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Saphila 2014

Eugene morokolo Jun 11,2014 0 Comments

In today’s unpredictable business environment, the most innovative ideas are often found in completely illogical, surprising ways.

Frans Johansson, international speaker and author of the best-selling business book “The Medici Effect”, highlights the importance of “escaping the logic trap” – discarding traditional thinking and looking at problems and opportunities completely differently.

Speaking for the first time on South African soil at the African SAP User Group’s (AFSUG) Saphila 2014 conference in Sun City, Johansson explained that many dramatic innovations of our era have come from the most unlikely sources.

Termites and architecture

“Find inspiration from cultures or industries other than your own,” he encouraged delegates, explaining that when one takes all of their resources, assets, knowledge and networks – and then connects it to something else altogether – the true magic of innovation begins.

“Diversity drives innovation. Diversity of perspectives, of backgrounds, cultures, fields of expertise, genders, or ethnicities.”

Johansson refers to the seemingly disconnected fields of termitology (the study of termite ecology) and architecture. Some ground-breaking architectural designs to improve cooling were modelled on the closable vents that termites create at the bases of termite mounds.

Or, consider the example of YouTube, which started as just another unsuccessful dating site, before its inventors realised the potential in general video sharing. After just 18 months it was sold to Google for $1,65 billion. The entire story is something that was never planned or expected.

It is the unanticipated discoveries and chance encounters – what Johansson calls “click moments” – that defy rational and logical analysis, and spur giant leaps of innovation.

Breaking the 10,000 hour rule

Accepted wisdom says that one needs consistent practice to develop excellence in a given field. Johansson takes an example of Serena Williams, as the most dominant female tennis player over the past decade and more. Before her ascent to world number one, Williams spent many thousands of hours practicing.

However, in business there are contrarian examples – like Elon Musk (who started Tesla with no experience in car manufacturing), and Richard Branson (who had never even worked at an airline, let alone managed one, before starting Virgin Atlantic).

The difference, says Johansson, is that in tennis the rules of the game never change. Year-in, year-out, tennis stays the same. However, in business, this is simply not the case.

“Nokia, for example, knew that the rules of the cellular handset market were to have cool colours, cool shapes and cool ringtones. But in just a few years, what happened? All of a sudden that changed – and they are all black, all rectangle-shaped, and the ringtones don’t matter. Now, it’s all about apps.” The result is that Nokia has been left behind as the likes of Apple and Samsung surged ahead.

Strategy and planning are still useful, explains Johansson, but not for the reasons that we are commonly used to. “The purpose of strategy is not to figure out the right answer; it is to convince yourself to act.

“As an organisation, you cannot stand still. You have to get people aligned, and all moving in a particular direction. So the ideal balance is to have some form of vision, while still introducing some serendipity into our actions.”

Relying too rigidly on processes, logic and established principles is the most dangerous approach, he warns. “You’re going to end up in the same place – the logical place. In other words, the opposite of innovation.”

Johansson’s philosophy, which he has come to term ‘The Medici Effect’, involves staying ever inquisitive, moving out of one’s comfort zone, and looking for those intersections between diverse fields, industries, disciplines, and cultures. Only then, he says, will true creativity and innovation emerge.

Saphila 2014, a biennial African event hosted by the African SAP User Group (AFSUG), is taking place from 9 to 11 June at the Sun City Resort in the North-West Province.

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