According to recent news reports, scientists have discovered dozens of new species -- including a shark that walks on its fins -- off the coast of Indonesia. The event obviously holds great significance for science, but I also think it could be an opportunity for Foolish investors willing to indulge in some creative thinking.
To begin with, the discovery demonstrates that despite our knowledge of the ocean, we clearly still have much to learn about it. According to one expert, more than 200,000 species may yet remain unidentified. As I wrote last week in my review of the book More Than You Know, there's a lot we still don't know about the markets, either. And as author Michael Mauboussin said, people can discern patterns and opportunities if they are willing to broaden their knowledge into new areas.
The walking shark, I believe, is one of those opportunities. More and more companies are delving into "biomimicry," using nature as an inspiration for improving existing products or processes.
For instance, Nike (NYSE: NKE ) is studying how geckos cling to the surface of ceilings in order to build a better climbing shoe. FedEx (NYSE: FDX ) has reportedly studied ant colonies to discover how the small insects can organize themselves and efficiently complete complex tasks without direct oversight from a central controlling source. The air freight giant hopes the lessons will allow it to better transport products and packages. Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT ) is studying dragonflies to help it build drones that can maneuver more rapidly in tight spaces. Meanwhile, Cambrios, a private nanotech start-up and an investment of Harris & Harris (Nasdaq: TINY ) , is studying the simple abalone in an attempt to understand how the sea creature creates superhard materials without using any expensive chemicals or high-temperature processes.
The list could go on and on, but I hope my point is clear: Businesses can learn a lot from Mother Nature and profit through biomimicry. There's no reason why glass and paint companies couldn't study the lotus leaf -- with its extraordinary water-repellency properties -- to construct better products; nor why an agricultural company such as ArcherDaniels Midland (NYSE: ADM ) couldn't improve its bottom line by studying the humble wasp. (The wasp's nose is ten times more sensitive than a dog's, and experts believe it could be used to detect problems with crops at a very early stage.)
All of this brings me back to the walking shark. Is there any reason why a company such as Toyota (NYSE: TM ) , which is heavily invested in both automotive and robotic technology, couldn't learn a thing or two from the walking shark, applying some of this newfound knowledge to the construction of submersible robot that could easily transfer between water and land?
I don't know if such a thing is either feasible or practical. But I do know that if I hear about a company pursuing such research, I'm more likely to take a closer look, because it tells me management is truly serious about discovering new ways of doing business. That's exactly what companies must be doing today if they want to stay profitable tomorrow.
Harris & Harris is a Rule Breakers pick. Interested in other Foolish thoughts on new technology? Consider taking a dive into a free 30-day trial ofMotley Fool Rule Breakers.
Fool contributor Jack Uldrich is the author of two books on nanotechnology, including Investing in Nanotechnology: Think Small, Win Big. He does not own stock in any of the companies mentioned in this article, with the exception of Harris & Harris. FedEx is aMotley Fool Stock Advisorpick. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.