Diversity is the key to innovation

Frans Johansson is a Swedish-American who for more than a decade now has helped his clients become more innovative and create more and better ideas. Through his company The Medici Group he has worked with over 2,000 teams around the world, including a number of prime ministers, the UK and Nike. Next week he will give two keynote speeches at Drupa.

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Drupa has a long tradition of presenting inspiring keynote speakers. But this year the printing trade fair may actually set a new unofficial record in exciting speeches. Listening to Frans Johansson explain his theories of intersectional thinking is one of the most fascinating things you can experience on stage in 2016. We phoned him in New York for a foretaste.

“My lectures will be mainly about how diversity drives innovation and how intersectional thinking can help companies to think of new ideas and to develop at the same pace as the rest of the world, or, preferably, how they themselves can develop the world via their own innovations,” he says. “I hope not only to teach the right way of thinking but also to be such an energetic, driving force myself that people go away from my speeches with a feeling that they want to change things immediately.”


Frans Johansson, author, speaker and founder of The Medici Groupe, will give two keynote speeches on innovation and the benefits of intersectional thinking at Drupa.

Johansson’s own life changed in 2004 when he published his first book, The Medici Effect, which quickly became a global success. The book’s key message is that the best breeding ground for innovation is at the intersection of different industries, disciplines or cultures, and that we should therefore strive for diversity in everything from ideas to experiences and backgrounds. The basic idea for his book came from what happened in Florence during the 15th century when the Medici family assembled artists, architects, researchers and philosophers, who together sparked a new age of creativity and innovation in Europe that developed into what is now known as the Renaissance.
“But I drew just as much from my own life and background,” Johansson explains. “With a mother who was an African-American Cherokee and a Swedish father, I grew up with a huge mixture of colour, traditions and cultures. At that time Sweden was not at all as diversified as it is now but I saw the strength that lay in my parents’ ability to adopt and construct new ideas from various cultures.”

In many countries, companies and organisations talk a lot about the importance of diversity but their offices and boardrooms are still extremely homogenous. How can diversity be created?

“It’s about learning to turn around our way of thinking and looking at things from another perspective. It’s not uncommon in Sweden, for example, that people sit and talk about the importance of diversity but then add “everyone has to speak Swedish for it to work”. And then, just an hour or two later, the same people can speak impressively about some Swede who is moving to Barcelona without being able to speak a word of Spanish. Then it’s suddenly regarded as a strength, as proof that the person has drive and courage.



“But finding ideas through diversity is not just about ethnicity or background. It’s just as much about daring to look at other fields or disciplines and allowing yourself to be inspired. Even if you work in the printing industry, you can surely learn a lot from Uber and Skype, or from a film or architecture, or anything at all. If you want to find a truly unique idea, you cannot be too logical in your approach. If you are, then someone else will already have thought of the idea precisely because it’s logical.”

How have you and your company, The Medici Group, helped other companies to find new ideas?

“Intersectional thinking consists of the principles ‘diversity drives innovation’, ‘serendipity is the key to success’ and  ‘action beats analysis’. The problem for companies and organisations is usually that they have too much money to invest in their idea creation. Sometimes when there’s a lot of money involved people lack development tempo. They evaluate and calculate ROI forever and the result is processes that take six to twelve months or even longer. Then it’s hard to find really unique ideas. Because there’s an element of chance to which ideas become really good, we believe it’s better to test several ideas and then develop the one or more that work. It’s analysis through action instead of analysis before action. If you make a four-week plan instead of a one-year plan, you speed up your idea creation and you have a lot to gain.”

What can the printing industry learn from you and how should it look at the future?

“Honestly, there will certainly be 300,000 people there who know more about that industry than I do. But what I can do is get them to realise how they can take their knowledge and think differently about it. If a company knows it has to produce new innovations to survive, it has to adopt an approach that is fast and explorative. One that allows them to test many different future paths. In the printing industry there are perilously many new technical solutions like 3D printing and so on but perhaps not enough new business models and operating models. A huge amount must be done to think more innovatively about how to use the new technology. Because there are many possibilities – just take Coca Cola’s campaign where they replaced their logo with different names on the labels – there must have been thousands of names around the world. That was hugely successful and even though it was a terrific idea, it was all made possible by an innovation in the printing industry. It would have been impossible to do that campaign just a few years ago!”


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