I received Frans Johansson's The Medici Effect as a gift and ripped through it fairly quickly. It is well-written and a subject in which I have ongoing interest. The subtitle says the book offers "Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts and Cultures," and I partially agree. I love the way Johansson puts together the ideas he is promoting. I have chatted about the book with a number of friends because the idea of the Intersection hits home nicely for me. My quibble is that this concept doesn't seem that new. Innovators have to look at the world differently, don't they? Maybe Johansson's breakthrough is to clearly talk about how these kinds of innovation happen and provide guidance on making it happen.
The core of the book is the Intersection: The intellectual space between disciplines, rather than within them. Big changes and big ideas come when a person brings together multiple disciplines in a new way. The book is peppered with great examples of this principle from disciplines as wide as medicine, technology, social services and personal healing. The other aspect of this is that all new ideas are combinations of existing ideas and that combinations from different disciplines, rather than within a discipline, are more likely to be surprising and untried.
And the advice about jumping into your own Intersection? Johanson suggests that you: Connect what you know to another field or culture. Find new personal networks that aren't connected to your old discipline. Fail and learn, rather than fail and give up. See the risks and fears and try it anyway. This almost sounds like a summary of a self-help book, and in a strange way it is.
Speaking of self-help, I am also reading Wayne Dyer's There's a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem. In both books, the authors make reference to Deepak Chopra and his contributions in the spiritual / physical realm. And there seemed to be other connections between the two books that I can't completely articulate. Dyer talks about relying on a spiritual strength to solve problems that don't always sound like they "fit." And Johansson talks about creating solutions by looking at things in new ways.
I also discovered Scientific Method Man in the September 2004 Wired about Gordon Rugg, who cracked the Voynich manuscript by using different techniques than people who traditionally look at ciphers and cryptology. In following the Intersection idea, Rugg does intensive research with the expert(s) to help them expose areas of their discipline that have been left untouched or unexplored. As I read it, he is trying to identify Intersections, albeit within a discipline. He believes this approach, the "verifier approach," applies to the scientific method because experts naturally build up blinders to spaces that are traditionally unimportant. Rugg's point, and I believe Johansson's point as well, is that people need to take a different view - to get up and look at what they are doing. Rugg has a methodological approach to helping experts do this.
Some examples from the book
- Conch shells and material science for new protective materials.
- A Swedish restaurant innovated by someone who was born in Ethiopia.
- Ants and trucking logistics.
- Rock music + classical music in the early 70's.
- Architecture and termites.
Johansson speaks with Moira Gunn at IT Conversations in January 2005. It's a nice summary of the book and gave me several reminders for the above. (Thanks to Shannon for pointing me to this.)