If you haven't heard of the term biomimicry, you're surely familiar with the products it's spawned. Velcro, for instance, came about when a Swiss engineer brushed the burrs off his dog. The Wright brothers based the design of their aircrafts on the sketches of pigeons. And Qualcomm's Mirasol displays "imitate butterfly wings to deliver bright colors, even when the ambient light would wash out conventional displays," reports Erik Sherman.

You get the picture. The systems and designs of nature and animals inspire and inform our own creations. 

Okay. But what if your idea comes from animals that are...fictional? No, not unicorns. Not dragons. But hippos. Not the actual, purple-gray hippos of real life. Rather, the plastic, bright, multi-colored, immortal hippos of the board game world: Hungry Hungry Hippos, the board game launched by Hasbro subsidiary Milton Bradley in 1978.

For Gary Goldberg, an entrepreneur based in Warwick, Rhode Island, and who employs 50 people at CleanBrands, Hungry Hungry Hippos served as a muse and a lively example, reports Paul Grimaldi in the Providence Journal. Specifically, the Hasbro herbivores helped Goldberg solve a big concern for some of his customers: bedbugs. CleanBrands' patented Zip-n-Click Closure System allows you to zip shut a mattress cover and lock the zipper-pull in place in a sealed position. Bedbugs then have no way to get in. Grimaldi explains: 

How did he come up with the idea? By taking a cue, he said, from the Hungry Hungry Hippos children's game, made by none other than Pawtucket-based toy giant Hasbro Inc. In the game, players use a lever to manipulate the mouth of a plastic hippo to gobble up marble-sized plastic balls. Goldberg's device swallows a green zipper slide in pretty much the same way.

Combatting bedbugs--and the allergic reactions they often cause--mattered to Goldberg for a very personal reason too, Grimaldi adds. In 2004, Goldberg's then-four-year-old son wasn't breathing easily at night. As it turned out, he had an allergy to dust mites. For Goldberg, who'd grown up around the fabrics business (he's a third-generation textile entrepreneur), a logical next step was seeking fabric-based solutions.

So if Goldberg's hippo muse was an imaginative twist on the biomimicry theme, one of his larger inspirations could hardly have been more biological. 

While drawing entrepreneurial inspiration from one's children--or children, in general--can seem like a hackneyed notion, the fact remains that there are countless business leaders who'll vouch for the power of a child's curiosity. Serial entrepreneur Jeff Hoffman tells a great story about this, based on the day he brought his five-year-old niece to the office.

His niece simply would not stop asking questions: What is that thing? Why do you have two of those? What does that guy do? Why is that girl on the phone all the time? "I had gotten so used to my surroundings that I stopped seeing them," writes Hoffman, a cofounder of ColorJar, who was on the founding teams of Priceline.com and uBid.com. "I got so used to the way I do business that I stopped questioning it. I had lost my child-like sense of wonder, that endless curiosity about the world around me. And it was a good bet that my employees had, too."

He then began to ask his employees rudimentary questions about the company's processes and behaviors. He encouraged them to do the same thing. It worked. For example, the two devices his niece had asked about were collating machines no one had used in years. Yet Hoffman's company was still paying for them through a monthly lease.

If nothing else, viewing your world through the eyes of a child will compel you to ask the questions that adults routinely overlook. And that practice of persistent questioning, notes Hal Gregersen, executive director of the MIT Leadership Center and a senior lecturer in the MIT Sloan School of Management, is the best way to battle your blind spots. 

Through his 4/24 Project, Gregersen urges leaders to take four minutes every day to write out all the questions they have about anything personal or professional. While there are potential business ROIs in the activity--including identifying the blind spots that might potentially disrupt your company--there are personal benefits, too. The meditative practice of simply sitting and thinking will remove your mind from your immediate to-do list.

Over time, that daily withdrawal from to-do-list stressors will inform your questions. Instead of asking about the day-to-day burdens, you'll think more in terms of the big picture--you know, the macro questions that often get lost in the grind. Instead of questioning things like a business leader who's in the office every day, you'll start questioning things like a child who's never been there before. 

And when that happens, you'll be one step closer to seeing your world through the eyes of child--in other words, to seeing the truth of what matters, in your products and in your life. 

Published on: Aug 15, 2014