Medici Effect: What Elephants and Epidemics Can Teach Us about Innovation

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Why do so many world-changing insights come from people with little or no related experience? Charles Darwin was a geologist when he proposed the theory of evolution. And it was an astronomer who finally explained what happened to the dinosaurs.

Frans Johansson’s The Medici Effect shows how breakthrough ideas most often occur when we bring concepts from one field into a new, unfamiliar territory, and offers examples how we can turn the ideas we discover into path-breaking innovations.

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Editorial Reviews

The Financial Times
"...there is a good deal that managers can draw from this collection of ideas."
23 September, 2004
Publishers Weekly
Johansson, founder and former CEO of an enterprise software company, argues that innovations occur when people see beyond their expertise and approach situations actively, with an eye toward putting available materials together in new combinations. Because of ions, "the movement of people, the convergence of science, and the leap of computation," a wide range of materials available for new, recontextualized uses is becoming a norm rather than an exception, much as the Medici family of Renaissance Italy's patronage helped develop European arts and culture. For cases in point, Johansson profiles, among others, Marcus Samuelsson, the acclaimed chef at New York's Aquavit. An Ethiopian orphan, Samuelsson was adopted by a Swedish family, with whom he traveled widely, enabling him to develop the restaurant's unique and innovative menu. (Less familiar innovators include a medical resident who, nearly assaulted by an emergency room patient she was treating, developed outreach programs designed to prevent teen violence.) Chapters admonish readers to "Randomly Combine Concepts" and "Ignite an Explosion of Ideas." Less focused on innovations within a corporate setting than on individual achievements, and more concerned with self-starting and goal-setting than teamwork, Johansson's book offers a clear enough set of concepts for plugging in the specifics of one's own setting and expertise. But don't expect the book to tell you where to get the money for prototypes or production. (Sept. 21) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Soundview Executive Book Summaries
Breakthrough Insights at The Intersection of Ideas
The "intersection" is the place where different cultures, domains and disciplines stream together toward a single point. According to entrepreneur and consultant Frans Johansson, the intersection is the point where established concepts meet, connect, clash and combine; where remarkable innovations are created; and where new, groundbreaking ideas emerge. In The Medici Effect, Johansson explores intersections in business, science, art and politics, and shows us through vivid examples how we can find them and turn the ideas we find there into breakthrough innovations.

Johansson refers to the explosion of innovations that takes place at the intersection as "the Medici effect," referencing the amazing burst of creativity that was enabled by the Medici banking family during the Italian Renaissance. The Medicis were a family in Florence that funded creators from a wide range of disciplines. They were the reason that sculptors, scientists, poets, philosophers, financiers, painters and architects flocked to Florence and learned from each other, breaking down the barriers that once stood between their disciplines and cultures. Together, these artists created a new world based on new ideas. As a result, Florence became the epicenter of one of the most innovative eras in history whose effects are still being felt today.

Johansson writes that when you "step into an intersection of fields, disciplines or cultures, you can combine existing concepts into a large number of extraordinary new ideas." He explains that we can create the Medici effect today by bringing together different disciplines and cultures and discovering the places where they connect.

Sea Urchin Sausage
As one of his many examples of innovators who have been to the intersection and succeeded by breaking down barriers, Johansson points to chef Marcus Samuelsson. Newly hired Samuelsson was temporarily put in charge of the Swedish Aquavit restaurant in New York City when its executive chef died suddenly of a heart attack.

At the time of his promotion, the restaurant had one respectable star from the New York Times. Three months after he took over and began introducing innovative new dishes that were based on unique combinations of foods from all over the world, the restaurant received a rare three-star review. Samuelsson's menu at Aquavit included: caramelized lobster, seaweed pasta, sea urchin sausage and cauliflower sauce, gravlax and tandoori smoked salmon, bell pepper and raspberry sorbet, and lemon grass yogurt. By using Swedish culinary building blocks - lobster and raspberry sorbet - and infusing them with many very un-Swedish ingredients - lemon grass, tandoori spices, and seaweed pasta - Samuelsson has become one of America's leading chefs.

