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The Medici Effect’s Frans Johansson On The Intersection Of Innovation And Social Change

Johansson argues that all new ideas are just combinations of old ideas. In the realm of social innovation, this means that collaboration with people from different backgrounds is the key to success.

Frans Johansson knows a little something about how the power of creative thinking can create change. The author of The Medici Effect, Johansson has dedicated himself to spreading the good word about “the intersection”–the place that ideas from different industries and cultures collide to create innovation. Nowhere is the intersection more powerful than in the realm of social change.

We spoke to Johansson after his appearance at the aptly named Intersection Event–a day-long conference at Pixar’s headquarters in Emeryville, California, focusing on innovation and social change–about his ideas:

According to Johansson, there are a few “facts of innovation” that govern the creation of new ideas:

  • All new ideas are combinations of old ideas, but not all idea combinations are created equal.
  • People and realizations that change the world often generate a number of powerful ideas. Johansson cites Richard Branson–and the various ideas he and the Virgin empire have spawned–as an example.
  • When you bring together diverse teams and perspectives, you have the ability to create an exponential increase in ideas.

There are countless examples of how this works in the social innovation realm, but Johansson points out a few particularly powerful examples, including the Burqini, a bathing suit developed in Australia for Muslim women, and the architects who have used lessons from how termites construct mounds in the African Savannah to build an energy-efficient shopping center and office block in Zimbabwe.

In general, biomimicry is one of the most prominent examples of disciplines colliding to do good. That ultra-efficient solar panel? It’s based on the biology of leaves. And that energy-efficient skyscraper? In the future, it might be covered in cooling lichen.

The lesson that we can take away from Johansson’s ideas: Collaboration is key, and not just with your coworkers. “Diverse teams create far more ideas than homogenous teams,” he says. It’s a simple lesson, but one that’s often overlooked.