Connect and Innovate

8/9/2012 4:45:00 PM

Frans Johansson describes the future of business to a rapt MBA Class of ‘14 


Frans Johansson, management consultant and author of The Medici Effect and The Click Moment, captivated the incoming MBA Class of ’14 in his discussion of diversity, innovation, and the future of business when he came to campus Aug. 7, 2012 to deliver a presentation sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University.

Johansson left the audience with four main points:

·     People or companies that can generate and test more new idea combinations without exhausting resources are likely to be successful innovators.

·     Not all idea combinations are created equal.

·     People who change the world try more ideas.

·     Diverse teams can trigger an explosion of new ideas.

In discussing these familiar business themes, Johansson didn’t claim to be bringing anything new to the table; in fact, as he put it himself, all ideas are re-expressions or combinations of old ideas. Johansson’s uniqueness lay in his ability to synthesize information from a variety of disciplines, place that information in the paradigm of innovation, and explain how people can implement innovation in their business lives.

Johansson began his presentation by asking students to consider the unlikeliness of certain word combinations, such as bikini and burqa and architecture and termites, and proceeded to show how important innovations (such as the ”burqini”’ beach dress for observant Muslim women and an office building in Harare using termites’ principles of air conditioning) resulted from these unexpected and creative combinations. Johansson believes that the business winners of the future will take advantage of these kinds of unexpected — but, in retrospect, wonderfully useful — idea combinations.

Johansson had the MBA Class of ’14 thoroughly engaged throughout the presentation. Starting with a humorous, rapid-fire, 30-second retelling of his life, and sustained by his remarkable ability to explain the roots and characteristics of innovation, Johansson taught the Class of ’14 the all-important lesson of getting into the “intersection,” or the place where unexpected ideas, diverse people, and cross-disciplinary thinking interweave. Johansson argued that the future of business would be driven by people who knew how to live in and leverage that intersection, and that Johnson’s Class of ’14 had a head start by being part of a highly diverse environment.

Students peppered Johansson with questions after the talk and engaged in intense conversations amongst themselves as they filed out of the room, a sure sign that Johansson had made a deep impression on them. Before they even got to the hallway, students were already trying out Johansson’s advice to get out of their comfort zones, interact with peers from different cultures, and try out life in the intersection.

“The world is connecting,” Johansson told Johnson’s newest MBA students. “And someone’s making those connections. It should be you.”


—     Demir Barlas

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