The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts, and Cultures Hardcover – Sep 1 2004
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From 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
“Mashing up concepts like this in seemingly random ways encourages our brains to think non-linearly, and often results in surprisingly original ideas.” (NOW Magazine 2007-10-10) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.See all Product Description
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I recommend skimming the first chapters to get to the second part of the book, and then going back to understand application of principles. The heart of the book is about the definition of intersectional innovation and the conditions that must exist for breakthroughs to happen -- a combination of individual qualities, environmental support, luck and perseverance.
Perhaps the most helpful, most widely applicable guidelines involve planning for failure and, relatedly, moving from quantity to quality. Prolific authors, artists and business people tend to be successful. They might discard a dozen "bad" ideas to come to two or three successes. So we should reward people for actions, not just success. The only true failure is failure to act.
I also liked Johansson's discussion of risk, especially the notion of "risk homeostasis." If we take risks in one area, we compensate by avoiding risks in another. And a false sense of security can lead to senseless risk-taking.
Johansson's examples make fascinating reader and probably helped sell the book. But I couldn't help thinking that he offers little hope to the majority of people who find themselves in environments where they are forced to specialize. Risk-taking and diversity of experience tend to be discouraged and in fact we tend to disparage what I call the "winding road" career path. Richard Branson is an innovator; on a lesser scale, he'd be a rolling stone.
Johansson emphasizes that underlying diversity, most people have a core competence where they've developed a solid expertise. I think that point has to be addressed, along with the need for a social antenna that allows innovators to find a supportive arena. If you're too maverick, you're dismissed; too conformist, you're not innovating. Where's the balance?
For example, Orit Dagiesh, the Bain consultant, must have paid lots of dues to reach her position. And while Johansson says she defies the consultant stereotype, she does so in a direction that enhances her femininity, with high heels and jewelry. If she'd been more casual or sporty, she might not have been taken seriously. Attractiveness pays, especially for women.
After reading this book, I began to see other examples of intersectional innovation. Natalie Goldberg's first book, Writing Down the Bones, mixed Zen Buddhism with writing.
And Herminia Ibarra's Working Identity argues for creating new networks to make meaningful career changes.
If I were teaching an MBA course in marketing, strategy or product planning, I'd recommend this book. And I'd recommend this book as a gift to anyone interested in business ideas. Those who liked Malcolm Gladwell's book, The TIpping Point (which Johansson discusses) will like The Medici Effect too.
But, beyond the nice examples, which are similar to those found in many other books, there is little that sets this book apart. The idea of crossing over and combining disciplines is not really a new concept and much of the discussion about the creative process is pretty basic. The book's introduction and chapter headings (e.g., "Creating the Medici Effect" and "Making Intersectional Ideas Happen") led me to expect more in-depth insights. But the Medici Effect is lite on the practical and it tends to describe the innovative process in general terms rather than exploring specifics of how it happens. In this sense, it's more inspirational than practical. If you're expecting finer details that you can readily apply, you may also be left wanting more.
For a more hands-on book on innovation, you may want to check out Tom Kelley's "Ten faces of innovation," which is based on Ideo's approach to framing and solving problems.
The pattern of the book is not terribly innovative: good ideas followed by the expected examples of how sterling men and women implemented these concepts in practice and attained an even more sterling level of success. Altogether, very much in style of all other books aimed at predominantly business-oriented readers who, for whatever reason, need the examples set by (successful) luminaries in order to be converted to the creed. A more demanding reader may, upon seeing the same "follow the banality" pattern, reject the little volume as another horrid, trivial, and profoundly intellectually boring "thing." Do NOT do that: it would be a major mistake, and you would miss on a number of really important thoughts.
