The Medici Effect


I was fascinated in reading the mind map of the book ‘The Medici effect’ by Frans Johansson last night. I guessed by the name Medici that it had to do with the intersection of culture as it happened in middle age 14th – 16th century in Florence Italy. I had read about Catherine de Medicis who was a Queen of France and I recalled that France had retained la ‘Villa Medicis’ in Rome as a venue for developing Creativity & Culture at ‘L’Académie de France’.

I wonder with the confluence of cultures and ethnics Mauritius could be a nexus point to further develop creativity. Already, a new fusion cuisine is finding its way. Nowhere in the world have I eaten a Mauritian fried noodle, a dhal puri or a roti Manillal. Marlin fumé could well be promoted as an innovative product. Papaye tapé & Pickled Pineapple, green mango & cucumber are gourmet dishes to be developed and promoted.

‘Metissage’ is the term I would promote as the intersection of the ingenious background of our population. Our cooks in Mauritius are using a paint stripper heat torch to darken and render the crust of their crème brulé!

I am happy to reproduce the introduction to the book.



Frans Johansson

Pe t e r ’ s c a f é sits on a hillside in Horta, a port city on one of the Azores islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. By the time you reach the docks in the harbour, you can tell that this place is special. Bright, colorful paintings of sailboats and flags line the piers—hundreds and hundreds of them, drawn by visiting captains and crew members from every corner of the globe. Horta is the one place between the Americas and Europe where world-traveling sailors stop to take a break. Some are heading toward Fiji, others to Spain. Some are on their second tour around the world; others are simply resting before the last leg to Brazil. They come from different backgrounds

and cultures. And all of them converge upon the rustic-looking Peter’s Café. Here they can pick up year-old letters from other world travelers or just sit and talk over a beer or a glass of Madeira.

When I saw this place for the first time, I realized that the serene environment of the café actually concealed a chaotic universe. The café was filled with ideas and viewpoints from all corners of the world, and these ideas were intermingling and colliding with each other.

“Get this, they don’t use hooks when fishing for marlin in Cuba,”

one visitor says.

“So what do they use?” another asks.

“Rags. The lure is covered in rags. When the fish strikes the rag, it wraps around the fish bill and won’t let go because of the friction. The fish don’t get hurt and can be released, no problem.”

“That’s pretty neat. Maybe we could use something like that. . . .”

The people here participate in what seems like an almost random combination of ideas. One conversation leads into another, and it is difficult to guess what idea will come up next. Peter’s Café is a nexus point in the world, one of the most extreme I have ever seen.

There is another place just like Peter’s Café, but it is not in the Azores. It is in our minds. It is a place where different cultures, domains, and disciplines stream together toward a single point. They connect,

allowing for established concepts to clash and combine, ultimately forming a multitude of new, groundbreaking ideas. This place, where the different fields meet, is what I call the Intersection. And the explosion of remarkable innovations that you find there is what I call the Medici Effect. This book is about how to create it.

Creating the Medici Effect

The idea behind this book is simple: When you step into an intersection of fields, disciplines, or cultures, you can combine existing concepts into a large number of extraordinary new ideas. The name I have given this phenomenon, the Medici Effect, comes from a remarkable burst of creativity in fifteenth-century Italy.

The Medicis were a banking family in Florence who funded creators from a wide range of disciplines. Thanks to this family and a few others like it, sculptors, scientists, poets, philosophers, financiers, painters, and architects converged upon the city of Florence. There they found each other, learned from one another, and broke down

barriers between disciplines and cultures. Together they forged a new world based on new ideas—what became known as the Renaissance. As a result, the city became the epicenter of a creative explosion, one of the most innovative eras in history. The effects of the Medici family can be felt even to this day.

We, too, can create the Medici Effect. We can ignite this explosion of extraordinary ideas and take advantage of it as individuals, as teams, and as organizations. We can do it by bringing together different disciplines

and cultures and searching for the places where they connect. The Medici Effect will show you how to find such intersectional ideas and make them happen. This book is not about the Renaissance era, nor is it about the

Medici family. Rather, it is about those elements that made that era possible. It is about what happens when you step into an intersection of different disciplines and cultures, and bring the ideas you find there to life.

Surprising Insight

Mick Pearce, an architect with an interest in ecology, accepted an intriguing challenge from Old Mutual, an insurance and real estate conglomerate: Build an attractive, functioning office building that uses no air conditioning. Oh, and do it in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe.

This may, on the face of it, seem ridiculous. After all, it can get pretty hot in Harare. But Pearce, born in Zimbabwe, schooled in South Africa, and trained as an architect in London, was up for the challenge.

And he achieved it by basing his architectural designs on how termites cool their tower like mounds of mud and dirt. What’s the connection?

Termites must keep the internal temperature in their mounds at a constant 87 degrees in order to grow an essential fungus. Not an easy job since temperatures on the African plains can range from over 100 degrees during the day to below 40 at night. Still, the insects manage it by ingeniously directing breezes at the base of the mound into chambers with cool, wet mud and then redirecting this cooled air to the peak. By constantly building new vents and closing old ones, they can regulate the temperature very precisely.

