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Connecting Theoretical Physics with Learning & Development

The constructal law of design and evolution in nature can actually be applied in very concrete ways to the world of learning and professional development to help individuals, teams and organizations flow more efficiently.
constructal law of design

The idea that organisms, systems and even the organizations we work in configure and reconfigure themselves over time to flow more efficiently is a very simplified definition of constructal law, which is a law of physics originally stated by Adrian Bejan from Duke University. It’s a concept that Christine Bizzell has been studying and expanding upon in her work as Founder and CEO of the Canon Collaborative, and recently we had a chance to talk about the way that it can be brought from a seemingly theoretical law of physics into the way in which individuals, teams and organizations can grow and improve.


Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, your host. I’m also the Co-founder of an instructional design firm called Endurance Learning. So, if you ever need a helping hand with those eLearning projects or even instructor-led projects, Train the Trainer programs, whatever it may be, I’m your man. Give me a call. But that’s not why I’m here today. I’m here today because I’m joined by Christine Bizzell, who is the Founder and CEO of an organization called Canon Collaborative.

We’re going to get to her in just a second, but before we do, I do need to let everyone know that today’s podcast is brought to you by Soapbox, which is an online tool that you can use for 5 or 10 minutes, and you can take care of about 50 or 60% of the work when it comes to developing live, instructor-led training. So basically you tell the computer how long your presentation is, how many people are going to attend, whether it’s in-person or virtual, what your learning objectives are, and then Soapbox will instantly generate a training plan for you with clusters of training activities that are designed to help you accomplish your learning outcomes. If you want more information or if you want to try it for free for two weeks, visit

Six-word Biography

Okay. I’m here with Christine Bizzell, as I mentioned, Founder and CEO of Canon Collaborative. We’re going to be talking today about concepts known as design in nature, as well as constructal law, which is really interesting. Perhaps terms that you’re not familiar with, dear listener, if you’re thinking about learning and development, but we’re going to talk about these concepts in the framework of learning and development or through the lens of learning and development.

But before we get to any of that, I need to introduce Christine. And hi, Christine, how are you?

Christine Bizzell: Hi, I’m so great, Brian. Thanks for having me.

Brian Washburn: I’m so excited to have this conversation. So before we get started, as is our tradition, if you’d like to introduce yourself using a six-word biography, I’m sure that the people who are listening are very curious who you are and what you do.

Christine Bizzell: Yes, I really loved this challenge, and I have, “Innovator developing human-centered nature framework.”

Brian Washburn: I love that. And so I want to get right into this idea human-centered because that’s a lot of what your work revolves around. And so you focus a lot of your work around a concept called design in nature and a law of physics called constructal law. Can you share a little bit about what these concepts are and how they specifically can apply to work in organizations?

Working With Laws of Physics and Nature to Help Businesses Thrive

It's all about illuminating natural strength and then designing greater access to those currents of strength moving through the individual first and then kind of expanding out into the larger ecosystem.

Christine Bizzell: Yes. Okay. So I’ve been working on building a framework that is meant to empower individuals, teams, and organizations, to embrace their natural strength and natural flow. And so I’ve developed a framework that bridges CliftonStrengths, which is a tool rooted in positive psychology with this law of physics that governs design in nature. And it’s all about illuminating natural strength and then designing greater access to those currents of strength moving through the individual first and then kind of expanding out into the larger ecosystem. Whether that’s a partnership, a team, or kind of expanding out into the organization.

Brian Washburn: It’s really interesting that you mentioned CliftonStrengths. So when you talk about that, people who are listening may be familiar with the StrengthsFinder model assessment type of thing. Is that the same thing?

Christine Bizzell: It is the same thing, yes. The name was changed at some point from StrengthsFinder to CliftonStrengths, and it’s exactly the same tool, yes.

Brian Washburn: Gotcha. Okay. Well, I need to update my own vocabulary.

It's a tool rooted in positive psychology, so it really seeks to nurture genius.

Christine Bizzell: Yes! It’s a tool rooted in positive psychology, so it really seeks to nurture genius. And that’s why it’s really interesting with this framework because it really kind of maps out what emergence could look like for individuals. And again, I’m kind of expanding out into the larger organization.

Brian Washburn: So you work and you use a lot of the ideas behind CliftonStrengths, and when it comes to constructal law, or design in nature, is this something that you created? Is it something like people are like, “Oh, this Christine lady created this?” Or is it something that actually has been out there for a while?

