Economists of a certain stripe point proudly to free markets as the most efficient allocators of resources. A biologist studying how calories move through coral reefs or the complex energy cycles of African savanna ecosystems might tell you that waste is far less prevalent in natural systems that maximize nearly every bit of energy. By simply observing food webs it’s easy to see that complexity doesn’t always breed inefficiencies, and that systems that waste not, want not.
McGee is particularly interested in this kind of systems-level bio-inspiration, because it has less to do with creating something new and more with re-thinking how things like businesses and larger economic networks are organized. “Drawing inspiration from natural systems can help us rethink or re-imagine our existing systems,” McGee says. “And I think that actually can have quite an impact pretty rapidly. It’s about how you organize things, so you don’t need materials or development time. You can put it into place pretty rapidly.”