Low Associative Barriers
Johansson writes that Samuelsson has low associative barriers, which allows him to easily connect different concepts across fields. Johansson explains that researchers have long suspected that the associative barriers that inhibit our ability to think broadly are responsible for inhibiting creativity. "Samuelsson looks for related concepts in distant places and unexpected areas of cooking and tries to reconcile these far-flung ideas into recipes," Johansson writes. By breaking down associative barriers between fields of cooking, his ideas stretch exponentially farther.

Throughout The Medici Effect, Johansson examines the intersections created by many other innovators, such as the architect who used termite technology to cool a building without air conditioning in Zimbabwe, and reveals numerous creative insights by describing the mental processes that went into their breakthroughs.

Why We Like This Book
The Medici Effect journeys into the fascinating world of modern trailblazers and shows us where and how discoveries are born. By revealing the intersections in our own lives and how we can tap into them to expand our creative thinking, Johansson provides thoughtful ways to increase the number and types of intersections we use, and helps us re-examine innovation, success and risk. Copyright © 2004 Soundview Executive Book Summaries

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781422102824
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2006
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 148,231
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Table of Contents

1 The intersection - your best chance to innovate 11
2 The rise of intersections 21
3 Break down the barriers between fields 35
4 How to make the barriers fall 45
5 Randomly combine concepts 61
6 How to find the combinations 73
7 Ignite an explosion of ideas 89
8 How to capture the explosion 103
9 Execute past your failures 119
10 How to succeed in the face of failure 127
11 Break out of your network 143
12 How to leave the network behind 153
13 Take risks and overcome fear 161
14 How to adopt a balanced view of risk 171
15 Step into the intersection 183
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 1, 2013

    If you've never had a Reeses' Peanut Butter Cup...

    Then you've probably never put honey in your coffee. This book is for those who may be exploring their creative side, or need a springboard from one world into another, or even just want to read a FEW examples about how various things have intersected throughout history besides car crashes & rush hour traffic.

    For those of us who have troubleshot and problem solved & are more actively aware in the world this may seem like a kindergarten or elementary idea...yet there is information not so much how some things came to fruition but WHO brought them to fruition.

    There is an example of a member of a Native American Tribe who made a syllabary of his First Language so that bridge communications with settlers and his tribe, likely others. Sounds good...but that raises other questions and WHAT IF's for me...Yet of all the "intersections" of language...(others who have contributed to diverging disciplines & ideas) one that wasn't even given a mention was how the Navajo Language was critical in its contribution in turning the course of World War II. The Navajo Code Talkers' code was never broken, & they are Heroes in their own right, (nation/culture aside) they are dying, & so are their stories.

    When we take time to say LOOK AT WHAT A DIVERSE GROUP OF PEOPLE/ORGANIZATIONS CAN DO...we shouldn't forget those who went before us that gave us the window of opportunity... also what they did or didn't do and/or what they started or stopped from happening.

    A little lofty overall, but could be a series if the book was more grounded & included everyday people who think globally and act locally.

    As a people/person we are more than our jobs, our roles in our family, roles in our churches, we are dreamers, we are mechanics we are poets, we are writers, we are a Melting Pot...the point is WE ARE and we should honor each...not just the ones who work at the corporate level...but the young children with lemonade stands who raise money to fight cancer or have fundraisers for a friend who is need in need of an organ transplant...ones who reach out to others instead of depending on a government to intervene or make a decision...

    Those people I want to hear about...the ones who don't make the newspapers' front page...

    God Bless

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  • Posted April 13, 2009

    Must read for inspiration in innovation and cognitive diversity.

    For anyone interested in including greater diversity in your teams or developing greater innovative skills - and everyone should be - this is a must read.

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