Origins of the Principles of Constructal Law and Design in Nature

Christine Bizzell: Oh my goodness, that is such a fun question for me. I stumbled across this law of physics about two and a half years ago, and the nature inspiration has kind of been held in the background for most of the first two years. But I have connected with Adrian Bejan, who is the law’s discoverer who is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Duke University. And sharing more of my work with him and sort of this novel application of his law has brought a lot of assurance that something new and exciting is happening with this innovation if you will. And so I’m kind of bringing it more into the forefront. And yes, I am kind of building this bridge. Yeah, it’s exciting.

Brian Washburn: And so when we spoke about this a few weeks ago, I’m so fascinated by how this actually builds into work with organizations. So as I understand it, according to Constructal Law, organisms, systems, even the organizations we work in, they configure and reconfigure themselves over time to flow more efficiently. Is this a natural phenomenon? For example, will it eventually happen whether or not we make an effort to be more efficient, or do we need to be intentional about ourselves and about our teams and our organizations finding more efficient ways to work in flow?

What I found in my experience are that the natural occurrence of strength in organizations are almost always naturally connected without a lot of design intention around it.

A Strengths Approach to Success in Organizations

Christine Bizzell: Yeah. And that’s such a good question because– and I’m going to like back up just a little bit because the idea of the CliftonStrengths and the nature of framework and about emergence, we learned that like our natural occurrence of strength needs to also be healthy. And that the idea that our greatest strength can also become our greatest weakness absolutely applies when we’re talking about organizations. And so what I found in my experience are that the natural occurrence of strength in organizations are almost always naturally connected without a lot of design intention around it. They’re naturally connected to the service delivery.

And what becomes very interesting is designing access around the strengths, knowing really what they are in a way that you can design healthy access to them because if the shadow side of the strength manifests inside the organization, it can be a huge detriment. And so to know what those are and sort of let those natural currents lead the organization, but be aware of their shadow and be aware of the possibility for them to like really squeeze out all of the other strengths in the ecosystem. Because what we know about nature as well as biodiversity is what really creates a thriving ecosystem and the same holds for strength.

An Example of Internal and External Expression of Strengths

Brian Washburn: Can you give, like, a specific example?

Christine Bizzell: Yes!

Brian Washburn: Like what would be an example of a strength that you need to be conscious of, and what would be kind of the shadow side? And how can one or the other kind of take over for the benefit or detriment of a person or organization?

Christine Bizzell: Absolutely. And such a good question. A lot of this stuff can sound abstract without an example. And so one that I like to use is my– I have a few clients that are in the social workspace. And the CliftonStrengths of empathy and developer are almost always very dominant in these types of organizations. Which is a very intuitive sensing strength of empathy that really picks up on the strength of the people around it and is very aware, naturally aware of the implications of human emotion. And then the developer strength that’s very naturally good at cultivating, right, and kind of like growing human potential.

And so when those strengths are flowing out into the community in a healthy way, it does look like social impact, right? And kind of like support to communities in ways that matter. On the flip side of the coin, if those strengths are kind of dominating the space internally, they can look like not wanting to be honest with my colleague because I might hurt their feelings — if I’m really honest about how I feel about this particular strategy.

And so a lot of the psychological safety becomes extra important to talk about, right? Like we can be honest with each other and kind of use whatever friction can manifest, like as we’re finding the best route for a generative purpose. But if we’re in the shadow side of that, we’re not being honest with each other, we don’t want to say when we don’t agree with each other. The developer strength that’s very naturally patient out in the community again, internally can look like stuck projects and, you know, things not moving along as well. And so really kind of being mindful of like the internal and external expression of those strengths can go a long way in keeping an organization healthy.

Intentionality About Strengths in Organizations

Brian Washburn: This is really interesting. So, you know, where I was going to go with my next question was– it was around intentionality. And what I’m hearing from you is that the intentional piece may be making sure that we’re aware of kind of ourselves and others in terms of strengths or kind of that approach and also making sure that we’re aware of how things may be too much of a good thing, right?

Christine Bizzell: Too much of a good thing.

