This is what a failed product development experiment looks like. I’m sharing this because I think it’s important to talk more about failure, especially in science.
I spoke to Michael DeLoach & NYC Water about the #FatbergFreeNYCinitiative. As a grad student at The Biomimicry Center I’m learning to use biomimicry principles and my experience in product development to invent a flushable wipe to eliminate fatbergs.
This was my green chemistry solution and my finished product. My dachshund, Phineas, is my lab assistant. He’s a bit like Beaker so I guess that makes me Bunsen Honeydew. We listened to the podcasts Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, Ologies Podcast, and The Story Collider to stay inspired as we did our research.
This was only the 1st attempt. It failed. And that’s okay. I stand by the green chemistry solution. I just need to find a sturdier delivery material that quickly biodegrades. Trial #2 is already underway.
And given that it’s May Day, a day when we celebrate those who work, toil, tinker, and invent, here’s 3 cheers for all of you working to solve our world’s toughest challenges and make this a better planet for all beings.
“Don’t quit before the miracle.” ~Anne Lamott
Listen up, gorgeous human. You don’t have to settle for the scraps that fall from the table.
I just woke up from a dream that put everything in perspective for me and I wanted to share it with you. I was enrolled at a very sexist college as one of only a very small handful of women. Graduation was upon us, and our small group was talking about making our graduate school decisions. A very old and cranky professor whom I had in undergrad in real life (who was not supportive of me at all) sat down at our table to tell us that it really didn’t matter what we chose to do because none of us were going to amount to anything. And I just snapped.
I stood up, grabbed my bag, and told this professor that he knew nothing about what any of us are capable of. I told him I planned to move to New York, and soon he wouldn’t have to wonder what I amounted to because he’d be reading all about it. Everyone would. Then, in true Leslie Knope fashion, I wished him a good day and said I felt sorry for him that he was so unhappy with his own life that he felt compelled to be terrible to other people.
Everyone at the table, including that professor, was completely shocked. (FWIW, everyone was wearing the same drab grey clothes and I was wearing bright pink. I was only aware of this after I stood up from the table.)
Now, here’s the fascinating part: in my dream, my dream was to have the life I have in New York in real life. That realization was a lightning bolt. I sat straight up in bed, in real life in New York, with every opportunity just outside my door. This is what I’ve amounted to: I have my dream’s dream.
Brian often tells me that we get what we settle for. It’s a refrain that rings through my mind every day. I’ve only ever been willing to settle for my dream, and bit by bit I got that dream. It was hard work, with lost of disappointments and twists and turns. I never gave up, and I’m not done yet. There are still some pieces waiting to be found and set in place—the right romantic relationship, another book, a film, a home I own—and they’re all abundantly possible. I know that now. Let’s go get Monday, shall we?
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” ~Steve Jobs
You might be heads down in a project now wondering why you’re being put through the trials you’re facing. There are likely bumps and bruises and disappointments and frustrations. You’re having to learn new skills that in the moment may seem like a waste of time and a distraction. I promise you they’re not. The challenges in front of you at this very moment are the ones you need. Someday, when you have enough distance from today, these challenges will make sense. You’ll see that the roadblocks today will help you rise tomorrow. In the meantime, keep breathing.
“The wilderness holds answers to questions that we have not yet learned to ask.” ~Nancy Newhall
I’m pretty jazzed that my final assignment for one of my biomimicry classes is giving me the opportunity to lay down the very first tracks for the invention company I’d like to build with biomimicry when I finish my graduate degree. At first, I was so excited about this prospect that I was actually afraid of it. This felt like a big commitment to make to myself. And once I put these dreams and hopes out into the world, I couldn’t take them back. Once I had to admitted what kind of business I really wanted to build in this field, I could unsee it. Sure, it could morph, but there would be no denying my dream. There would only be choosing to do the work to make it happen, or not. And so, I went for it.
The assignment was to imagine my career in biomimicry 25 years from now and the business I would build with a sustainable framework. Here is what I came up with. What do you think?
25 years ago in the winter of 2019, I took my first class in biomimicry. At the time it was a burgeoning field and in many ways felt like the Wild West, a new frontier. Every day there was a new discovery, a new way of seeing and being in the world.
At the time, our planet was racked with difficulty—climate change deniers, enormous and growing islands of plastic in our oceans, rampant habitat loss, and painful species extinctions. This is not to say that we don’t still face difficulties today; it’s just that now in 2044 there is no denying our role as the chief contributors to climate change. We wore out the planet’s welcome and her resiliency; now it is common place for most people to consider the environmental consequences of their actions and purchases. We simply don’t have a choice to ignore our responsibility now as we so often did in 2019.
After graduating from my Master of Science in biomimicry program at Arizona State University, I put together my 20-year career in product development with my passion for science and started The Green Atelier, an invention shop that reimagines, patents, produces, and commercializes sustainable products, systems, and solutions that mimic the deep design principles found in the processes and structures of nature. We work with for-profit, nonprofit, and local and international government agencies. We are a small and mighty team with skill sets in product development, business, science, design, and engineering. We determined that we must begin this business as we wish to go. And so from Day 1, we fearlessly put a stake in the ground and committed to create conditions conducive to life.
Zero waste and maximum resource efficiency
We operate as the planet operates, taking only what we need and returning as much as we can to the greater communities where we work and live. This conservative approach to resource management means we have what we need for today and also ensure that we and others have what we all need for all of our tomorrows.
We do not and never will use any type of toxic chemicals in our products, processes, and operations. When we must do activities such as travel, which is now much-improved with high-speed trains but still has a long way to go in terms of air travel, we make sure to pay a monetary contribution that covers our cost to the environment for that activity.
