"How do we create an explosion of extraordinary ideas, and how do we make those ideas happen? The answers may surprise you."
An explosion of extraordinary ideas, a wide-scale renaissance of intellectual exploration, bold creativity – these are the central goals for The Medici Effect by Frans Johansson, a management consultant and entrepreneur with a wise penchant for history and learning from a wide range of creative success.
He draws his main inspiration from the Medici family, a family credited with triggering one of the greatest periods of innovation in human history. What the Medicis did to spark the Renaissance in Florence was to bring together, through their patronage, top practitioners of many different disciplines – painters, sculptors, thinkers, architects, writers, educators – and the open discussion and exchange of ideas between them which led to a remarkable burst of creativity in fifteenth century Italy.
He terms this “the Medici Effect”.
Johansson passionately makes his case, especially with the wide availability of the internet, that we can replicate these same conditions and spark new ideas and solutions to our business and personal challenges today. The goal of this book is to demonstrate practical and assured ways to reconstitute far-reaching innovation creation that can propel us in unimaginable ways.
Core to his thesis, Johansson explains that there are two main types of innovation thinking – directional and intersectional. Directional thinking is more linear, easy to see, the natural next step, and, as such, all your competition is racing to get there before you. With intersectional thinking, on the other hand, ideas come from left field. These ideas are not readily visible, they come from an almost random intermingling or collision of unrelated thoughts, and are difficult for competition to see, giving you an open field – a “blue ocean”. This lateral form of thinking that specifically forms at the intersection of widely disparate ideas, represents the heart of radical and explosive innovation, and is the key to creating a modern day Medici Effect.
The Big Idea
"When you step into an intersection of fields, disciplines, or cultures, you can combine existing concepts into a large number of extraordinary new ideas."
Through a wide set of truly amazing stories of innovation and thought-provoking research, Johansson details the lessons of many modern day innovators and creativity researchers. His fascinating book literally illustrates how vastly different ideas intersected into unexpected and bold new business ideas. Johansson takes us on an unusual journey of discovery – how termite hills inspired an air-conditioning free building in Zimbabwe, how a PhD math student created a game that launched a gaming epidemic across fifty countries, how running a music label led to running an airline – and how these successes had “managed to connect fields we thought were unrelated”.
The great insight to this claim and recommendation is that most challenges we face today are, simply put, multifaceted by nature. There are different aspects to every issue with intricate consequences and ramifications. Their solutions cannot come from one distinct field. Knowing how to connect and combine disparate concepts and creative people from different fields will lead to next step thinking. In other words, to solve complex challenges, the key has to fit the lock.
We must become adept at looking for intersections and mixing people together; creating multidisciplinary and diverse teams that can discuss, argue, and imagine together.
“The future lies at the Intersection: Find Your Way There.”
Develop Your Awareness
"Expect the unexpected. If you do, you will start seeing the world from new perspectives. Suddenly, you will find intersections everywhere."
The many stories and examples in the book illustrate how famous discoveries and breakthrough thinking came not out of just pure dumb luck but through the active observation and connection of elements around the innovators. These new ideas formed from persistent awareness and are what Johansson calls “flash in the sky” moments or “prepared-mind discoveries”. His message is clear – we need to look at the world and the situations we are in more intently and more inclusively. The more we explore ideas from different fields, and look for intersections, the more we will be setting up “luck” to happen. If you seek, you shall find.
The actionable task here is to be what Johansson defines as a modern Renaissance man/woman: someone who is naturally curious, interested in many different things beyond their area of expertise, asks lots of questions, and is able to (consciously or unconsciously) integrate them back into your work.
Johansson points out how both Thomas Edison and Charles Darwin kept journals and portfolios where they kept notes on observations and articles they found of interest, and they would regularly review and reconsider those ideas with a fresh pair of eyes. I highly recommend using internet-based services, like Evernote, which I use to collect great ideas, articles, quotes, and pictures which can be easily captured, categorized, tagged, and reviewed “on the fly” through your computer or mobile devices.
Unknown Territory Requires Flexible Thinking
"There is logic to the intersection, but the logic is not obvious."
Johansson explains how the main obstacle to being more creative is the brain itself which automatically and subconsciously takes short cuts on seeing new information, bringing forth previous associations between facts and events. This reflex action causes us to make assumptions, inhibits us from thinking broadly, and makes us cling to previous knowledge. This is the brain trying to be efficient, not searching for new connections. Breaking these “associative barriers” is essential to seeing new intersections and ideas.
Additionally, since uncertainty lies at the heart of these new intersections, dealing with uncertainty challenges the very thinking we are used to. “Obvious logic” – where past knowledge and experiences, standard perspectives, preconceived notions, picking a destination and then driving towards it – will be of little help. If we understand and acknowledge this and get used to a more flexible way of thinking, we will know how to work creatively and find new solutions at these intersections. Johansson provides many techniques that can be employed to manage and challenge your thinking from leading creativity experts and real world business leaders.
The actionable task and major technique outlined is to actively open up your thinking by, first, choosing to acknowledge that there is always another way to view things and that there are multiple ways of approaching a problem. Next step is to then immerse yourself in different discussions by connecting with and learning from knowledgeable people from different fields, positions, experiences, cultures.
“Employ tactics that allow us to learn as many things as possible without getting stuck in a particular way of thinking about those things.”
Bottom line, The Medici Effect is an important and valuable book that both teaches us about the very nature of innovation itself and, practically, how to challenge and open up our thinking to catapult us into a Renaissance of innovation.
“The advantage goes to those with an open mind and willingness to reach beyond their field of expertise.”
How can you become a Renaissance man/women and inspire creativity at work and in life in general?