In the emerging fields of biomechanics and biomimicry, scientists are decoding rules that can help form businesses as hardy and long lasting as a forest. After all, nature is far harsher than the market: If you are not sustainable, you die. No second chances and no bailouts. Businesses that are capable of dealing with the challenges of a changing world will be better able to respond and to lead.
1. Diversify across generations.
2. Adapt to the changing environment — and specialize.
3. Celebrate transparency. Every species knows which species will eat it and which will not.
4. Plan and execute systematically, not compartmentally. Every part of a plant contributes to its growth.
5. Form groups and protect the young. Most animals travel in flocks, gaggles, and prides. Packs offer strength and efficacy.
6. Integrate metrics. Nature brings the right information to the right place at the right time. When a tree needs water, the leaves curl; when there is rain, the curled leaves move more water to the root system.
7. Improve with each cycle. Evolution is a strategy for long-term survival.
8. Right-size regularly, rather than downsize occasionally. If an organism grows too big to support itself, it collapses; if it withers, it is eaten.
9. Foster longevity, not immediate gratification. Nature does not buy on credit and uses resources only to the level that they can be renewed.
10. Waste nothing, recycle everything. Some of the greatest opportunities in the 21st century will be turning waste — including inefficiency and underutilization — into profit.
A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2009 issue of Fast Company magazine.