AIHce Attendees Get a Lesson in Innovation

Posted May 20, 2013

Updated May 31, 2013

By Ed Rutkowski

Montreal—What do rock-paper-scissors, cell phones, and Renaissance Italy have in common? As described by Frans Johansson, whose Opening Session address today got AIHce 2013 off to an enthusiastic start in Montreal, they all illuminate the ways that randomness and risk-taking are essential for innovation and change.

Johansson, author of the best-selling book The Medici Effect: Groundbreaking Innovation at the Intersection of Disciplines and Cultures, has made his name by articulating the conditions necessary to spur innovations. The inspiration for his book is the powerful Medici family, who brought highly creative individuals from many disciplines and cultures to 15th-Century Florence and helped spawn the Renaissance—one of the most creative eras in human history.

The Medici formula is one that Johansson, who has founded successful businesses in the software, health care, and hedge fund industries, has tried to put into practice. “Whenever I was able to combine ideas from different disciplines and cultures, I was better able to break new ground,” Johansson told an overflowing crowd of attendees at the Palais de Congres de Montreal.

Johansson’s high-energy address was part discussion and part performance art. He wandered the length of the stage at the Palais, rolling through his slides in rapid succession. At one point he had attendees play a few games of rock-paper-scissors, where the most successful strategy, Johansson said, is to “stay utterly random.”

For Johansson, the key to developing winning ideas in business is to cultivate the conditions where random interactions occur among creative people of varied backgrounds. “The true insights, true breakthroughs, happen unexpectedly,” Johansson said, and they happen at astonishing speed. Today’s market leader can become tomorrow’s follower—a lesson illustrated by the difficulties of former cell phone giant Nokia, whose colorful phones once ruled the market but were overwhelmed by the smartphone tide.

To become a leader, Johansson said, companies must remain open to doing things differently and not let their market success make them complacent. “The logic of the numbers will point you to a place where everyone else is going as well,” he said. “If you want to discover new insights, you need something else." 

Ed Rutkowski is AIHA's managing editor, Periodicals, and editor in chief of The Synergist.