The Medici effect

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The Medici effect

by Frans Johansson

Harvard Business School Press © 2004, 207 pages, $24.95 (ISBN 1-59139-186-5).

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. ~

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