Review: The Medici Effect

Since I’m in the business of creating ideas (mainly for this blog), I’m always interested in books about idea creation. Recently I found a book on this topic entitled The Medici Effect: What Elephants and Epidemics Can Teach Us About Innovation by Frans Johansson.
Medici Effect is the name given by the author for the explosion of remarkable innovations at the place where different fields meet. The place itself is called the Intersection. Here is the main idea of the book:

The Medici EffectThe 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.

It’s definitely something that interests me. Let’s dig deeper into the book.

Inside The Medici Effect

The book is divided into three parts with a total of fifteen chapters.
Part One. The Intersection
1. The Intersection””Your Best Chance to Innovate
There are two kinds of innovation: directional and intersectional. Directional innovations take a particular direction as results of combining ideas within a field. Intersectional innovations, on the other hand, leap to new directions as results of combining ideas from different fields.
Intersectional innovations happen in the Intersection. That’s why the Intersection is the best place for us to innovate.
2. The Rise of Intersections
There were a lot of Intersections in the Renaissance era that produced people like Leonardo da Vinci. But the world then changed and people became more and more specialized. Recently though, the world changed again and Intersections rise. There are three forces behind this rise:

  • The movement of people
    Globalization makes more and more people move between nations.
  • The convergence of science
    The previously separated fields of science converges and creates combinations like bioengineering.
  • The leap of computation
    The increasing power of computation frees people to be more creative and increases communication between them.

Part Two: Creating the Medici Effect
3. Break Down the Barriers Between Fields
Whenever we think about an idea, we usually associate it with other ideas. A knife, for instance, is normally associated with cutting. But most people only see the obvious associations.  It’s difficult for them to associate knife with, say, music. This difficulty is called associative barrier and it inhibits creativity. If you want to be creative, you should break the barriers between fields.
4. How to Make the Barriers Fall
How can you break down associative barriers? The key is diversity. You should expose yourself to different cultures, learn differently, and see from multiple perspectives. The more you have diversity, the more likely it is for you to associate different ideas.
5. Randomly Combine Concepts
A creative idea has two important characteristics. First, it’s a combination of different concepts. Second, it’s random which is why it’s difficult to trace the origin of an insight. Like it or not, luck is an important factor of innovation.
6. How to Find the Combinations
Luck is essential for innovation. But is there anything you can do about it? Fortunately, yes. While you can’t completely control random factors, you can increase the chance of succeeding.
There are three ways to do it: by diversifying occupations, by interacting with diverse groups of people, and by introducing randomness into your thinking pattern.
7. Ignite an Explosion of Ideas
Here is a defining characteristic of successful innovators: they produce and realize a huge amount of ideas. Though it may seem counterintuitive, the strongest correlation for quality of ideas is quantity of ideas. Linus Pauling said, “The best way to get a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” It has been proven that scientists, artists, and writers with the best ideas are those who produce the most ideas.
This is an important insight for me. I’ve been thinking about increasing my writing skill by writing more but I was afraid that it will lead to lower quality writings. This insight confirms the opposite.
8. How to Capture the Explosion
There are three things you should do to capture creative ideas at the Intersection. First, you must have deep enough understanding of the fields involved. Find the balance between depth and breadth. Second, you must generate many ideas before evaluating them. One way to do this is through brainstorming. Third, you must have enough time for evaluating the ideas. Research shows that, contrary to common belief, being under time pressure actually inhibits creativity.
Part Three: Making Intersectional Ideas Happen
9. Execute Past Your Failures
Getting creative ideas is one thing, but realizing them is another thing. This is the difficult part for many people. Since innovative people pursue more ideas, they also fail more. The key here is to execute past your failures.
10. How to Succeed in the Face of Failure
Since failure is part of innovation, you must plan for it. You must be ready to change your execution plan and don’t think that you will get it right on the first try. To be able to do that, you should reserve resources for trial and error and have intrinsic motivation to remain motivated.
11. Break Out of Your Network
To execute intersectional ideas, often you need to break out of your existing network. Why? Because the network – which consists of your current colleagues, mentors, and customers – often inhibits you from executing intersectional idea. They want you to stay within the field and execute directional ideas that are more predictable.
12. How to Leave the Network Behind
Leaving your network doesn’t mean alienating them. You should keep your relationships with them. Leaving the network means stop relying on them. But, in case you face opposition from them, you should also be prepared to fight.
13. Take Risks and Overcome Fear
Executing intersectional ideas involves taking risk. A logical way to overcome it is by acquiring more resources (time, money) to minimize risk. Unfortunately, this is the wrong way to take. Acquiring more resources doesn’t reduce risk. The reason is because someone’s behavior becomes riskier when the environment is safer.
Therefore, don’t try to minimize risk. Once you have enough resources to execute your idea, do it without waiting for more resources.
14. How to Adopt a Balanced View of Risk
To find the courage to execute your ideas, you should avoid behavioral traps relating to risk. One such behavioral traps is the tendency to stay within a field when things are going well. The reason is because we fear losing. Being aware of the traps is an effective way to overcome them. Another effective way to overcome fear is by  acknowledging your fear.
15. Step into the Intersection . . .
This chapter reminds you of the main idea of the book. The future lies at the Intersection. It’s where breakthrough ideas are. If you want to help create the future, find your way to the Intersection.


