Nothing New Under the Sun

April 10th, 2011

Frans Johannson

All ideas are combinations of old ideas. Hence, to create something innovative why not find the intersection between ideas in two highly unrelated fields. Connect the dots in a unique way.

Recently, I had the pleasure of listening to a remote “Skyped-in-Lecture” by Frans Johansson, author of the critically acclaimed book “The Medici Effect.” I had just finished reading his book literally an hour before I was surprised by a live-feed to the living room of none other than the author himself during my Wednesday night course on “Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneur” taught by Randy Haykin.

Frans is an incredibly passionate speaker, and his very visual love for the topic of innovation was refreshing. According to Frans, “All new ideas are combinations of old ideas.” There’s nothing new under the sun as even the most fresh concepts are the product of snippets of inspiration taken from other sources. And if you agree on this thermodynamic conservation view of the creative world, the most efficient path to innovation is to find the intersection of seemingly unrelated concepts.

Innovation—the useful application of a creative idea—is many times associated with the cutting-edge, something found buried very deep within a field of study. However, Frans offers an alternative approach. Rather than relying on digging very deep within a single field, we can attempt to find a useful overlap of concepts in two unrelated fields. We can connect the dots in a unique way. Yet the two sources cannot be too closely related, otherwise the intersection will not be innovative.

Frans continued with a showcase of examples: Sweden’s Ice Hotel, the Burqini, and biomimicry among the most salient. Furthermore, his theory rang true with some snippets of advice I’d heard before. In another speech a few years back, Auren Hoffman (CEO of Rapleaf) commented, “The best thing you can do is become an expert in two highly unrelated fields.” That’s because even if you aren’t necessarily the best in either of those fields, you are a relative expert when viewed from the opposite field. If you’re the bioengineer that loves dogs, in the bioengineering world you are the dog lady, and among dog-lovers you are the bioengineer.

Such wisdom also goes along with the talk around “T-shaped people.” We can strive to not only be deep within certain skill set but also broad like the top of the “T” so we are capable of communicating and connecting widely. As my breakdancing instructor recently said, “Life is a remix. You just take it in and flip it.”