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Friday, September 24, 2004

Dave Pollard reviews The Medici Effect

Dave Pollard, the acknowledged thinker on Innovation reviews Frans Johansson's The Medici Effect. Dave writes, 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:
-getting exposure to different cultures
-broadening one's knowledge and learning capacity
-encouraging curiosity
-reversing assumptions (e.g. imagining what would happen if a restaurant had no menus, didn't charge for food, and didn't serve food)
-taking different perspectives and points of view (e.g. how would X view this situation)
-randomly combining concepts (e.g. the craze for Magic The Gathering was generated by combining attributes of gaming with attributes of collectibles)
-learning to be mentally prepared to see opportunities at the intersection when they present themselves (I am especially appreciative of this point because it is the hardest thing I ever learned to do).Dave has written about this before where he describes how the learning of how butterfly wings display colour even though they have no pigment has been applied to counterfeir-protecting banknotes.
- undertaking a variety of diverse occupations interacting with diverse groups of people looking for connections in unlikely places producing a continuous, large quantity of ideas
-striking a learning balance between sufficient depth and maximum breadth of knowledge subject-matter
-reading prodigiously and listening attentively and openly brainstorming (starting with individual idea generation to prevent groupthink and premature discarding of 'crazy' ideas)
- allowing time for ideas to be properly considered (Johansson dispels the myth that deadlines and time pressure encourage innovation).
Johansson then explains the importance and difficulty of implementating innovations. It is critical, Johansson 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. While, I find that The Medici Effect to be a very good book for the way the idea is articulated, superb usage of examples and analogies, we covered the case of Bose developing auto suspension systems yesterday Headphones And Autosuspensions From Bose, Dave says that he does not find anything innovative in this book.
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