Book Review: The Medici Effect

What do elephants and epidemics have to do with creativity? Well, according to Frans Johansson, they can spark some interesting thinking.

In The Medici Effect: What Elephants and Epidemics Can Teach Us About Innovation, Johansson explores the nature of creativity and innovation and suggests methods to get us into a position to pursue them. By putting names to some concepts with which we may already be familiar, and telling the stories of individuals both well-known and not, he explores what we need in order to pursue our creative passions and suggests ways for getting there.

Drawing upon the example of the Medici family, who in 16th century Italy brought together Creatives from various fields to pursue their art, Johansson opines on “the Intersection,” in which Creatives from different fields come together to spark new ideas through a combination of different perspectives. While the Intersection can be a physical place, he highlights its existence in our minds, “bringing together different disciplines and cultures and searching for the places where they connect.” The importance of finding new perspectives, breaking down associative barriers, and breaking away from old networks, are all explored in detail.

One interesting exercise was reversing your assumptions, in which he has the reader consider assumptions about the restaurant business…and then reverse them to create a new business. In other words, take what you think is required, then state that it isn’t, and see where it leads you. When I saw the restated assumptions I thought “huh?,” but when I saw what he then came up with, it all made pretty good sense.

Johansson makes the point that for employees to collaborate effectively, good leadership is essential. Rather than just throwing a bunch of diverse people together, for example, he reminds us that someone needs to manage those group dynamics. Otherwise, you end up with a mob rather than a team, and that doesn’t do any good. Leaders also need to consider rewarding successes and failures equally, so employees are wiling to take chances. The likelihood of quality ideas increases with the quantity of ideas, so creatives need to be able to increase that quantity without fearing reprisal for taking reasonable risks.

The author makes some suggestions I find a bit difficult to accept. For example, he pushes against specializing in a particular field, whereas I would suggest that developing expertise in one field makes it easier to combine with others…and of course, specializing in one thing now does not mean you cannot switch to another interest later. He also cites people like Richard Branson as people who are not afraid to fail by taking a chance, though the reality is that Mr Branson is not likely to lose his home (or at least, not all of them) if he fails, whereas many of us cannot afford to take as much risk as he does. The author needs to consider the reality facing his readers and perhaps help them follow his ideas within that reality.

That being said, this is a very inspirational book. This is the sort of book you might consider handing to new employees and saying “read this, then come to work.” It can energize your thinking and get you excited about new possibilities. That is what it did for me, so I strongly recommend it for you.

One Response so far.

  1. […] I was teaching at georgetown, one of my students loaned me a book called The Medici Effect which I found to be pretty interesting. (One of the great things about my time at Georgetown, BTW, was that my students gave me as much […]

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