Pearce’s interests clearly extend beyond architecture. He also has a passion for understanding natural ecosystems, and suddenly those two fields intersected. Pearce teamed up with engineer Ove Arup to bring this combination of concepts to fruition. The office complex, called Eastgate, opened in 1996 and is the largest commercial/retail complex in Zimbabwe. It maintains a steady temperature of 73 to 77 degrees and uses less than 10 percent of the energy consumed by other buildings its size. In fact, Old Mutual saved $3.5 million immediately because they

did not have to install an air-conditioning plant. Eastgate ultimately became a reference point for architects—articles and books have been written about it, and awards have been given. Mick Pearce is known as a groundbreaking innovator for launching a new field of architectural design—one that “copies the processes of nature.”

How did Pearce come up with such an innovative design? Was it luck?

Maybe; luck is part of everything we do. The more intriguing question is, what did Pearce do to affect his chances of accomplishing this breakthrough?

Did he, in effect, make his own luck? The answer is yes, and the reasons why lie at the heart of this book’s message. Pearce had stepped into the Intersection, a place where he could combine architectural designs with processes in nature. It was his willingness to explore these combinations that made it more likely for him to successfully break new ground.

The Intersection is certainly not the only place to uncover new ideas, but I’ll argue that it is the best place to generate and realize extraordinary ones.

A Place for Everyone

Mick Pearce is one example of a person who found the Intersection and made successful discoveries there. From this example one might get the impression that the Intersection is a placeonly for designers and artists. It’s easy to associate creativity with art, but creativity includes new ideas in every field, from science and business

to law and politics.

Consider, for instance, the seeming antithesis of the idealistic artist, George Soros, one of the most respected investors of our time.

He is perhaps best known as the man who broke the Bank of England in 1992. Soros made a profit of over $1 billion in one afternoon by betting that the pound sterling was overvalued. Although he has also had some stinging losses, Soros’s track record as an investor is astonishing, having generated billions for his fund.

Perhaps his most important legacy, however, will not be the money he accumulated for his limited partner but his ideas about democracy, his philosophy concerning capitalism, and his approach to philanthropy.

Soros pulled together ideas from the fields of finance and philosophy to create an innovative philanthropic strategy. That strategy, which was unprecedented in its audacity, focused on transforming nations into societies that are based on the recognition that nobody has a monopoly on the truth—what he calls “Open Societies.” Michael

Kaufman writes in Soros: The Life and Times of a Messianic Billionaire about the exploratory journey Soros took to understand the world this way: “In the process, he digressively took up dozens of themes, among them the limits of knowledge, the development of modern art, the flaws of classical economics, the value of fallibility, and even the prospects of fundamental reforms in the Soviet Union.”3

George Soros found the Intersection. He found a way to connect completely separate fields and he managed to do so in a meaningful way. Just like Mick Pearce.

Connections Everywhere

This may all sound somewhat improbable. Can great innovative breakthroughs, those that can create a Medici Effect, be explained by the intersection of disciplines and cultures? And if so, is it possible to understand the nature of this intersection and to harness its power? The answer is yes, on both counts. In writing The Medici Effect I have three objectives:

1.The first is to explain what, exactly, the Intersection is and why

we can expect to see a lot more of it in the future. You will see

how three critical forces are working together to increase the

number of intersections around the world.

2.The second is to explain why stepping into the Intersection creates

the Medici Effect. You will see why it is such a vibrant place

for creativity and how we can use intersections to generate remarkable,

surprising, and groundbreaking ideas.

3.Finally, the third objective is to outline the unique challenges we

face when executing intersectional ideas and how we can overcome

those challenges.

You will see how execution at the Intersection is different from within established fields, and you will

learn how to prepare for those differences. In order to fulfill these three objectives, I have relied on the work of

leading researchers in creativity and innovation, such as Dean Keith Simonton, Clayton Christensen, Teresa Amabile, and Robert Sutton, and on a range of psychologists, economists, and sociologists. My most interesting

discoveries and conclusions, however, have come from numerous conversations and interviews with people who live and operate at the Intersection. The stories of how they found their way to the Intersection,

and how they created the Medici Effect, contain enough surprises and valuable insights to easily fill two or three books.

You will, for instance, meet a mathematician from Seattle who stepped into the intersection of games and collectibles to create one of the world’s fastest-spreading recreational activities. You will learn how

he did it and why those lessons hold true for anyone at the Intersection.

You will read about an entrepreneur who steps into the Intersection every time he starts a new company. His story will show you how we can find courage at the brink of uncertainty. You will encounter a physician who made the connection between violence prevention and health care. No one else understood the link at the time, and her struggle to bring her ideas to life demonstrates the challenges anyone will face at the Intersection.

During this journey you will also meet a woman who hiked through a snake-infested prisoner island off the coast of Colombia while gathering lava rocks for her research. You will read about a chef who surprised the world with his food concoctions at the age of twenty-four and learn about a team of researchers who discovered how to read

the mind of a monkey.

These individuals and their remarkable acts of innovation help us understand the power of the Intersection. They have all managed to connect fields we thought were unrelated. When they did, they generated

ideas that changed them, their organizations, and, ultimately, apart of our world. From these examples, we can learn how to do the same. Their stories answer the central questions this book poses: How do we create an explosion of extraordinary ideas, and how do we make those ideas happen? The answers may surprise you


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