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.
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.
Mick Pearce is known as a groundbreaking innovator for launching a new field of architectural design—one that “copies the processes of nature.”
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.
Here’s why: The mind-reading experiment was creative because it was new and valuable, and it was innovative because the creative idea had become realized. This definition of creativity and innovation aligns most closely with that posed by leading Harvard Business School creativity researcher Teresa Amabile.
creativity really occurs when people act in concert with the surrounding environment, and within society.
what we are really saying is that the people in the program have managed to connect these fields, and through these connections they have come up with new creative insights. Individuals, teams, or organizations step into the Intersection by associating concepts from one field with concepts in another.
The Intersection, then, becomes a virtual Peter’s Café, a place for wildly different ideas to bump into and build upon each other.
Intersectional innovations also do not require as much expertise as directional innovation and can therefore be executed by the people you least suspect.
In summary, intersectional innovations share the following characteristics: They are surprising and fascinating. They take leaps in new directions. They open up entirely new fields. They provide a space for a person, team, or company to call its own. They generate followers, which means the creators can become leaders. They provide a source of directional innovation for years or decades to come. They can affect the world in unprecedented ways. The
was so easy to learn that within weeks thousands of Cherokees could read, and it gave Cherokee Nation the ability to create the first Native American newspaper, The Cherokee Phoenix. Sequoyah is the only person in the world known to have created an entire written language on his own and is considered a genius to this day.
Shakira made her U.S. debut with the album Laundry Service, she shot to the top of the charts. Her music had been unusual even in her home country of Colombia. Her father is Lebanese, and her songs combined Arabic and Latin sounds into “a distinctive blend of pop and rock unlike anything being done by Colombian singers at the time.”
George Cowan founded the SFI in 1984. He is a no-nonsense gentleman who speaks slowly, but with sharpness and wit in every sentence.13 Whether the topic is art, business, or policy, he talks like he believes that science and mathematics are connected to everything—and that the Santa Fe Institute is, in a way, set up to find those connections.
Hold on. Pixar’s animators take acting lessons? And this was made possible because of the computers? So, it turns out, computers are part of telling the story after all. The leap of computation has allowed Pixar not just to create 3D animation, but also to focus on the story and the way the story is told.
Only three months later Ruth Reichl of the New York Times gave the restaurant a rare three-star review because of its innovative and tasty food.1 Samuelsson was the youngest chef to have ever received such a prestigious rating.
The answer is that Samuelsson has low associative barriers. He has an ability to easily connect different concepts across fields.
He has, in other words, managed to break down the associative barriers between different fields of cooking. And as a result, his ideas stretch exponentially farther.
But Gould associated everything he observed according to the rules of taxonomy, and he therefore attempted to fit what he saw in Darwin’s bird collection into those rules. His insight was good and helped increase our understanding about the number of finches in the world. Darwin’s insight, on the other hand, explained why the field of taxonomy exists in the first place.
“Innovators are often self-taught. They tend to be the types that educate themselves intensely,” he says, “and they often have a broad learning experience, having excelled in one field and learned another.” Broad education and self-education, then, appear to be two keys to learning differently.
Thomas Kuhn points out in his seminal book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions that “almost always the men who achieve … fundamental inventions of a new paradigm have been either very young or very new to the field whose paradigm they change.”
First, think of a situation, product, or concept related to a challenge you are facing, and think about the assumptions associated with that situation. Next, write down those assumptions; then reverse them. Finally, think about how to make those reversals meaningful.
But what would happen if you reversed the goal? How would you make the customer experience as horrible as possible? How could you drive customers away?
Leonardo da Vinci, the defining Renaissance man and perhaps the greatest intersectionalist of all times, believed that in order to fully understand something one needed to view it from at least three different perspectives.