How World Class Innovators Create the Unexpected
“The most innovative solutions to problems have come from the cross-pollination of fields.”
—Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist (Beard, 2015)
“Innovation opportunities going forward will be at the cusps of different disciplines—biology and computer science, information technology and health care, semiconductors and medicine.”
—Richard Newton, former Dean of Engineering, University of California, Berkeley (Mitra, 2009)
“Technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with the liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our hearts sing.”
In science, the fusion of two nuclei into a new, combined nucleus releases a massive amount of energy (nuclear fusion). Likewise, a Fusion in business, technology, and the arts can release a massive amount of value and create whole new companies, industries, and human capabilities. But how?
Such fusions took place in the first half of the 15th century in Florence, Italy—a place well-known for architecture and art, piazzas and café’s, walkways and topiaries—and a family that possessed and grew business, political, and royal dynasty. Their influence spread throughout Europe, and they provided support for gifted individuals who cross-fertilized ideas and inventions across business, science/technology, and the arts. The family was the Medici. The “mash-ups” that ensued from collecting, supporting, connecting, and engaging these gifted individuals produced an explosion of innovation at the intersections of their fields (Johansson, 2006).
They and similar families fostered the birth of the Italian Renaissance.
Today’s renaissance is fostered more democratically and electronically, fuelled by information technology, communication, and globalisation. As we’ve seen in past eras of creative productivity, fertile ground for high-value innovation lies in the spaces between domains of industry, country, field, function, social class, and more.
“Renaissance man,” supported by the Medici or other patrons, was a widely-learned person across multiple domains. Today, we educate ourselves in functional silos with an industrial-age education system for jobs that may not exist in the future. However, with today’s mashed-up global economies and societies, a wealth of information at our Googling fingertips, and diverse sources of capital to launch good ideas into the marketplace, more and more of us are becoming cross-domain innovators and founders in a new renaissance that is surpassing the industrial revolution. It’s a new renaissance.
Martine Rothblatt (formerly Martin) is a good example. S/he combined satellite technology and radio service (completely separate technologies and industries at the time) into Sirius Satellite Radio, which became Sirius XM Holdings, with a market capitalization of USD 24Bn. Without a background in drug development, but with a feverish desire to save her daughter’s life, s/he also founded United Theraputics, to finish developing a shelved drug that could save her. UT now has a market capitalization over USD 6Bn, and Martine is one of the 25 highest-paid CEO’s in the world. More importantly, her daughter’s life was saved—as were many others—by reaching outside her field, connecting, creating, and building—something the original drug-development corporation wouldn’t do.
Are there others like Martine who reach outside a field, industry, or company, make new connections, and create surprizing value, surpassing today’s corporations? How do they do it? Can they do so within corporate contexts or only outside? Why don’t others in the same circumstance create what they create?
As a first step towards answering these questions of who, how, where, and why, the articles in this series contain inspiration and insights from journeys of new-renaissance innovators and what they created, including:
In fact, I am writing this article with a product that illustrates the value of fusion—the value of an integration that transcends its pieces. When first introduced, users complained loudly about how Microsoft Word was not an advance over WordStar or WordPerfect—likewise PowerPoint over Harvard Graphics, Excel over Lotus 1–2–3, and Outlook over Lotus Notes. However, Microsoft Office did something far better than all the others. It seamlessly integrated words, pictures, numbers, and communication in a way people wanted. The integrated suite now dominates markets formerly held by siloed specialists.
Given the power and value of integration, why don’t we do more? Why not focus our innovation investments on high-value fusions of industries, fields, nations, etc., mixing technologies and marrying them with other disciplines, serving old needs in powerful new ways? Do we simply not know how?
Let’s find out how to spot opportunities at the cusps of different disciplines and start cross-pollinating fields….
1. one who innovates across domains of industry, field, country, social class, etc.
◦ s radical innovator, interdisciplinary creator, T-shaped person, borderless freethinker, boundary-crossing integrator, oddball;
I thank the participants in this study (Fusioneers and Friends) for your insights, sharing, help, and patience. You inspire me, and I am honoured to know you. Special thanks go to Gladys Lee for her marketing excellence and video- and podcast-production brilliance, as well as the host of creative professionals involved in producing the videos and podcasts (you’re all listed on YouTube, iTunes, etc.). I extend a warm thanks to Fusion Research Assistant Dr. Lee Poh Chin for her continually-wise and dedicated contribution to this research, as well as i2i Executive Shareff Uthuman for managing the rats-nest of global research travel and budgets. Dr. Lee suggested the use of the MPQ and performed the analysis reported in this article. I thank Nitish Jain and the S P Jain School of Global Management for supporting this research—you’re the foundation that enables the whole project. You are all God-sends. It takes a village to write a paper.
For more Fusion articles, click here.