Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Medici effect

Any book with the subtitle: what elephants and epidemics can teach us about innovation is at least worth a scan. Leaving aside the usual hype that goes with a lot of business publications (yeah, I read stuff from the dark side), this 200 page little jolter is worth a peek for folk who puzzle about the I word (I is fer innovation), although to be fair, Johansson writes more in terms of break throughs than innovation. One of the intriguing observations about break throughs was just how much hard work is involved. Often such things are popularly presented as "Ah ha" moments while sitting in or imbibing fluids. Johansson reports that Mike Oldfield (remember Tubular Bells?) did 2,300 recordings before he got what he wanted, and that Edison did 50,000 experiments to develop the storage fuel cell (p.107). Johansson's thesis is that the break through stuff comes at the intersection of two, often quite disparate fields and gives a good number of well told accounts of this phenomenon. I must confess that this book probably encouraged (or even justifies!) my weird tastes in reading and pursuing ideas that don't even remotely look educational. It also offers yet another telling crit. of what goes on in the name of curriculum in most formal educational systems as being quite daft. Put simply, if we play the Medici game with this book and curriculum, schools (at all levels) come out as places of incrementalism and conformity. As Johansson argues, incrementalism has its place but its not the place you want to be if you want to do anything that either stirs or feeds you passions. If nothing, the book is a great source of "off the wall" PD ideas for jaded educational consultants or tired university lecturers looking for a new riff for their stuff. To help, Johansson offers a kind of framework for the break through phenomenon and includes some interesting counter intuitive ideas. In my humble opinion, it would be such a neat way to think about curriculum, kids and turning schools into sites that did interesting, even useful knowledge production (yeah cheap plug for the KPS stuff.... ). The other thing that struck me was the importance for the intangible stuff around all of this, passion (and I love this gem from Arti's recent scribble: I have always felt that grappling without lust is unethical), energy, persistence, faith in self and ideas and all those other qualities the school system is so good at squashing in kids. There is a lot more to say, the book resonated with a very large number of memes that are important to me and I think might rank up there with the current top 100 of selfish memes busily looking for compliant hosts.