10 Lessons Aspiring Social Businesses Should Learn from a Spider Web (Part 1)

We often consider spider webs a nuisance… something annoying, or we look at them as the irrefutable evidence that we have not done our housekeeping properly. We often forget or dismiss the masterful exhibit of one of our planet’s state-of-the-art technologies. Most likely, the majority of us have no particular knowledge about arachnology (the scientific study of spiders). To tell you the truth, I did not even know the word until I looked it up in Wikipedia: “A spider web, spider’s web, or cobweb is a device created by a spider out of proteinaceous spider silk extruded from its spinnerets. The spinnerets are the glands spiders use in order to produce silk. Some spiders are capable of manufacturing up to eight different silks during their life time.”
To conceive such an engineering exploit is a technological tour de force. Spider webs are so stunningly complex that their study has become a science. Around the world, arachnologists analyze the physical properties of spider silk. They consider its scientific uniqueness and the technological input it may bring to future man-made woven materials. We can learn a lot from spider webs and spider silk. We can draw many analogies between their properties and the properties our private and professional communities could and ought to display.
1. Spider silk is one of the toughest bio-materials yet known
The tensile strength of spider silk is greater than the same weight of steel. Spider silk is five times stronger than steel and three times tougher than Kevlar. Spider silk starts as a liquid protein, which is too small to see without magnification, then hardens to a solid when exposed to air. Spider silk can be stretched significantly (one fourth of its length) before it breaks. It can withstand temperatures from -40°C to 220°C.
How resistant and resilient can our organizations be? How are our business communities confronting adversity and bouncing back from defeat? How expandable and stretchable are our enterprises, businesses and societies? How far can they “spread” and “stretch” before they finally break or collapse?
2. The spider web has the ability to adapt to different levels of stressOne of the remarkable keys to the stability of the spider web is the fact that “a spider web design, and the unique properties of its silk, allows just a single thread to break so the rest of the web remains unharmed.”  Can we say the same about our education systems, our management models and our manufacturing routines?  Someday, could a giant corporation like Apple tumble or “break”?  Could it be the reason that the unpredictable and creative genius of a Steve Jobs is not around anymore?  Could this cause a threat to Apple’s long-haul business strategy?  In “Apple Might Have a Bad 2013: 10 Signs of Trouble Ahead,” eWeek columnist Don Reisinger wrote:  “Apple could be in for trouble, as there are signs that iPhone demand is waning and its mobile market share is starting to slide.” If a corporation is threatened, will it adjust and adapt the same way a spider web can?
3. The silk’s molecular structure allows it to stretch
When a filament is pulled, the silk’s unique molecular structure unfurls as stress increases, leading to a stretching effect… The durability of the web is not just controlled by how strong silk is, but also how its mechanical properties change as you stretch it” says Dr. Buehler.  Darwin’s bark spider can weave a huge web over flowing rivers, stretching from one bank of the river to the other.  In order to stretch from bank to bank the Darwin spider must weave anchoring lines of up to 25m!  They weave such large tapestries by using one of the toughest, most energy-absorbing silks ever discovered, tougher than any other known biological and most man-made materials.  How tough and resistant do we train our workforce to be?  What sort of company culture and vision do we impart to them?  How far do we allow our workforce to stretch their minds and broaden their outlook?  How do we build bridges between departments and company silos?  How can we overcome isolated competitiveness for the benefit of community success?  When purchasing deliberately keeps a low inventory to earn CFO strides, production is postponed, client delivery is late, client production lines stops.  Does this sound familiar?  Unfortunately, it sure does to me.
4. The breaking of a single spider silk thread never threatens the entire web structureResearching on the spider web functionality, Dr. Buehler, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology goes on to say: “If a building, a car or an airplane is exposed to large mechanical stress, it typically breaks as a whole and the entire structure becomes dysfunctional.” He continues: “Each individual thread of silk could be ‘sacrificed’ to maintain the overall structure.  How far can our communities stretch before they break?  How much stress can they take?  Why did Kodak file for bankruptcy in January 2012?  Didn’t the management foresee the technological trends and the reality that sooner or later cameras would be digitalized?
5. Spider silk becomes spider food
Did you know that spiders can nourish themselves from the silk they produce? Spiders produce a large quantity of silk, roughly 59.43 meters (65 yards) a day or 70.81 km (40.44 miles) in their entire lifetime.   We could compare spider silk’s double functionality (web weaving and food) to bamboo which is commonly used for scaffolding in Asia but also consumed as a delicious plant.  Will we ever see the day when a man-made product will be used both as building material and food?  When will shareholders understand that greed destroys our planet?  It’s time to replace polluting manufacturing plants with clean sites and an environmentally biodegradable production output.  How much longer can we pollute, destroy and loot the very planet that sustains us?  Companies, entrepreneurs and leaders should bear in mind that short term greed will soon destroy our children’s right to live abundantly!  One thing is certain:  the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink… none of it will ever be digitalized!

In part two, we will look at five more spider silk properties and the physical and spiritual lessons they discretely continue to teach us, should we want to observe and learn.    

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6 responses to “10 Lessons Aspiring Social Businesses Should Learn from a Spider Web (Part 1)

  1. Bruno, this is brilliant! Love the facts (which I did not know) about spiders and their webs. The analogy to business is so clever. thank you. sandra

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