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SITE +MPI Global Forum Speaker Frans Johansson On Breaking New Ground

Fran Johansson

The idea that bestselling author and renowned speaker Frans Johansson will be presenting at the SITE + MPI Global Forum (Jan. 12-14 in Rome) is simple but profound. It’s a concept that goes back hundreds of years, yet is extremely relevant in today’s world as an approach to creating impactful innovations. It’s the concept that he explained and defined in his bestselling book The Medici Effect.

“The core of what I’m going to talk about is that we have the best chance to break new ground when we combine ideas from different fields, from different industries, from different cultures,” Johansson says. “The idea of combining a diversity of ideas and perspectives in the thought process is one that goes back centuries.”

But he feels it is more and more relevant as time goes by because he is seeing his audiences and the participants in his seminars being more receptive to the diversity concept than ever before.

“The people have seen increasingly how this is playing out in the real world and they are attracted to it and see results,” Johansson says.

And he feels the SITE + MPI Global Forum will be a particularly appropriate group with which to share his insights about the Medici Effect because the group at the forum is somewhat diverse—SITE (Society for Incentive Travel Excellence) and MPI are global organizations focused on essentially the same industry, but with different perspectives.

Ever since rolling out his book on the Medici Effect 13 years ago when he was completing his master’s degree at Harvard Business School, Johansson has been helping groups explore strategies for making their creative processes more innovative by simply making the input into those processes more diverse.

He says that over that time period, he has seen more and more acceptance to interacting, sharing ideas and participating in a creative process with people “who are not exactly like yourself.”

People with different cultural and geographic backgrounds all have slightly different perspectives on the creative process, he says, and consequently, diverse sources of input give undertakings like problem solving and creation of new concepts and strategies a much broader perspective, and also a greater chance for reaching higher levels.

And when Johansson talks about diversity of input, he is not just talking about the people involved in idea-incubation sessions. He is also talking about combining ideas from different fields of study, different industries than your own—and more.

For a meeting planner, for instance, “looking at a compelling architectural design may give you inspiration on how you can present a dinner at your next event,” he says.

Johansson’s talks are filled with anecdotal explanations of how creative people have used ideas from outside the conventional norms of their industries to discover innovative solutions for challenges they faced in fields ranging from architectural design to healthcare.

One of his favorite anecdotes is how architect Mick Pearce found success when given the challenge of constructing a massive commercial building in Harare, Zimbabwe, without using conventional air conditioning and heating equipment. Pearce took an idea from how termites build large colonies out of mud and channel vents throughout the mound, bringing in air that is sucked through cool mud below the surface of the ground that supports the mound. With this method, the termite mounds are kept at a constant temperature range that the termites need to survive. Pearce and his team crafted a ventilation system that keeps the building, which is called Eastgate Centre, with a constant temperature range that is comfortable for human beings and requires only a fraction of the electricity consumed by buildings of similar size in the city.

Another anecdote Johansson likes to share involves a hospital that was seeking a more efficient way to transfer patients from its operating rooms to the intensive care section and other parts of the building. Errors can occur when moving patients after surgery, impacting quality of care. To learn how to orchestrate the movement of patients, the hospital looked at the precise choreography of an auto racing pit crew, drawing inspiration from the timing coordination the crew used in order to create a system for movement of hospital patients, which reduced errors and improved process flow.

Johansson encourages not only groups but individuals to look for new ways of doing things that draw from disciplines and fields of work to which they have not been exposed before.

“It can be as simple as walking through a newsstand and picking up periodicals you’ve never looked at before,” he says. “It can be an ongoing undertaking that will enhance your creative process.”

When it comes to diversity of experiences and cultures, Johansson knows of what he speaks. Born to a black American woman of Cherokee heritage and a Swedish father, he was raised in Sweden and went to college in the U.S., attending undergraduate school at Brown University, majoring in environmental science.

“The interdisciplinary nature of this field—I studied chemistry, biology, physics, geology, oceanography and policy—opened my eyes to the power of making unique connections between the various sciences,” he says.

He went on to a master’s degree program at Harvard Business School, where he published his bestselling book. When the book came out, he was down to $2.45 in his bank account. But the book would change his life, leading to a speaking career and the formation of his company, the Medici Group, a consultancy that advocates diversity of ideas and perspectives to take his clients to higher levels of creativity.

The term “Medici Effect” is taken from the impact made on the arts and humanities by the House of Medici, a powerful banking family that had huge economic, political and cultural impact on Florence, Italy, for three centuries beginning in the 1400s. The Medicis were strong patrons of the arts and humanities and created a nurturing environment in which the works of the best minds in Europe could flourish—hence, the Medici Effect, as Johansson has labeled it.

Businessweek called The Medici Effect “one of the best books on innovation.” The Washington Post said that Johansson had “written a book dozens of business school professors meant to write, but couldn’t.” It has been translated into 18 languages.



Education and Connections On Tap in Rome

The Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) and MPI have joined forces for the SITE + MPI Global Forum, Jan. 12-14, 2018, at the Rome Cavalieri Waldorf Astoria.

The forum will offer joint education sessions, as well as incentive travel and meetings management tracks, allowing delegates to customize their experience. And, exciting pre and post tours will provide ample opportunity to explore the eternal city and surrounding regions.

Learn more and register at

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About the Author

Roland Stiteler
Rowland Stiteler

Rowland Stiteler, a veteran meeting industry journalist, is a writer and editor for The Meeting Professional.