Today I will get to hear a keynote speech from Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect: What Elephants and Epidemics can Teach Us About Innovation. This is part of our our company’s annual Science and Technology conference, a three-day event that brings together our scientists and technical experts to share their work with each other. I am excited because I read the book only a year ago at the recommendation of our VP for Corporate Science and Technology (my director’s boss). It is about how the best, most ground-breaking ideas come from people working at the “intersection” of diverse fields. He presents some compelling examples of cases where new knowledge or new inventions or new concepts were born based on combining frameworks from different disciplines.
Yesterday I gave a presentation at a “Lunch and Learn” session on Meaningful Innovation. A colleague and I had worked together to design and organize an “Innovation Jam” for our clinical research colleagues around the globe in order to solve problems in geographies outside the U.S. We had perceived a disconnect between a very Minnesota-centric and top-down approach to our global evidence summit, and really wanted to turn that on its head. All of that effort culminated into a 1.5 day event a year ago just after Labor Day, when we pulled together this Medici-like gathering of people from 7 different geographies and many disciplines across the company. We applied the Design Thinking methodology in order to get some of the best ideas and best thinking around solving problem identified by our geography customers.
That turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences in my professional career. We had received sponsorship and support from the VP for Clinical and Technical Communications, along with my Director. By the end of the event, we had come up with 7 different solutions to problems faced by our geographies, along with some simple prototypes for how to design those solutions. In the months that followed, we narrowed down to one project to work on, with limited budget available. Employees that were passionate about the idea rallied around it, we recruited a project leader, and in only 5 months from the idea selection, we had a “product” in beta testing in India, the geography that prompted the solution.
What we did was an example of the Medici Effect – taking advantage of that intersection of geographies, disciplines, diverse fields and ideas. There were about 55 very smart people involved in the 1.5 day event, and they had an intense but rewarding experience of coming together to address needs that had previously been neglected. This is what people mean when they say “Diversity drives innovation.” It is true – if we all stayed in our same, homogeneous groups, without talking with people different from us, we might never conceive of that new idea, that new inspiration that moves us forward technologically. This is why Trump’s notion of the “good old days” by which I understand he means white dominance, will never be the key to keeping America economically vital.
It is through uniting diverse voices, experiences and backgrounds that we are strong as a nation. While it is true that sometimes this is challenging, and creates discomfort, we are better for it. Neuroscience has shown that people produce the best results and make the best decisions not when they are in an atmosphere of total comfort, but rather when they are slightly outside their comfort zone. I will write more about this phenomenon in a future post, because there is great research I would love to delve into further.
I think this is one reason that blogs and the internet provide the next great intersection of ideas, and have already generated a sort of Medici Effect in terms of innovation. By interacting, sharing ideas, different “takes” on what we read and observe and think about we bring the best out of each other. We also can inflame the worst intentions. But it is a matter of selection, and I believe those great ideas will continue to bubble to the top, because that is what we ultimately seek as humans: better solutions to our problems. We know we are in this together, on this small planet. So let’s get together and bring our best thinking to whatever we are most passionate to solve. Thanks for reading, and for contributing in your own way to this ongoing conversation about what is most meaningful to us.