Monday, August 27, 2012

ILTA 12 Keynote: Frans Johansson on The Medici Effect

The keynote speakers on the first day of conference have been routinely excellent.

This morning, Frans Johansson is talking about "The Medici Effect:  Groundbreaking Innovation at the Intersection of Disciplines and Cultures in Law Firms and Law Departments."

The formal description:

The world of technology is changing faster than any other area of business. How can IT develop insights that will propel your firm or law department in the midst of all these changes? In this highly dynamic and energetic talk, Frans Johansson will apply the lessons from his international best-seller, "The Medici Effect," to vividly showcase how the best chance to innovate lies at the intersection of different fields, departments and industries. IT is connected throughout the organization and can leverage a wide array of knowledge and perspectives to develop new insights. IT can also dramatically increase collaboration across the enterprise in order to unleash both innovation and efficiency. Finally, the IT professional can super-charge their own creativity by drawing inspiration from completely separate fields. Understand why and what you can do about it. Frans will clearly and persuasively show what happens when legal and technology cultures collide and ignite an explosion of extraordinary new ideas and discoveries. See how technologists and attorneys can work together to create the perfect “intersection” of cultures.

See video at

Below are my notes on this session.

What drives innovation?

Technology increasingly  drives new operational and buisness models.

He created a magazine "Catalyst" to bring stuff together, started a software company that "went really well until it didn't.".

He investigaters how intersections lead to innovations.

We have the best chance to innovate when we connect across our differnces.

Innovation is important because the world is changing very quickly.

Example:  Spanish fashion company Zarra can go from design to selling a dress across the world in 7 days.

A more sobering example;  only 68% of recent law school graduates are working in a job that requires a J.D.

Yet our ability to innovate constricts as our firms get larger.  Innovation tends to come from newcomers, upstarts.

One reason is that we tend to use logic as the only guidance for reaching success.  For instance, Audi and Volvo might both to decide to address their minor deficiencies, then end up with cars that look quite similar.

Architect for a large building in Harare used the ventilation approach found in termite mounds.

"The Medici Effect" is named after the Medici family that ran Florence in the 15th & 16th centuries.  They sponsored creative and effective people from all kinds of backgrounds.

New Ideas Are Combinations of Other Ideas

Frans proposess that all new ideas are combinations of existing ideas.  But not all combinations of ideas are created equal.

For instance, a Muslim woman had the idea of using bikini material and combining it with a burqa-style swimsuit.

Some People Have More Ideas

We are horrible at predicting what will work.

Jimmy Wales initially tried to develop a large online free encyclopedia.  He initially tried a model that had experts vet all proposed content.  We consider him a genius now because he tried again when this model didn't work.

Diverse Teams Can Make More New Ideas

Intersection of classical and rock / pop music created a big hit for Richard Branson at Virgin Records.    He does math on ideas within rock.  Normal rock approaches would lead to about 2,400 different approaches.  If there are comparable numbers of combinations in classical music, combining the two leads to over six million different ideas.

How can we use this?

1.  Leverage the diversity of our own organizations.

The designer of "Battlefield3" and "Mirror's Edge" video games brought programmers and designers into the same room and got collaboration out of email.

We can drive collaboration in our firm by enabling it in our organizations and by connecting with people who are different from us.

2.  Use technology to drive and not just serve new business models

If we are at the intersection of technology and business we are in a position to drive new business approaches.

He talked to Meredith Williams.  Baker Donelson developed a technology toolkit for one health care client of theirs that was valuable enough that the firm captured all of that client's work.

He talked to me.  Goodwin Procter has worked with PBWorks to create a space where clients, cocounsel, experts, and lawyers in the firm can work together better.

Interactive Element

He asked us to find inspiration from a picture of a bunch of workers fixing a fancy car at a pit stop.

He asked three people who had various ideas about monitoring client performance, watching and learning from matter teams, and the like.

Do we have time to innovate?  It's hard to find the time.

3. How do we make ideas happen?

Directional ideas often are executed in step-by-step fashion.  More innovative ideas can take longer and get developed less directly.

We use up energy, money, and reputation in getting to a goal.

He addresses the idea of the "Ice Hotel."  He started out with ice sculptures, then made an exhibit hall out of snow, then made an event hall out of ice, then he realized people would pay to sleep on a bed of ice.

Driving change within a firm starts with the "smallest executable step." It's not about the end goal, it's about taking the next step.  Start with the easiest part of your idea that you can execute, and then adjust.

Innovating may be risky, but doing the same thing over and over again is riskier.   We can be the people in our organizations driving innovation.

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