THE MEDICI EFFECT Breakthrough insights at the intersection of ideas, concepts and cultures (Part 2/3)
I continue the summary of this book, with the PART TWO: CREATING THE MEDICI EFFECT
3. Break Down the Barriers Between Fields. Sea urchin lollipops and Darwin’s finches
The case of Aquavit and the chef Samuelsson serves the author to introduce the importance of having “low associative barriers”. Samuelsson and Aquavit had become an institution in the cuisine of New York City based on his creative genius to generate unique food combinations that surprise the palate. Breaking down the barriers around the Swedish cuisine. Samuelsson has low associative barriers.
Associative barriers are the result of years and experiences whitin a specific field or discipline. They act as strong atractors that determine chains of associations. That’s good to solve specific and focused problems, but at the same time act as constraints of new or different associations between different fields.
4. How to Make the Barriers Fall. Heathrow tunnel and restaurants without food
People succeeding in breaking down associative barriers did one or more of the following things:
– Exposed themselves to a range of cultures. The story of Samuelsson illustrates this factor: Born in Ethiopia, adopted by a Swedish couple, travelling a lot in his childhood, cuisine school, cooking in a ship while travelling around the world for one year. Experiencing the high variety and quality of food all over the world was the key element of his later success, having lower associative barriers.
– Learned differently. How to learn as many things as possible without getting stuck in a particular way of thinking about those things? One answer is self-tought (autodidacta), having a broad learning experience, having excelled in one field and learned another. Broad education and self-education appear to be two keys to learn differently. But, is there any evidence that expertise limits creativity? Sternberg and Frensh in 1995 research this question. They found that expertise can make it more difficult to break out of established patterns of thought. Formal education looks like an inverted U when correlated with one’s success as a creator, being the turning point earlier for artistic careers and later for scientific paths.
– Reversed their assumptions. This strategy can be used when we need some fresh insights right now. This is how it works:
o First, think of a situation, product, or concept related to a challenge you are facing, and think about the assumptions associated with that situation.
o Next, write down those assumptions; then reverse them.
o Finally, think about how to make those reversals meaningful. I.e.
Restaurants have menus ————-> Restaurants have no menus
Restaurants charge money for food ————-> Restaurants do not charge money for food
Restaurants serve food ————–> Restaurants do not serve food
There are innovative business based on every reversal currently.
– Took on multiple perspectives. Trying to adopt different perspectives (i.e. watching a flower growth: recording with a camera and showing the process faster, or being the flower, watching within it, perceiving every aspect). Some strategies to do that are “Apply the idea to someone or something else” or “Creating constraints” to force different perspectives of the problem or situation.
5. Randomly Combine Concepts. Card games and sky rises.
The creation of intersectional ideas requires a combination of concepts and randomizing them. The case of developing Magic, the new game in the intersection between a card game and collectible items (trading with others, looking for them,…) serves the author to analyse the process of randomize ideas, suggesting two different strategies:
1. Flash in the sky serendipity: Hard work phase, and incubation phase, when suddenly other “random” stimulus trigger you to a new idea.
2. “Prepared-mind discoveries” (i.e. Pasteur discovering vaccines).
6. How to Find the Combinations. Meteorite crashes and code breakers.
How to find extraordinary intersectional ideas if creativity is also a question of randomness?
– By diversifying occupations. That’s the act of moving between, or switching, fields through different jobs, projects, or hobbies as a way to generate unplanned, unique insights and finding intersections. Frank Herbert is an example of person diversifying occupations in his life, and he’s the author of Dune, the highly creative and original sci-fic book.
– By interacting with diverse groups of people. Setting up teams with people from different ethnicities, cultures, backgrounds and countries will come up with different answer than other homogeneous teams or individuals. However, as the research of Donn Byrne at Univ. of New York Albany find out in the 60’s established as the similar-attraction effect, people are attracted to people who are similar. It’s surprising how predictable this effect is. As the proportion of similar attitudes increases, attraction increases. The effect is so predictable that can be expressed through a regression equation, and is devastating by its impact in our efforts to create diverse teams, i.e. through the recruitment process.
