Biomimicry and the Women’s March on Washington

This past Saturday, January 21, 2017, millions of people marched in support of women’s rights (and civil rights in general) as a response to the oppressive and misogynist messages coming from the new Administration. What started as a centralised march for women in Washington D.C. initially organised for 200,000 quickly grew to approximately 1.3 million in D.C. and 3.5 million collectively with marches occurring all over the world on every continent (yes – including Antarctica). This is an impressive display for a civil rights movement, yet especially in these times, the event(s) is not without its critics and detractors; the main critique being that this is an ad-hoc event and no change will transpire as a result. Yet as we look to hindsight of the march, we see that much of the march fit within biomimicry principles and in order to keep the momentum moving forward, there are lessons we can learn from nature to keep the march and message a success. For those unfamiliar with Biomimicry 3.8’s Life’s Principles, they are essentially nature’s design blueprints – a set of commonly evolved strategies that have emerged over billions of years.

The march initially started as an idea with the leadership of four main women (and one very intelligent male), yet even within that small subset of leadership, diversity was intentionally incorporated into the foundation and philosophy of the movement. The grassroots movement, carrying the ethos of diversity, was built from the bottom up, and as it grew, it was necessary to decentralise the leadership (yet keep it hierarchically nested) – and still diverse, allowing the message to naturally resonate and pick up along the various decentralised networks where locally attuned and responsive people were ready to leverage local resources and processes. Further, because of the hyper-speed at which such a massive event was conceived of, organized, and carried out – on the heels of another logistical (and policy-wise) nightmare, the information coming from the march leadership changed constantly; the decentralized networks thus incorporated an adaptive, flexible, and ecological resilience approach to the streams of information – always moving forward with plans, yet tacking and changing accordingly. The result was a stunning, peaceful display of solidarity at the D.C. and sister marches around the world.

So now that the initial march is complete, what can we learn from nature in order to carry on the success? Let’s quickly look at the adaptive cycle in panarchy theory. Briefly – where Life’s Principles can help us explain common strategies within nature, Panarchy Theory and the adaptive cycle is a conceptual model to help understand entire ecosystem process dynamics and the cross-scale interactions within and across nested hierarchies. Life’s Principles can help us design sustainable, biomimetic solutions; the adaptive cycle helps us understand the dynamic structure and flux of complex adaptive systems.


                  The adaptive cycle

The adaptive cycle is a conceptual model of dynamic processes of ecosystems which focus mainly on growth, conservation, collapse, and reorganisation, with particular consideration given to transitions. As of now, capital and resources have “grown” and accumulated (“conservation”) to the point of “release” (the march). The capital and resources are currently in the process of reorganisation. This period of reshuffling information is the perfect time to replicate the strategies that work, toss out the ones that didn’t, and incorporate new, unanticipated novelty into the next iteration of the “Women’s March movement ecosystem” to insure institutionalised learning.   We currently don’t know what the next iteration will look like and despite some having a feeling of unease from uncertainty…know that that’s OK – we know we’re in a natural process of reshuffling and reorganizing resources.

Social foraging behaviour can provide additional insights. Leaning on Giraldeau’s work on behavioural ecology, we recognize that individual learning of naïve beings (be it birds, bonobos, or humans) occur through observing group behaviours and thus cultural transmission of ideas and novel innovations transpire. Learning and cultural transmission occurred not only through naïve individuals observing the processes and messages, but also crossing geopolitical boundaries.


#WokeBaby taking part in cultural transmission through group observational behaviours        

One final observation: much like a bee hive or an ant or termite colony, the Women’s March on Washington movement could be classified as a Superorganism: where individual women (and enlightened men) form a distributed intelligence network where, like systems theory, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts to accomplish group goals – where emergent properties materialize to achieve far more than could initially have thought possible.   This is the ‘magic’ of complex adaptive (superorganism) systems. The women’s march will be a continued success if the emergent properties are nurtured and kept alive. We just have to continue to follow nature’s lead.

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