So, what is it all about? Vision, intersections and... hard work (that must be kept fun!) !
Change, globalization, change again, innovation, networks, market niches, change again... the bla bla bla of business speak has been spreading along many of these buzzwords during the last few years. We have all become quite familiar with all of this. All of us: entrepreneurs, workers, managers, students, consumers, consultants. We use these terms to show we are up to speed with the latest trends and fads. We feel that this way we can better communicate with others, we can show how much we know and what we are all about. Great! We are all global, we are all ready to change, we are all ready to network!
But, wait a second! in hindsight (after the bla bla bla) what is all of this about? what is the answer to the “so what”? Are we really communicating and showing how smart we are?
The reality of it is that we: entrepreneurs, workers, managers, students, consumers, consultants in the privacy of our very own thinking don’t feel that smart, don’t feel that global and that ready to change... we often feel confused uncertain about our futures, unavoidably exposed to cultural, societal and economic forces that seem to powerfully shape our present and our future no matter what we bla bla bla about.
The fact is that in order to understand and actually contribute to shape those forces, we do need to start going well beyond the bla bla bla: we need to venture into new perspectives, new ways of looking at problems and opportunities, we need to truly become constructively interconnected with one another working on the project to better what we do not like and we find ourselves to complain about at home, at work, within society.
History is often a great resource to project ourselves in a better future. History shows us that chaotic uncertain times have always been part of society. History also shows us that these times have worked as stimulus to improve, to realize that there must be a better way and this has brought people to express the best of their thinking and talents. For example,the fifteenth-century Italian Renaissance is a case in point on the issue: after the doom and gloom of Medieval times, after the death toll of the Black Plague, it was time to start again to take control of our destiny.
The Medici Effect...
An entrepreneurial Florentine banking family, the Medici, was instrumental in supplying the resources and drive to begin and develop the journey of discovery of the past in order to shape a more stimulating future. Renaissance became a time of refreshed values of creativity in thinking, innovation in living practices and mastery of arts (refreshed because many of these values had already been practiced in classic Greek and Egypt ancient time and somehow had been forgotten during the Medieval time). It became a way to make people realize that we had concrete potential to materialize what it was not even considered conceivable at that time.
This helped people to realize that barriers to our actions and expressions were not set simply by limits in resources or time: the greatest barrier of all was within our own mind, within our capacity to see things from different perspectives in order to focus on possibilities and opportunities. The Medici family helped people to cross these barriers mixing talents and experiences from many different and apparently unrelated fields. This is they way that they helped people to succeed to shape a, relatively for the time, better world. It is to note that many of today’s business and financial practices begun and developed just in those times...
...are we ready?...
Frans Johansson effectively articulates this point in the book “The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersections of Ideas, Concepts & Cultures” (2004 - Harvard Business School Press) showing us how to create in practical terms that refreshing context for creativity and innovation in our time. This is a way to make sense of and actually make concrete the bla bla bla of business speak! The book is an intriguing read that I invite all of you to experience. I just want to point out two key concepts articulated by Johansson: the limits set on ourselves by our natural associative barriers and the difference between directional and intersectional innovation.
The associative barriers are the connections we intuitively make among things, places, concepts, ideas and people. They help us to more efficiently process the information we are exposed to and the experiences we make. They are good to us, at the same time we need to be aware of them because they limit our capacity to think under various points of view, by using them without awareness we risk to become trapped into them. Directional innovation is the innovation (meaning creativity that materializes in actual useful, workable solutions) that happens within the boundaries of a specific field: during the last one hundred years directional innovation has progressively contributed to make cars more useful and resourceful means of transportation. Intersectional innovation instead is the one that materializes itself when different specific fields and disciplines become somehow connected determining a total new way to see things, shaping up new perspectives, radical new ways of doing something. Most of the fifteenth-century Italian Renaissance was about creating the right contexts to stimulate intersectional innovation and masters such as Leonardo da Vinci were able to express their genius by becoming “living intersections” themselves!
Are we ready to create the cultural, social and psychological conditions to stimulate a concrete manifestation and spread of intersectional innovation? It takes three basic ingredients: the vision to see things the way that could be or become; the willingness to consciously venture into the uneasy (because not familiar) world of intersections of ideas, concepts & cultures (as Johansson points out in his book); and the willingness to actively work hard on it to make it happen!
... beyond international and global into multidimensional and multicultural...
For example, to make a point on what it means to create useful “intersections” to innovate, let’s look at the widely utilized concepts of “international” and “global” and let’s try to reshape them... When we think about “international” or “global” many times we think about different languages, different markets representing threats or opportunities. These terms are more and more common within the business speak but what do they mean? what is the “so what”? Does it simply mean that we need to start to become more familiar with world geography, world history and learn at least a second language? Is that it?
If we observe the actions of and listen to people that actually practice globalization on a day to day basis (people that actually spend time with and cooperate with people from different countries and cultures) we soon realize that “global” means, most of all, a multidimensional way of thinking: different best practices and perspectives coming to connect. Thinking and acting in “global” terms means that there is not one best way in relative terms; it means we find ourselves operating in cultural “intersection points”. To us the choice to benefit from this context (we often are in an ideal context to generate some meaningful innovation) or suffer from it by not being able to embrace the opportunity. This way the term “global” becomes much more meaningful and concrete: it becomes “multicultural” in practice with all the opportunities and problems that stimulate our perceptions once we become aware of the implications of this word. (More on the topic within the review to the book SHIFT, click here).
... join the KnowledgeForAction.info project!
KnowledgeForAction.info begins as a project (please read the project outline at this link) more that one year after a sister site has begun to develop the same kind of open on-line magazine in Italian language (www.sapereperfare.it). Managers, workers, students, artists, writers, philosophers, professionals, consultants, poets, professors are currently contributing to make the Italian sister site a virtual “Medici Effect” laboratory stimulating the rise of many “intersections” of ideas, fields, concepts and cultures. The project has been very inspiring and stimulating to me and now I hope that by creating the same kind of “Medici Effect” platform in English language, we can spread worldwide the network of people committed to shape a better way to find and express our talents in our private and professional lives. Join us with your ideas and experiences! It is fun to live at the “intersection hubs”!
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