The book has a powerful message to all members of the academe, corporate executives, human resources operators and gurus. And practically, everyone else, including high school and university students. It should also be one of the most recommended self-help books for all university leaders guilty of having produced more than three generations of super-specialized graduates with very sketchy ideas about the world outside their own field of work. Reading one of the book's chapters every morning before going to work (best over morning coffee, and instead of the sports or cooking page) should be the compulsory task for all human resources executives that may clear their persistent misconception of a "well-defined" (1.e., narrowly specialized) professional path as a clear sign of intellectual prowess and the concomitant ability to create and lead.
For the first time in many, many years an author embarked upon the quest of promoting the concept of a generalist as the pillar of creativity, arguing that broad education and intellectual curiosity, combined with open mind and acceptance of diversity, not as a politically correct and entirely meaningless term, but as the essential constituent of life, are the critical prerogatives for breakthrough innovation. Johansson took upon himself the task of demonstrating the almost desperate need for the return to what universities have largely abandoned: development of minds equipped with broad multi-disciplinary knowledge, and capable of multi-spectral intellectual curiosity and insight instead of the vigorous mass production of bachelor, master, and doctor experts in extraordinarily narrow (to the point of ridicule) sub-fragments of their disciplines of choice.
Indeed, this is not an "academic" book, and maybe it is extraordinarily good that it is so: free from our often irritating academic stuffiness, the book speaks to any reader, independently of his/her level of formal education. It also quite poignantly exposes the deficiencies of today's academic training that often fails to endow graduates with the gift of non-dogmatic and broadely educated mind.
The "Medici Effect" should be read widely, and the underlying notions should be accepted and promoted with persistence. It is a book to which all should return when satisfaction with the currently accepted credo, and the often trivial progress that such dogma typically imposees, become the most attractive attributes of their professional lives.
This is just a book on creativity. Its significance is not as big as the recent book, "A whole new mind," or older books such as "At work with Edison." It would be much better if the author can focus his study on how Renaissance came about and on how to replicate or recreate the favorable environment and fertile ground for bringing about another Renaissance on a comparable or even greater scale.
The biggest flaw of this book is that even though the main thesis of the book is on many people from single-disciplinary background coming together to create something multidisciplinary, most of the examples in the book are about single individuals having multidisciplinary abilities creating something new and not at all at the scale of the Renaissance. Besides the brain-reading program and the British code-breaking group mentioned in the book, all other examples were single individuals. So, where is the Medici effect of people coming together?
The second flaw of this book is the assumption that when people come together, a Renaissance will happen. The author is asserting that diversity in ethnicity, geography, age, and gender have a greater chance of coming up with unique ideas. This is wrong. What's needed is diversity of expertise, not just diversity. Diversity of mediocrity does not mean increased chance of creativity.
In summary, I am very disappointed in this book. The title shows great promise, but the author couldn't deliver it. There is much work to be done to understand and promote multidisciplinary creativity. This is one of the very few books that touch on this subject. There is much work to be done in this area. And if we want to create a new Renaissance, then the work becomes monumental!
The book is divided into three sections:
1. the first describes the intersection and the forces that are creating intersections between different fields and cultures today. Never knew that Shrek, Shakira and a commodities trader had anything in common.
2. the second shows us how we can develop intersectional ideas. The theory here is very well outlined and well founded and the stories are just amazing. It talks about food, games, VCs, MacGyver, music, the list goes on. Each new chapter gives more detail and useful advice. Lots of aha-moments. Really made me think hard about my projects at work and even my career.
3. the third looks at how we execute intersectional ideas. It shows why executing ideas within fields are different from at the intersection of fields. Love this section. It has perspectives on things like failures, risk-taking and motivation that I haven't heard before. Some of the stuff here was mind-blowing like the section about ants and truck drivers and how we tend to compensate for taking higher risks in one area by taking lower risks in another area.
I liked how the book tied all of the ideas together so neatly and I liked the style of writing. In the Conclusion it goes from a myth about glass, to Corning's optical fibers, to a researcher on a prisoner island in Ecuador, to what motivates us to come up with new ideas, to how we can find intersections. Neat! I recommend this book highly!
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