhancing? Looking to nature's wisdom opens us to learning from 3.8 billion years of systems success, and guides us toward leadership patterns, practices and principles that are rooted in sustainability. This experiential workshop will introduce natural models that can be applied to strategy development and organizational change. Participants will work with "Life's Principles" developed by Biomimicry 3.8, and meet natural mentors to help answer their own leadership challenges. Council Circle | 4:30pm-6pm, Sat
  7. Julie Wednesday - 17 / 10 / 2012
    Thanks for sharing these Bioneers workshop details, Toby. Sounds like a wonderful offering! If you visit the Bay Area again and would like to explore opportunities for a similar session for the Bay Area Biomimicry Network members, please don't hesitate to get in touch.
  8. Peter Goldsbury Thursday - 25 / 10 / 2012
    Resources shared on line - New Tools for Growing Living organisations - biomimicry lessons from the Whirinaki Rainforest, New Zealand