June 20, 2014

Golden doors

The doors of the Florence Baptistery, one of the oldest buildings in the city. Credit: Antonio Acuna / Flickr Creative Commons


The Renaissance may have produced timeless cathedrals, sculptures, and literature, but it also offers contemporary lessons about the nature of innovation.

In 16th-century Florence, the Medici Family pulled in people from around the world and fostered cross-cultural collaboration, spurring one of the most creative eras ever.

“They sponsored highly creative people from lots of different disciplines. Architects, sculptures, philosophers, painters, from all of Europe, in fact even as far as China, and they brought them to the city of Florence,” says Frans Johansson, author of “The Medici Effect.”

Now, in the era of the Internet and social media, creating global connections should be easier than ever, but we often don’t leverage the diversity around us, says Johansson.

So how do you leverage diversity?

Take Volvo, which used an all-woman engineering team to develop a concept car. They discovered that many women don’t like opening the hood of a car – so one of the team’s most radical idea was to put a hatch on the side of the car for washer fluid.

“That’s an idea that’s not necessarily a female idea. It’s simply an idea that comes about when you look at something from a different perspective,” says Johansson.

You can also cultivate inspiration by embracing the moments in your own life when an idea “clicks.”

Johansson describes the moment when Howard Schultz, at a conference in Milan, found himself in an espresso bar. Schultz had never even tasted espresso, but, while watching the energy around him, inspiration struck.

He realized that “Starbucks had it all wrong. It’s not about the coffee makers, it’s about the communal experience you can feel when you drink coffee with others,” says Johansson.

At the time, Starbucks primarily sold coffee beans and coffee machines, and Schultz was their Director of Retail Operations. Now, he's the CEO of a radically different company.

Want an easy way to connect with views you may not usually encounter?

Johansson recommends going to a newsstand and picking out a few magazines that you not normally read – from the latest bridal guide to a glossy look at fly fishing – and apply concepts and ideas from those magazines to your work or life. 

Want to learn more about making breakthrough connections? Listen to the full interview above.

Business, Frans Johansson, collaboration

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