HR Indaba panellists discuss new ways of work: lessons from biomimicry


Nature has much to teach us – even in the modern era, and even at work.

Biomimicry Practitioner and educator Sue Swain said biomimicry is about changing the way we look at nature. Sue was part of an HR Indaba panel alongside EOH’s group employee experience manager Taya Howell and Da Vinci Institute’s executive chair, Bennie Anderson.

The panel unpacked learning more from nature and creating engaging workplaces, as well as how biomimicry can be used to create conditions for employees to feel engaged.

Sue said there are a multitude of lessons that people can learn from nature, “and it is based on the premises and understanding that plants, animals and microbes have been around for 3.8 billion years and in that time they have evolved into architects, engineers, designers and scientists.

“It’s really a journey. It’s a journey of deepening understanding and of evolving solutions over time. But what it enables us to do – because there’s 3.8 billion years of R&D that we can tap into – is some evolutionary things and that’s what’s really awesome.”

Bennie highlighted that it is important for people to understand that they are evolving entities as well as the importance of engaging with biomimicry and nature.

He said: “From a management and leadership point of view, the significance for me is the awareness that I have gained with age of our arrogance and ignorance. We know, therefore we don’t listen.
“We have to rethink as HR practitioners and managers, ‘How am I going to address the arrogance, the ignorance and the lack of understanding that we are evolving creatures and where I am today is much further than I was 10 years ago and where I was thousands of years ago’? What is the evolving engagement that you are facilitating for making everybody become something meaningful?”

Taya said that in order for this to succeed, corporate leaders need a mindset shift. “It’s about getting people to realise that there are things that we can definitely do differently and it adds material value; it’s about shifting out of people’s comfort zones and that, for me, is our role as we walk into this,” she said.

She added that there is already a lot of research and data available that speaks to some of the challenges HR professionals are facing. “But in order for us in a corporate environment to use those learnings, the one thing I walked away with is that we need to unlearn everything that we think we know, because the current environment within which the corporate operates – the hierarchy, the policies, the procedures – is completely contrary to the lessons that we take away from nature in terms of biomimicry,” she said.

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