– By going intersection hunting. This means that you search for connections in unlikely places and then see where those connections lead. A “thought walk” can enhance the chance of random combinations (during a thought walk, you might stroll through your office, into the parking lot, or down the street, pick up, borrow, purchase, or randomly note items during your walk. Don’t select things related to the problem or idea, because that would be a planned, rather than a random, combination of concepts. Instead, select items with no apparent connection; your job will be to find one)
7. Ignite an Explosion of Ideas. Submarines and Tubular Bells.
There is a relationship between quantity and quality of ideas. The most successful innovators produce and realize an incredible number of ideas. The intersection of fields, cultures and disciplines generates combinations of different ideas, and it also generates a massive number of those combinations. People at the intersection can pursue more ideas in search of the right ones.
Why innovators are so productive? The traditional answer of the “virtuous cycle” explains the fact in terms of “directional ideas” within the same discipline, but is not enough to explain it in the intersectional dimension. In this area, past success doesn’t build future insights, and many productions of innovators are not a success. They don’t produce ideas because they are innovators, but they are innovators because they produce lots of ideas, and the intersections provide explosions of ideas.
8. How to Capture the Explosion. Macgyver and Boiling Potatoes.
There are three ways to proceed to catch the opportunities in the intersection:
– Strike a balance between depth and breadth. The person who understands many fields and is able to break down the barriers between them all would indeed have access to an incredible number of concept combinations. But such a person would have a much tougher time understanding just how to make an intersectional idea happen, or if it even could happen. One way to handle the need for broad yet deep knowledge is to team up with someone who has a different knowledge base from yours.
– Actively generate many ideas. Forcing yourself to generate a number of ideas about a problem or subject is a first step. Usually the ideas produced in the beginning are more obvious, but the second or last part are more creative. The brainstorming, tool proposed by Alex Osborn in 1957, is a good tool to be used in the daily routine of a creative company, not easy to practice properly:
1. Produce as many ideas as possible
2. Produce ideas as wild as possible
3. Build upon each other’s ideas
4. Avoid passing judgment on ideas
Diehl and Stroebe in 1987 did a research that concluded that brainstorming groups have never outperformed (quantity and quality of ideas generated) virtual groups. But we shouldn’t stop to brainstorm. Some small changes can improve results:
§ Before the group meets, schedule 15-20 min for members to brainstorm individually.
§ Start the group session. Don’t let people just take turns reading down their lists, but keep everyone involved and building on previous ideas of others. For example, just writing every idea in a blank sheet, putting it in the middle of the table, and taking one of them to write the next one based or not on the previous. This procedure can also be used in an online virtual environment.
– Allow time for evaluation. The research conducted by Teresa Amabile (HBS) about creativity under pressure in 177 people from different companies, not only pointed out that people are less creative under serious time pressure, but people actually believe that they are more creative during these times. Taking time for evaluating ideas after hard work is also coherent with the incubation period to identify breakthroughs. Also taking notes in notebooks continuously is a good way of representing diagrams, and evaluating ideas.
The last important thing with creative ideas is to realize them. Coming up with great ideas doesn’t guarantee an innovation. You must make those ideas happen.
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- THE MEDICI EFFECT. Breakthrough insights at the intersection of ideas, concepts and cultures (Part 3/3)
- THE MEDICI EFFECT Breakthrough insights at the intersection of ideas, concepts and cultures (Part 1/3)
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Vivo en Getxo y trabajo en Tecnalia. Me gusta leer, nadar y pasear por la naturaleza. Me interesa investigar y explorar nuevos caminos para desarrollar nuestra capacidad de liderar la innovación de forma individual y colectiva. Para mí ser líder empieza por escucharte a ti mismo y a los demás. Doctor en Ciencias Químicas, en mis veinticinco años de actividad profesional he trabajado en la universidad, la industria y en los centros tecnológicos, donde he dirigido grupos de I+D+i sobre organización industrial, gestión y sistemas de innovación. Formado como coach por Team Academy Finlandia.
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