Brian Washburn: “I don’t want to hurt their feelings” type of thing. So, thinking of this idea of being intentional around awareness, what are some specific things that people working in the learning and development space and organization can be doing? And what should managers be doing? Or organizational leadership or even individual contributors? What can everybody in the system that we call kind of our workplace be doing to be more intentional or maybe more aware of how we can kind of create the ideal workspace?

How Can We Create Better Flow of Strengths in Our Organizations?

Because in nature, when that happens — when we can be grounded and rooted in what we're good at and what we bring to our environment — then we can symbiotically connect to our neighbor.

Christine Bizzell: Yeah, it’s so good. And it really is– I think of more nature analogies, which I– yes, very into. But the idea of being like grounded and rooted in your power, right? Because in nature, when that happens — when we can be grounded and rooted in what we’re good at and what we bring to our environment — then we can symbiotically connect to our neighbor, right? And kind of create greater power together. And so kind of being aware– like all of my work is really focused around the individual experience because that’s what feeds into these larger systems, right? Like, that’s really what connects all these things together is the individual being aware of their strengths in a way that– yeah, very intentional and generative.

If the individual can work on their shadow aspect as it's connected to the whole, I think that's when the really sustainable ways of moving through an organization can really start to manifest in cool ways.

And in in that way, being very mindful of your own shadows and kind of working through your own shadows because it’s pretty amazing the ways that I’ve seen that individual shadow kind of connecting to the large one. And if the individual can work on their shadow aspect as it’s connected to the whole, I think that’s when the really sustainable ways of moving through an organization can really start to manifest in cool ways.

Brian Washburn: You know, the conversation at this point has been– it’s been relatively high level, right? But for those who are listening and thinking, “I’ve never really thought of my role in this way before.” Especially as you kind of frame it in nature, but also kind of a strengths approach. A lot of times we’re thinking, “Oh, this is my specific job duties, this is stuff I need to be doing.” So perhaps people haven’t necessarily thought of their role in this way before. What are some specific things that people who are listening can be doing to be more intentional in the way that they work with others, that they engage with others around them? Especially if they are in kind of a learning role. Like it’s their responsibility to help others learn.

Advice for Using a Strengths Approach in Your Work

Christine Bizzell: Such a great question. I believe that– and this is something I’m so, so passionate about and I’ve already been sharing some of this. But just to own– as an individual like my– the one message that I want people to know and to believe and to really own is there is only one you. There’s only one person bringing the energy and the magic that you bring to your ecosystems. And whenever you can own that, some really amazing things can happen.

greatest power on earth

And so a big passion of mine is to help folks see just that, that there is only one person that’s doing what you’re doing in this world and to really own it. Like the chance– within CliftonStrengths, and this is part of the CliftonStrengths framework, you know. It is statistically impossible for somebody to replicate your subset of strengths. And so, what may feel very natural and easy to the individual, I will argue is your greatest power on earth. And it is so wildly easy to assume that somebody next to you is kind of operating in the same way.

And I think that’s a lot of cultural conditioning and other things that are going on, but the unconscious ways that we might be like projecting our strengths onto people, it’s something that I absolutely love to show people. That there is only one you doing this thing and own your magic because that’s when the magic can happen within an ecosystem, right? To really connect our roots and have like a healthy, thriving, collaborative, flow state all around.

Brian Washburn: I think that’s such a great point. Now, if people wanted to find out more about this or wanted to find out more about you and your work, where could people go to find out a little bit more?

Christine Bizzell: Yeah, my website is the best place to go right now. And that is and it’s Canon with one “N.” And a canon is a law or pattern by which something is judged and the constructal law has coined the physics of life. So let’s design access right to the physics of life and like the main currents of life in our organization. So

Brian Washburn: Perfect. Thank you so much. Well, Christine Bizzell, thank you so much for joining us, Founder and CEO of Canon, with one “N,” Collaborative.

And thank you everybody else for listening to another episode of Train Like You Listen. If you know somebody who might find today’s topic about design in nature and constructal law to be important and even kind of just focusing on strength and a little bit– we dove into equipment strength as well here- go ahead and pass along a link to this podcast. If you want to make sure that you are notified of a new podcast whenever it’s hot off the press, go ahead and subscribe at Apple or Spotify, wherever you’re getting your podcasts. If you’re interested in learning more about a broad range of learning and development strategies, you can always pick up a copy of my book, What’s Your Formula? Combine Learning Elements for Impactful Training at Amazon.

And until next time, happy training, everyone.

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