For me, The Medici Effect is a surprisingly good book on idea creation. It covers practically every aspect of idea creation from getting creative ideas to realizing them. I especially like the fact that The Medici Effect supports its tips with relevant studies. That way, the tips are scientifically proven.
In my case, I will focus on applying the tips in chapter 4, 6, and 7. Breaking down associative barriers (chapter 4), increasing the chance of finding good combinations (chapter 6), and getting quality ideas through quantity (chapter 7) are particularly relevant to my current situation.


  1. This site is dedicated to innovatively challenged inventions, products, patents, thoughts, links or comments.
    submissions welcome

  2. Thanks for sharing this amazing book. I especially like insight #8. I’ve frequently marveled at new fields and endeavors that arose from the intersection of two seemingly unrelated fields.
    In my writing and work I’ve always felt that I’ve needed to achieve some depth of knowledge before I could proceed and after gathering ideas needed time to evaluate them. I know some people believe they get their best ideas when working under pressure. That just isn’t true for me.

  3. Flora,

    I know some people believe they get their best ideas when working under pressure.

    I used to think that way myself. But later I found that though I can usually finish tasks under time pressure (Parkinson’s law?), I can’t be as creative as I want in such situations.

  4. I learned using #5 from a friend who works in an Ad Agency. Apparently, a lot of their creative ideas come from “cross-pollinating” brands, industries, or even old ideas.
    Personally, when I’m stuck on a particular project, I find it useful to step away from where I’m working and take a walk. I find that by temporarily disassociating myself from the work, when I return to it, I have an explosion of ideas that help me finish my task.

  5. […] out, a great way to get high-quality ideas is to have a lot of ideas. The Medici Effect (here is my review) says it clearly: The strongest correlation for quality of ideas is, in fact, quantity of […]

  6. […] with fresh ideas. They are the masters of ideas. Synthesizers live in the Intersection (a term from The Medici Effect) where ideas from different fields collide and form new […]

  7. […] (follow me on Twitter) , October 19, 2009 Advertisements In The Medici Effect (here is my review), there’s a term I’m interested in: the Intersection. It’s a place where ideas and […]

  8. […] It gives you fresh ideas. Using the term from The Medici Effect, curiosity gives you Intersection experience where concepts from different fields collide with one […]

  9. Monique Avakian
    Monique Avakian

    I highly recommend that you start writing poetry, since poetry is all about combining 2 or more elements that don’t conventionally go together, it allows for randomness within various structures including forms such as:
    the cut-up (Beat era)
    whereby you take a list of words, a random article, a poem you already wrote, a computer manual, a newspaper article, your blog, anything that has words. Cut it up into phrases or separate words. Throw words into the air. Combine/arrange into new poem. Can be done alone or in a group (more fun and you can have snacks and read aloud).
    jazz music is also good — learn to play and instrument and learn how to improvize
    I just love your blog — it is #1 and this article was all new to me and I am inspired and motivated by reading it.

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