Thinking Outside the Box for a Better Planet

“Everybody has a creative potential and from the moment you can express this creative potential, you can start changing the world” Paulo Coelho

When faced with saving the world from the growing pressures of the human population, conservationists have many hurdles to overcome. Like fighting a fire on several fronts, we must tackle deforestation, poaching, pollution, overexploitation, climate change, wetland destruction, and so forth. Often, projects are underfunded and/or understaffed, resources are scarce or unavailable and time is always of the essence.

If you are looking for a job in conservation, you most likely want to make a positive change in this place, and every hand on deck is needed. But if you embark on this life-long struggle you will need every tool at your disposal to succeed. And creative thinking is an important one, as it can lead to innovative ideas and projects.

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These days, many of these ideas are coming from existing technology and figuring out how to adapt it for our purposes. Take Dr. Julian Bayliss, for example. By using Google Earth maps to search for potential biodiversity hotspots in Africa, he found Mount Mabu in Mozambique, a virtually unexplored treasure trove of biodiversity, as expeditions to the site revealed. Another remarkable example is the Rainforest Connection Initiative, which uses old cell-phones and turns them into listening devices that can detect the noises of illegal logging in the rainforest.

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Drones are another good example, providing an incredible tool for protected area monitoring and increased protection from poaching. Organizations such as Shadowview Foundation are pioneering the use of these drones for conservation projects around the world. Adding to this, drones will soon be biodegradable. A new “biological” drone” is being developed by a team from Stanford University with the help of Ecovative Design and is built out of bacterial and fungal materials. If such a drone crashed, it would simply disintegrate into the soil. for how they are. These are just a few examples, but around the world new ideas are revolutionising the way we go about protecting nature.

Sure, but how do I pay for my brilliant idea?

Screenshot 2014-12-13 at 17.00.55Even if you have an amazing idea, you will also need funding. Creative thinking in this department is also a must, as it can be quite difficult to secure grants or

institutional sponsors. If you haven´t heard of Kickstarter, there is no time like the present to check it out. It is amazing – a crowd-funding website where you pledge money to some incredible project and only get charged the money if the target goal is achieved in a set amount of time. Say a project needs 100,000 pounds. If enough people pledge even as little as 5 pounds, the project will get off the ground. Recently, the Rainforest Connection Project raised enough money to go ahead with their revolutionary idea thanks to the support of hundreds of regular people. Maybe one day you can put up your own project idea on Kickstarter!

Another potential way of securing funding is setting up a social media challenge. These challenges are new, but spreading fast. The no-makeup selfies for cancer research and the ice bucket challenge for ALS are two of the most recent examples. This practice, similar to crowd-funding, is even more of a win-win, as people have to do something (preferably funny) and will also donate money for a good cause. The potential for conservation projects getting funded this way is right there. We just have to take it. Think of a creative challenge that is easy but fun to do and is related to your cause. Then figure out a way people can donate easily and just put it on Facebook, YouTube, etc… – it might just go viral.

Well, what if I don´t have any out-of-the box ideas?

Being creative is not just about having “Eureka!” moments. You can foster your creative thinking through behavioral changes. A recent paper published in Conservation Biology called “Cultivating Creativity in Conservation Science identifies 4 strategies to foster creative thinking and apply it in the field. These four strategies are:

  1. Surround oneself with unfamiliar people, concepts and points of view;
  2. Meet people where they are;
  3. Embrace risk;
  4. Value the circle of learning, struggle, and reflection.

The fist suggestion has been shown on multiple occasions to lead to new creative insights into old problems with brainstorming being a particularly effective method of coming up with new ideas. The second refers mostly to the need to understand local communities and their viewpoints. Being somewhere and interacting with people can be a way of identifying emotional

triggers which might motivate people to act, or to change their behavior. The third refers to the inherent risk of trying something new – yes, it might fail, but it also might work. Figuring out a way to test a new risky idea without imperiling the project or its stakeholders can lead to great results. And finally, the forth suggestion highlights the need for reflection in our fast-paced society. Our brains are constantly rewiring as new information changes our neural network, and these new connections can come up with new solutions and different angles. Relaxed reflection has been shown to promote creative insights.

Regardless of how creative you think you are, the creativity muscle is something you might wish to start exercising as it could prove very valuable throughout your career!

About the author


This post was written by Conservation Careers Blogger Marta Cálix. Marta is doing an Internship with Flora and Fauna International working on their Global Trees Campaign. She comes from Portugal and has a special interest in threatened species reintroductions and protected area management.

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