Why do so many world-changing insights come from people with little or no related experience? Charles Darwin was a geologist when he proposed the theory of evolution. And it was an astronomer who finally explained what happened to the dinosaurs.
Frans Johansson’s The Medici Effect shows how breakthrough ideas most often occur when we bring concepts from one field into a new, unfamiliar territory, and offers examples how we can turn the ideas we discover into path-breaking innovations.
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.