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The Intersection: Where Bacon Meets Chocolate, and Creativity Meets Genius

December 27, 2013

 

 

Want to radically ramp up your creativity? In his new book The Medici Effect, Frans Johansson believes he can help you.

 

If you're a fan of the Renaissance, you are probably familiar with the House of Medici. This powerful political dynasty bankrolled generations of thinkers, poets, philosophers, sculptors, painters, architects, and scientists. It is no exaggeration to say that in the 15th century, the Medicis were a driving force behind making Florence, well, Florence.

 

We still enjoy their legacy; Medici sponsorships enabled the work of heavy hitters like Galileo and Botticelli, as well as Donatello, Raphael, Michelangelo and Da Vinci. (The artists, not the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Although that would be an amazing show...)

 

According to Johansson, the Medici genius was creating conditions that fostered the intersection of diverse disciplines. This co-mingling ultimately led to extraordinary leaps in innovation.

 

Johansson argues you can create your own little Medici effect if you correctly set up your environment. First, you must harness the way your brain picks up information. The brain's strategy for learning is associative. It uses an elaborate sorting system, constantly looking for connections between arenas of knowledge.

 

Take music, for example.

 

I might begin with understanding that music is built on single entities called notes, and these notes combined in chunks of three or more make up basic structures called chords. As I learn the chord formations, I begin to understand their place in a larger system called a scale, and pretty soon I’m immersed in the study and playing of these scales. When we let these associations run wild, the result is a genre called jazz.

 

So this is how we build out our mental library, with each of these associations bridging out to other associations. It's a very efficient way to take on and store information.

 

But the real power lies in the brain's ability to combine domains. For instance, philosophy and specifically logic rest at the intersection of language and math. And it is at this nexus point you can spark some surprising insights.

 

One of the central themes of Johansson’s book is to immerse yourself in as much experience as possible with an eye towards seemingly unrelated connection.

 

If you frame your world in this way and you go deep with your exploration (a key to creativity, according to Johansson), you begin to see new possibilities.  A young Steve Jobs's fascination with calligraphy leads him to make a variety of fonts available on the early Apple computers, a distinct and winning differentiator from his competitors.

 

Kirby Ferguson’s creative model follows the process of “copy, combine and transform.” Johansson suggests that the key to novel ideas is keeping an aggressively open mind in the combination phase,  bringing together elements that might, on the surface, seem out of place.

 

In your culinary adventures, you might not think mixing chocolate with bacon, but many people swear by it. Paul Simon's Graceland melds traditional American roots rock with Cajun zydeco and South African mbaqanga, among others. Henry Ford's revolutionary automotive assembly line took its cues from the meatpacking industry.

 

As Johansson says, “The world is connected and there is a place where those connections are made—a place called the Intersection. All we have to do is find it… and dare to step in.”

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