Frans Johansson is an innovation expert and author of The Medici Effect. As CEO of The Medici Group, he leads a team which helps clients improve their innovation efforts through an approach they call Intersectional Thinking.
In the following video Frans Johansson illustrates how relentless trial-and-error – coming up with an idea, executing it on a small scale, and then refining it – is THE distinguishing characteristic of the greatest artists, scientists, and entrepreneurs. Why? Because humans are not very good at predicting which ideas are going to be a success. Thus, nearly every major breakthrough innovation has been preceded by a string of failed or misguided executions. So, as Frans says quoting Churchill, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
The idea for the book “The Medici Effect” is based on intersection. The best way to come up with groundbreaking ideas is to combine very different ideas – like termites and architecture; ice and beds; and bikinis and burqas. Diversity drives innovation.
What Drives Innovation?
We innovate best when we connect with others and share new ideas/perspectives. The key is to connect across our differences.
Technology increasingly drives new operational and business models.
He created a magazine “Catalyst” to bring stuff together, started a software company that “went really well until it didn’t.”.
He investigates how intersections lead to innovations.
We have the best chance to innovate when we connect across our differences.
Innovation is important because the world is changing very quickly.
Example: Spanish fashion company Zara can go from design to selling a dress across the world in 7 days.
A more sobering example; only 68% of recent law school graduates are working in a job that requires a J.D.
Yet our ability to innovate constricts as our firms get larger. Innovation tends to come from newcomers, upstarts.
One reason is that we tend to use logic as the only guidance for reaching success. For instance, Audi and Volvo might both to decide to address their minor deficiencies, then end up with cars that look quite similar.
Why is it Necessary to Innovate Quickly?
If you want to keep your competitive advantage, you have to keep innovating because there has been a stunning drop in the amount of time it takes for your competitors to catch up with you.
Why is it so Hard to Innovate?
Because change is difficult and intimidating, we tend to settle for tweaking things around the edges rather than making a comprehensive change. The impact of this is adding more widgets to a Yahoo search engine until the clutter is overcome by the spare and elegant design of a Google search engine.
New Ideas Are Combinations of Other
Johansson proposes that all new ideas are combinations of existing ideas. But not all combinations of ideas are created equal.
Most truly stunning innovations result from combination two different ideas. The greater the number of ideas that you generate and implement, the greater your chance of a breakthrough. You need to try many things because humans are very bad at predicting what will work. The key is to keep trying until you perfect your execution. When your first idea doesn’t work, you have to try again. Diverse teams can unleash an explosion of new ideas. You end up with an exponential increase in new ideas that leads to more opportunities for innovation.
Create the Environment Necessary to Foster Innovation
We can help organize our firms to foster innovation. This ranges from seating people within your department in such a way that they can’t help be exposed to new ideas and new ways of working. Individually, you also can ensure that you personally make connections with people within the firm who are in different disciplines or from different backgrounds or have different interests.
Don’t Give Up! Innovators Fail More Often
We are horrible at predicting what will work. We don’t often hear the tales of the bad ideas only the heroic ending of how someone became successful with their one brilliant idea and how they were able to envision a new future and make that future a reality.
What is the Most Effective Way to Execute?
Directional ideas often are executed in step-by-step fashion. More innovative ideas can take longer and get developed less directly.
We use up energy, money, and reputation in getting to a goal. So start by taking the first step; an easy manageable step.
Start with a good idea. And then act on it. Johansson calls this the “smallest executable step.” It’s not about going directly to the desired Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Rather, execute the first step; adjust based on results; execute again. The key is to iterate your way to success.
Some examples provided by Johansson:
ANTS & TRUCK DRIVERS
The example of ants and truck drivers, which I talk about in one of the chapters. So there is this telecommunications engineer that has been is trying to figure out how to efficiently route telecom messages through a haphazard routing system. And one day the communications engineer met an ecologist, who studies social insects, like wasps and ants. And they started talking, and the ecologist described how ants search for food. As it turned out, the ant’s search strategy turned out to be very applicable to the routing of telecom message packets. Once the engineer realized this, he decided to explore this particular intersection between ant ecology and computer search algorithms, so he spent three years looking at the connection between the way social insects behave and the way you can use computers to optimize particular types of search algorithms. And that has now lead to an entirely new field called swarm intelligence, which essentially came out of the intersection of the study of social insects and computer search algorithms. This methodology has been used in everything from helping truck drivers find their way around the Swiss Alps to helping unmanned aerial vehicles search for terrorists in Afghanistan.
TERMITES & ARCHITECTURE
A man was commissioned to build the largest office building complex in Harare, Zimbabwe without air conditioning.
He did it by combining the ideas of architecture and termite houses.
Termite houses open and close vents to regulate heat and cold. He combined ideas from these two fields to break new ground and build an energy efficient office complex that was able to maintain a comfortable temperature.
At the intersections of different ideas and cultures, the Medici effect happens.
For example, if you wanted to come up with a new, creative idea for swimwear, usually you would combine swimwear with the beach. But what if you combined swimwear with the idea of a burqa?
A lady moved to Australia where the normal female swimwear was bikinis. Many traditional Moslem women go swimming in their burqas. She combined the ideas of bikinis and burqas – and made a burqa out of bikini material.
After the fact, an innovative idea seems somewhat obvious.
People that change the world try far more ideas than others because we are horrible at predicting what ideas will work. Einstein published over 240 papers, many of which not a single person referenced. Google has launched hundreds of products. Picasso painted lots of paintings to figure out what paintings did work.
To be successful, you have to take this notion into account – that you won’t always be successful.
Take Wikipedia, for example. We may have thought – is that even possible? Creating Wikipedia takes understanding the altruistic nature of people and understanding the Internet. Before he launched
Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales launched Newspedia and asked experts to contribute to it. After six months, there were only twenty posts. Jimmy’s new idea was to allow anyone to make posts. Wikipedia has been one of the most successful Internet projects. Jimmy Wales kept trying.
How does this play out? Maybe you have an idea. Often from an idea you create a large goal and then you use 100% of your resources (your money and your reputation) to reach it. After all that work and effort, you now realize how you should have done it. You realize what would have been a better goal or a better way to do it.
ICE & BEDS
For example, a guy in northern Sweden saw a future with the cold and snow. He combined the idea of ice with a hotel. He created a hotel made out of ice. Everything is made out of ice – the beds, walls, tables, etc. It is one of Sweden’s largest tourist attractions. He realized he could do something no one else could do. But it didn’t start with The Ice Hotel.
First, he had an idea to “sell” the winter. His first idea was to fly in some ice sculptures from Japan. He had an ice exhibition. It wasn’t successful because the ice melted.
Next, he tried a snow gallery and had paintings hung in an ice building.
Then he created an event hall with everything made out of ice, including a movie screen. A few backpackers who saw it said they would like to sleep on a bed made of ice. He made a bed of ice and they loved it.
Then he created The Ice Hotel. Within weeks Newsweek named it one of the ten coolest hotels in the world.
You have to start with an idea – a step.
Take your first step to change the world. The best way to come up with this idea is at the intersection of different cultures and ideas. Figure out something you can do and make it happen. The world is connected – there is somebody making those connections and it should be YOU!
Source: The Medici Effect
Source: The Medici Effect
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