Have a problem? Find a snail. Learn from it. Life Lessons From Nature’s Original Backpacker.

I carried a backpack for a long time. Not a literal one. More a ‘case history’ of life’s wrongs caused by choosing partners I could have, should have and (would have) avoided like the plague if only I’d watched and learned from the humble snail.

Years gathering this library of ‘evidence’ created an attitude that kept me stuck in a problem state of mind.

In hindsight, it was a case of mismatched values. Mismatched life goals. Mismatched attitudes.

Here’s what a humble snail taught me.

The beauty of nature is that it offers solutions to most of our problems.

It’s called ‘biomimicry’ — more about that later.

Whether solving an engineering design problem or a personal one — mimicking biology’s elegant ideas can help solve intricate problems.

If engineers used biomimicry to solve design problems with the bullet train, this thinking is worthwhile tapping into.

A Darwinian Solution To Life’s Problems

In the 1800s, Charles Darwin described his philosophy of evolutionary survival: Survival through biological evolution.

But it’s Herbert Spencer’s phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ that captured the essence of its meaning.

Neither were talking about push-ups and sprints.

The concept of ‘fit’ means adapting to one’s environment (and life circumstances). Adaptation that’s helped humanity survive and thrive.

In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed. Charles Darwin

In seeking solutions, nature’s patterns of adaption offer ready answers. All we need do is look.

Problems have in-built solutions.

Like a snail, backpacking through life leaves its trail.

The snail’s simple spiral-based design offers flexible growth and a mucus trail. The mucus helps the snail reach food high off the ground as it acts as a glue,literally helping the snail ‘stick’ to vertical surfaces).

Many people I work with describe their problem as ‘weighing them down’ — an apt description for anyone crumbling under the weight of excess baggage in their back-pack.

Yet most problems have a purpose — a reason for entering — and persisting.

It’s nature’s way of helping us evolve — to ‘fit’ our environment and adapt.

‘Adapt’ doesn’t mean ‘accept’.

To adapt in the human sense means to mature emotionally, become more resilient and think more holistically — rather than staying stuck in problem-thinking that will ultimately create enough stress to bring about a personal shut-down.

The slimy glue keeps the snail moving— not stick it down.

And as in life, movement is the answer.

Allowing what’s keeping us stick isn’t.

Emotional Glue

Emotional growth is an active process.

It’s in finding our ‘glue’ that we can stick to personal values and move through problems ethically.

The problem here is in solving the right issue, because often the presenting problem is a smoke screen for the ‘thing that can’t be named’.

The presenting problem is merely the lava overflow describing in full force what’s been brewing for a long time.

It’s in reading the seismic data and seeing patterns occurring below the surface that the real story emerges.

To return to the snail analogy — following the trail finds the source feeding the problem.

Finding Life’s Fractal

Fractals are patterns that replicate themselves on multiple levels.

Think naturally occurring spirals found in flowers, acorns and trees.

The snail’s shell is a perfect example.

Its shell offers an ever-expanding home for the mollusc within to grow because its design is self-replicating while maintaining the original shape.

No need to shed skin like a snake. No need to re-build the nest. No need to abandon nature’s perfect solution.

The challenge is in finding the pattern.

This must happen before solution-based thinking can begin.

Being too immersed in the problem means inner navel gazing. All in the hope of relieving pressure before the next lava flow explodes.

This perpetuates the cycle.

Problems, like snail shells also grow in fractal patterns.

Finding the source of the problem, and dealing with it, helps growth to occur flexibly without cramping you into a space, a routine or a relationship you may be outgrowing.

The beauty of seeing a problem from a fractal perspective is in searching for its root. Its embryonic starting point.

Or in seeing how it’s effect is multiplying and possibly spiralling out of control.

Fractal thinking lets us zoom in on the core or zoom out and see the environment perpetuating the problem.

Biomimicry offers an elegant process. In five steps.

Use Nature As A Model And Mentor To:

Step #1: Distil

Instead of asking ‘what do you want to solve?’ ask ‘what do you want your solution to achieve?’ This changes the focus from ‘problem’ to outcome-based thinking — a huge shift in perspective. And in turn, it opens to more divergent possibilities.

Step #2: Translate

Define the environment that’s supporting the problem.

Identify the ‘function of the problem’ — its purpose. ‘What’s keeping this problem alive — ie what is feeding it?’

  • Ask: What values are being supported (or crushed)?

Step #3: Discover

Look for a metaphor in your natural world that relates. (Don’t think too long and hard about this. If a snail can lead to an article about problem solving … anything you see will be useful and relevant to finding analogies.) Let your intuition lead you.

Step #4: Emulate

Brainstorm possibilities — go large. Use a wall with sticky notes. Going large expands your thinking.

Create your chimera — fanciful notions that may or may not provide insight.

Step #5: Evaluate

  • Can your solution adapt and evolve?
  • Is your solution conducive to growth?
  • Does it use fractal thinking?

Designing solutions for life’s problems comes with practice.

They evolve with motion.

They work with iterative processes that you can self-replicate.

The above steps are drawn from work conducted by biomimicry.org

Your Take Away

See your world through an evolutionary lens. One that looks for patterns. Those that are self-replicating, so you’re not left designing the wheel from scratch.

Creatively designed-solutions evolve from habits … of thinking, and seeing the world through a more creative lens.

Habits practiced daily allow you to grow, develop and attain a positive solution-focused outlook to help you be the best you possible.

BUT … none of this is possible without the mindset, the attitude and consistency of habits designed to help you thrive.

Thriving has a foundation. It’s built on solid habits. Ones that help you create a purpose driven life.