Locally attuned and responsive solutions
Context matters to us. Before we take any action in our product development process, we thoroughly research and incorporate all of the environmental factors in which our solutions must exist. We use locally available resources—including physical goods, labor, and mindshare. Community-involvement in our co-creative processes is always top of mind and a part of every project. We are guests in the areas where we work, and we act accordingly—with gratitude and grace. We listen much more than we talk.
Integration of development with growth
We recognize that progress can and must coexist with conservation. Indeed, the two can feed one another in a symbiotic relationship so that everyone wins. There is a level of give and take that fluidly happens in the course of our work. However, it is not without effort and consciousness. Every player is aware of every other player, and respectful of their right to survive and thrive in the same space. The investment of our time, attention, and action with this mindset is crucial to our success, and the success of our clients, customers, and neighbors.
Respond and adapt to changing conditions
In the past 25 years, our planet has become more diverse than ever. This diversity has driven a compassion, curiosity, and resiliency that has become the backbone of our strength as a species and as a cohesive, cooperative biosphere. Relationships are the cornerstone of everything we do. We experiment, expect the unexpected, make changes based on new information and learning, and then replicate that work. We are committed to continuous improvement with every breath.
While all of these operating principles of our business seemed aspirational 23 years ago when we officially opened for business in the first days of 2021, to us they were an absolute necessity. We could see what our planet would become without this unwavering and sincere promise to operate and build in a sustainable, healthful way. A world without a sustainable ethos was not a world we want to live in. Indeed, it was a world none of us would actually be able to live in. Without exaggeration, we were on the doorstep of extinction and we were the only ones who could pull ourselves back from the brink. We had seen the problem, and the problem was us.
And so we set about becoming our own saviors, our own solution, and thereby the saviors of our elders in the natural world who were counting on us to make amends and drastically change our wasteful ways for the benefit of all beings. We would not, and could not, disappoint them. They needed us to be successful in our pursuit, and so we did everything we could to live up to our potential and responsibility while taking on the genius of nature as our wisest teacher and guide.
23 years on, we have no regrets at The Green Atelier about our brave and bold choices to build a business on the foundation of a sustainable framework. Our only regret is that we did not do this sooner, that our society had to quite literally be on a burning platform before we would make the necessary behavioral changes to survive.
We cannot change our past, but now that we are awake, we will never go back to sleep when it comes to the consciousness with which we make all our decisions, as a business, as a community, and as individuals who are but brief flashes of light in the landscape of deep time. We are privileged to be here in every sense, and we’re grateful for the opportunity that life affords us to support life.
“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” -Rumi
We’ll be disappointed. Things won’t go as planned. Try another route. Another idea. Another pitch. These failures are all material. The detours are the journey.
Remember that a fire can also be a kiln. Whether it consumes you or improves you is all about your perspective. I’ve had a very difficult 24 hours. This point-of-view and great friends got me through. If you’re going through a tough time, I hope this idea helps you, too. Sending you love.
If I’ve learned anything this past year of saying yes, it’s this: your past failures and disappointments only define you if you give them permission to do so. I’ve fought against this a lot this year in every area of my life. It’s hard & necessary work. The truth is we get bitter or we get better. And it’s as simple and as difficult as that. I chose better. You with me?
I’ve been looking forward to this week for a year! On Friday I’ll be at M-W Cares Day, a character education program for over 2300 high school students, telling my personal story about how I overcame obstacles to become an author. The chair of the event read an interview I did when my book, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters, first came out almost a year ago and contacted me to ask if I would be a speaker. At the time, I didn’t know how big this event would be; I just knew I wanted to talk to as many young people as I could to be the adult for them who I wish I had when I was their age. I’m so grateful for this opportunity to help them through storytelling. This is the work of my dreams.
More details about the event and day here:https://www.mw.k12.ny.us/monroe-woodbury-high-school/about/m-w-c-a-r-e-s/
Some news. Shark mucus sounds like an odd inspiration. Stay with me. After the podcast Ologies released its shark episode, I re-examined biomimicry as a way to marry my product development, business, and storytelling experience with my love for science. I owe host Alie Ward and Chris Lowe, who was the shark expert on the episode a million thanks. Here’s why:
I always loved science and actually started college in the engineering school. After a professor told me I didn’t “have a mind of physics”, I believed him and left all my dreams of working in science behind. I changed majors entirely and have always wondered what might have been if I hadn’t let this professor get into my head.
Fast forward a number of years. I’ve continued to learn about science and its applications. Over the years, I’ve thought about different ways that I could have a career that combined science with all my other experience & interests. Enter Ologies and sharks…
Shark mucus acts as a built-in antibiotic bandaid that allows sharks to rapidly heal. This may contribute to their long life spans of – wait for it – up to 470 yrs! We should apply this to our own medical research, right? We do! In the field of biomimicry.
Biomimicry is an applied science field in which the wisdom of the natural world plants and animals is studied and applied to the human-built world of products & environments in a sustainable way that benefits all beings.
After some research, I learned there’s a Masters of Science in Biomimicry through Arizona State University Biomimicry 3.8 that’s a dream program. Multidisciplinary, online, created for working professionals, and with a travel research cohort component. Best of all, it leverages ALL my prior experience.
I’ve been a fan of Janine Benyus‘s work since reading about her 10 yrs ago. She founded this program. It’s exciting how much the field has grown & how vital it will be to use design + business + science to build a better world for all beings as we grapple w/our changing planet.
I’m now in application and scholarship hunting mode, hoping to begin the program in 2019. Finding the work we’re meant to do is a long and winding road. I hope my story inspires you to stay curious and to keep reaching for a life fueled by passion and goodness. The world needs us.
The only work you have to do is find and do the work you’re meant to do. That’s enough; that’s always been enough. Just do that.