“the most powerful innovation happens at the “Intersection,” where ideas and concepts from diverse industries, cultures, and disciplines collide. Innovation today is less about expertise and more about how you can rapidly combine insights and ideas, often widely disparate, to create surprising and unique breakthroughs.”
I've got Covid, and while I'm cooped up in isolation I've been thinking about my career.
Currently my career has three interconnected strands.
There's Producing - the primary focus of my professional life to date.
There's tech - a field I've been immersing myself in for the last 18 months, having completed a Professional Diploma in UX Design last summer.
And there's Coaching - primarily integrated into my producing & artist support work, but also stands alone.
In my own coaching sessions (i.e. where I'm the coachee), I'd been reflecting on how I feel the value of the connections between these disciplines so strongly, how I know they're a cohesive package, but I sometimes play down one element or another because I worry that 'others' won't see that. That they might instead see my breadth of knowledge and interest as detrimental to my capabilities. Who these mystery 'others' are is a topic for another day.
My thinking progressed on to how actually I feel inspired by people who have unusual and original paths - squiggly careers, and then to seeking out 'multi-hyphenates' and people with portfolio careers to reaffirm this.
It was somewhere around then that I came across Frans Johansson and the Medici Effect.
At its simplest, the Medici Effect says innovation is dictated by random combinations of different concepts. It says 'when you step into an intersection of fields, disciplines, or cultures, you can combine existing concepts into a large number of extraordinary new ideas.'
In his book about the Medici Effect, Johansson speaks about 'associative barriers'. This basically means that when we encounter something - a word or concept, image or idea, our minds jump to a series of connected ideas. These associations usually draw on our own experience or the fields we move in:
'A person with high associative barriers will quickly arrive at conclusions when confronted with a problem since their thinking is more focused. He or she will recall how the problem has been handled in the past, or how others in similar situations solved it.
A person with low associative barriers, on the other hand, may think to connect ideas or concepts that have very little basis in past experience, or that cannot easily be traced logically. Therefore, such ideas are often met with resistance and sentiments such as, "If this is such a good idea, someone else would have thought of it." But that is precisely what someone else would not have done, because the connection between the two concepts is not obvious.'
I love this concept. It brings freshness and possibility that has the power to shift tired, old ways of doing things. It also offers up a more inclusive and inviting alternative to traditional hierarchies that often exclude many.
It's something I'd been test driving in small ways before I had a name for it.
As an example, when I was designing a brand new talent development programme for the Unity Theatre, I consciously utilised User Research techniques from my UX training with the Liverpool arts scene as the focus of the research. I conducted long form user interviews and condensed findings in Affinity Diagrams and Customer Journey Maps. What came from it was a unique offering that became Creative'Pool. My background wasn't in talent development and my approach to building the programme was informed by research techniques from the tech sector. I had low associative barriers for what it could look like, and the outcome has been really successful with (at latest count) over 530 new artists subscribing to the membership over the past 10 months.
Likewise, both producing and coaching benefit my UX skills. I've spent over a decade immersed in storytelling; I know how to create impactful experiences and how to engage an audience through words, sound, imagery and more. Through coaching I've learnt how to listen at the most active level and how to ask questions that open up new thoughts and possibilities; skills that can truly set a UX Designer apart and lead to beautiful digital experiences.
Now I want to think bolder and be more intentional about this.
Some thoughts off the top of my head:
Coming across the Medici Effect feels like a gamechanger. It's shifted the worry about how I'm perceived as someone with a diverse skillset. This now feels like a skill in itself; something to be proud of, rather than explain away.
Occasional thoughts from my professional life.