We often consider spider webs a nuisance … something annoying, but we often dismiss the very skillful show of one of our planet’s state-of-the-art technologies. In Part One, we reviewed five remarkable characteristics on how an aspiring Enterprise 2.0 could learn from spider silk properties. Let’s look at five more lessons a discerning observer should be willing to consider:
6. Spider Silk combines both tensile strength and ductility (stretchability)
Scientists at Arizona State University (ASU) have decoded the secret of spider silk’s strength and what makes the fiber at least five times as tough as piano wire. “Spider silk has a unique combination of mechanical strength and elasticity that make it one of the toughest materials we know of,” said Professor Jeffery Yarger of ASU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The tensile strength of spider silk combined with its ductile i.e. elastic properties (stretching and retracting) is well worth appreciating. For any of us, it would be hard to imagine grabbing a man-made bar of steel and stretching it to an extra forty per cent to its original length. The fact that this exceptional biological polymer (related to collagen) perfectly combines tensile strength and ductility is mind-boggling to say the least.
Image credit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/science
How do we set up company structures that are more flexible? Businesses that can “stretch” (such as a spiderweb capturing prey) when customer demand grows, but also businesses that can “retract” when its demand decreases? How should these businesses embrace structural changes and seamlessly rebound when disruptive trends kick in? Such theoretical questions are difficult to answer and ratify. An adaptive (stretchable and retractable) enterprise roadmap would be even more complex.
7. The Spiderweb silk has stickiness properties
Spiders produce five main categories of silk. One of them is the capture-spiral silk, used for the capturing lines of the web. This sort of silk is sticky, extremely stretchy and tough, which should make us wonder how a spider can avoid entangling itself in its own web. To this day, scientists are still not sure how it is possible for them not to get caught in their own trap.
What is the level of cultural stick-to-itiveness that companies have to offer? How does the Human Resource department attract, motivate and retain talent while minimizing personnel turnover?
8. Spiders create exceptional spider web architectures
In Science Daily’s column “New Light Shed On the Mysteries of Spider Silk”, Dr. Kristie Koski and her colleagues from the University of Stanford report: “There has never been anything quite like spider silk. Stretch it. Bend it. Soak it. Dry it out. Spider silk holds up … it can expand nearly a third greater than its original length and snap right back like new. Ounce-for-ounce spider silk is even stronger than Kevlar, the human-made fiber used in bulletproof vests.” Koski goes on to write: “The complete elastic response of spider silk is described by five elastic constants that define how the web reacts to any possible combination of forces –stretching, bending, soaking, pulling or twisting.”
Image credit: http://www.redorbit.com
How about our business structures? How far can we stretch them, bend them, pull them or even twist them without destroying them? Have we ever considered the wisdom of a spider web and all its hidden attributes? Have we ever tried to apply some of those principles to the form-functions of our schools, universities, government and businesses?
9. Spider webs can capture water from the air
In the journal Nature, Chinese scientists have reported that silk is not only renowned for its strength, but also outstanding at collecting water from the air: “Sparing the creatures the hunt for a drink”. We are here witnessing the awe-inspiring beauty of one of the most incredible sights God’s engineering hand has ever created. “A tapestry of bright pearl-like water drops hanging on thin spider silk in the morning after fog” says Lei Jiang, the scientist from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. He goes on to say: “The spider silk can be several tens of micrometers in diameter, whereas the water drops can be thousands of micrometers wide. The silk properties change as it contacts water, which causes the bumpy silk fibers to smooth out and drives the water towards the bumpy knots in the spindle, where it gathers into large droplets.”
Image credit: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science
Do we conceive products with compelling beauty and majesty while promoting safety, health and sustainability? When considering some of the shoddy architecture I’ve personally seen in Paris, London, Los Angeles, Manila, Osaka, Beijing, Moscow, Barcelona and New York, I do not think they contribute to the beauty and enhancement of our environment. Do we boost technology by making it sustainable, durable and of compelling beauty such as the pearl-like water drops hanging on thin spider silk? Or does our industry prefer to plan the breakdown of specific parts for purpose of future gain and enrichment?
10. Spider silk has antibacterial properties
In their research article: “Evidence for antimicrobial activity associated with common house spider silk”, Simon Wright and Sara Goodacre, from the school of Biology at the University of Nottingham, researched and proved the antimicrobial quality of some spider silk when confronted with micro organisms. In Heimer, S. (1988). Wunderbare Welt der Spinnen. Urania. p.14, we read that the peasants in the southern Carpathian Mountains used to cut up tubes built by Atypus and cover wounds with the inner lining. It reportedly facilitated healing, and even connected with the skin. This is believed to be due to antiseptic properties of spider silk and because the silk is rich in vitamin K, which can be effective in clotting blood.
Do our company products and services sustain our livelihood? Do our business protocols provide our workforce with physical and emotional assets in form of education, personal growth and vision? Does middle management nourish the strength and potential of its workforce by facilitating information taxonomy and its distribution? Or do most structures suffer from a command-and-control mentality going back to the enlightenment age and war room strategies?
Much more could be written about spiders, but I hope that we all could gain a better appreciation for the sustainable world which is just around us. May we strive to contribute and make our work and world a better place where more sustainable values become the drivers of our business endeavors. In the meanwhile, we continue to deplete our earth from the very resources that sustain our physical lives. One thing is certain: the air we breathe, the food we eat, the sleep we need and the love we cherish, none of these components will ever be digitalized.
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