Think Like Nature to Innovate

Nature stores many business success lessons for those smart enough to see them. Companies that prove able to interpret and transfer creation’s learnings to its own culture prosper on an on-going basis.

When it comes to pragmatically producing innovations, businesses and people tasked with a new product or service pipeline would do well to take notes from the chrysalis process.

First, note the fragile eggs. If they are not on the right host, in the right environment, they die. These eggs include new incremental ideas, adjacent products or services, and breakthrough business ideas that change the landscape and create a new category and leadership position. At this stage, they all look the same, have a high mortality rate, and need care and support. They are nurtured by white boarding, customer co-creation workshops, and further discovery.

Second, see the larval caterpillar. Eric Caryle’s famous children’s’ classic The Hungry Caterpillar provides the right image for this stage. Here the hungry concept grows and eats, and molts and grows, and eats more. This stage of development is where the innovation concept is fed benchmarking studies, modeled out in different sizes, played with in workshops, and where financial cases are drafted. The concept is cared for via the imagination, potential, and excitement. Keep away from internal politics and cocoon the concept with access to a humble, separate budget if the prototypes and preliminary numbers look positive and realistic.

Third, the chrysalis: this is where the magic happens. Just as a Vespa could no more imagine itself transmuting into a Lear jet, the humble concept cannot envision itself taking flight. Here, all cells turn into liquid, totally fluid—do not lose sight of the significance of this metaphor: totally fluid. In this creative, primordial soup, they become the alchemical agent, known to science as “imaginal cells.”

These imaginal cells transmute into something much bigger, more beautiful, and with a different nature than the original concept. The process, to extend our overarching analogy, happens when teams come together with a sense of mission and possibility and infuse the concept with radical perspective of what can be.

It is a visionary exercise and those who only criticize or only see limits and hurdle should not be allowed in the room at this stage. They are not fluid enough to learn how to fly.

You know the end of the story: the sublime butterfly, new eggs, the process begins again. But, are you creative and smart enough to apply the age-old story to your business?

Can you access your imaginal cells and defy your original nature? Can your business fly?

Only the brave and the capable and the willing should try.

image credit:

Clearworks - Customers, Connections, Clarity

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Michael Graber and Jocelyn Atkinson run the Southern Growth Studio, a strategic growth firm based in Memphis. Visit to learn more.

This entry was posted in Innovation, People & Skills and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Think Like Nature to Innovate

  1. Alix says:

    This is such an awesome way of putting the innovative process into a metaphor. Thanks!

    Have a happy new year!

  2. Ben says:

    I like this part: The process, to extend our overarching analogy, happens when teams come together with a sense of mission and possibility and infuse the concept with radical perspective of what can be.

    Thanks for this post.

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