The Medici Effect – where to find the greatest potential for Innovation

In the book The Innovator’s DNA; by Dyer, Gregersen, and Christensen; one of the five skills of disruptive innovators was Associating, the ability to bring together previously unrelated pieces of information to create something new. This is closely related to the topic of another very good book: The Medici Effect, by Frans Johansson.

Johansson explores the concept of “Intersections” between different fields, industries, disciplines, and cultures and the impact these intersections have on disruptive innovation. For several centuries the House of Medici created an environment where innovation and new ideas flourished, by bringing together the best minds in different fields. Their acts had a significant impact on the birth of the Italian Renaissance.

However, this concept isn’t just a historic one, it is evident in current business trends and in innovative new products. The biggest ideas are rarely contained within one industry or product category. Examples include the combination of computer hardware, software, and music; that led to the iPod at Apple. Many of the most interesting advances in biotechnology are the result of the intersections between medicine, engineering, and the sciences.

Whether you are an individual innovator, or a company working to create an innovative environment, you will be more successful by reaching beyond your own industry and looking for intersections with other businesses, technologies, and markets.

This is not just about adjacent markets, businesses, or technologies; it also includes the combinations of radically different elements to find a productive intersection between them. The more diverse intersections you explore, the higher the chances are that radical innovation will emerge.

Questioning & Associating Skills and Innovation

This is the last in a series of posts on the book: “The Innovator’s DNA” by Dyer, Gregersen, and Christensen. They identified five skills for disruptive innovators: Observing, Networking, Experimenting, Questioning, and Associating.

Questioning – In innovation, asking the right questions in the right way, is as critical as finding the answers. If the right questions aren’t being asked, then the answers aren’t going to be terribly useful. The book covers tactics to use to create an environment where the right questions get asked. One interesting point is that it can be very productive to engage in thought experiments where questions are used to either remove or impose constraints. What if an additional constrain were added to your situation? How would you deal with it? What if an existing constraint were removed? What would then be possible? Innovators are always asking why products/services/business models are the way they are, and why they can’t be made better.

Associating – The best innovations often happen at the crossroads between two disciplines. Great innovators are able to connect different technologies or ideas together inner ways, to offer products that have never before existed. Also, some of the best innovators are people or companies that have expertise in multiple areas. For example: engineering and medicine, software and hardware, biotechnology and computing. Great innovators and innovative companies are able to pull together seemingly unrelated concepts to deliver radical results. There is also a great book by Frans Johansson called: “The Medici Effect” which goes into more detail on the power of working at the intersections between different fields.

As an individual product developer, it is critical to build the two skills of Questioning and Associating. As an innovation leader, you must ensure that these two skills are part of the culture you build in an organization to create an environment where radical, disruptive ideas can emerge.

Anyone either leading innovation or working in an organization where innovation is important, should read “The Innovator’s DNA.” The concepts are simple and there is a lot of common sense behind them, but they are also concepts that are frequently forgotten or underdeveloped. Mastering these five skills will add value for either individuals or organizations.