|Frans Johansson’s The Medici Effect offers an encouraging recipe for engendering innovation, but it saves its most compelling message for the final few pages. Beginning with a pragmatic definition of innovation (anything that is new, valuable and realized), Johannson argues that most innovations occur in intersections (the ‘spaces’ where different disciplines, cultures or specialized domains of knowledge meet. Three factors, he says, are increasing the number of such intersections and hence the opportunities for innovation: (a) increasing human mobility, (b) scientific convergence, and (c) increasing computing power.
Much of the book describes processes and techniques to break down the barriers that prevent us from seeing and entering intersections. These techniques include:
Johansson then explains the importance and difficulty of implementating innovations. It is critical, he says, to ‘execute past failures’, to know that no innovation will work perfectly in its first design, and be prepared to fail by being agile enough to turn failed ideas into successful ones, allowing time and resources for trial and error, and staying motivated to persevere and overcome adversity.
Although this is a useful compendium of innovation-stimulating techniques and proven methodologies, I didn’t find any of the ideas in the book especially — well, innovative. But then Johansson delivered the book’s most important message: The need for innovators to be courageous. In my book Natural Enterprise I downplayed the risk of entrepreneurship and explained ways to keep this risk to a minimum. I did this to counter the popular myth that entrepreneurship is necessarily extremely risky and stressful. But Johansson has a point. It takes courage to be an innovator, which is one of the reasons so few great ideas are ever realized in the commercial marketplace.
Being courageous means:
I agree with Johansson that innovators need to look for ideas in the space between disciplines, and that the opportunities for innovation have never been greater. But it is the argument for courage that makes The Medici Effect such a compelling read. I’ll have more to say on this subject in a future post.