The Medici Effect

Stephen DeAngelis

May 18, 2006

In his very interesting book The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts, and Cultures, Frans Johansson talks about the value of creating a space in which people from diverse fields of expertise can get together to exchange ideas. The Medici’s, of course, were a wealthy and powerful Italian family who played an important role in the Renaissance. The family’s wealth permitted it to support artists, philosophers, theologians, and scientists, whose combined intellect helped burst the historical pall known as the Dark Ages. It was my hope in starting this blog that it would generate a Medici-like effect in the area of resilience — and I have been gratified to see innovative and informed people from science, logistics, business, academia, government, and the military share their insights.

One of those bright people is Shawn Beilfuss who just posted on his blog site a very interesting article on resilience and some of the connections the discussion has made to date. I’ll provide a sample from the blog below, but the entire posting is worth a read. (Asia Logistics Wrap) Shawn wrote (in part):

Since the time I wrote my essay “The Role of Supply Chain Logistics in Shrinking the Gap,” I have felt more and more that there is something in that post that provides a fairly universal approach towards putting all of my other posts on logistics into context. However, that essay was written mid-thought regarding the convergence of Tom Barnett’s ideas and some core supply chain concepts I discovered at Thunderbird via Dr. Cavinato. Later, with another perspective on the essay provided by Steve DeAngelis, CEO of Enterra Solutions, at his Enterprise Resilience Managment blog, the role of that essay in terms of my future thinking and writing has reached another level of clarity. This primarily involves the modules of the “Development in a Box” solution-vehicle, … creating a practical visual for building those modules conceptually. …

Shawn goes on to review a Harvard Business Review article (“The Quest for Resilience”) written by well-known business guru Gary Hamel and his colleague Liisa Valikangas. Hamel and Valikangas describe resilience in much the same terms I do (i.e., much more than the ability to “bounce back” but also the ability to adapt as circumstances change). Shawn concludes his post:

This will hopefully be an ongoing discussion, and as Steve DeAngelis has alluded to before, this cross-blogging on resilience that Enterra has engaged in is a form of developing resilience in the deployment of their DiB framework. Practices and input will, and must, continue to be captured and cultivated on the web and off the web, and although I feel I have contributed to Enterra’s discussion on resilience, they have contributed just as much if not more to my discussion and thinking on logistics. As a result, my own personal resilience in terms of navigating my career and life is strengthened–a very cool aspect of blogging here that I never fully expected. Cheers to cross-blogging!

Speaking of cross-blogs, Wiggins (Opposed Systems Design) continues his insightful commentary on resilience. In his latest post (Of Moral Resilience and Technical Resilience), Wiggins adds a very useful ethical dimension to the discussion. The moral dimension, he notes, helps people answer  questions about why they should get involved and why they should change. He writes:

Technical resilience is where SOAs and IT platforms come in. In Steve’s business world, he needs tangible (well, alright, more tangible than “moral resilience”) products to sell, and hence Enterra’s focus. The ability to plug-and-play reduces the costs of joining efforts, which I expect will produce a reinforcing feedback loop as the critical mass of players grows (which in turn attracts more players…). By removing the “it is too hard to do” excuse, effective IT (which is really what we’re talking about here) can help motivated actors from the NGO, military, diplo, and for-profit sectors achieve incredible results.

None of that can happen, however, without a compelling answer to the “why should I bother at all?” question. It may be simple, but what’s the point? This leads us back to the dynamics of moral resilience as examined by [John] Boyd and [Chet] Richards: how to create schwerpunkts [points of emphasis] and how to foster individual iniative within an organizing purpose.

Wiggins goes on to discuss how both the technical and moral dimensions of resilience are necessary to push Development-in-a-Box forward.

The time is ripe for the SOA/resilient era’s equivalent of the blitzkrieg: a doctrine that links organizational structure and philosophy with appropriate technology. The center of gravity, as in any competitive endevor, remains the human mind. Technology can facilitate coordination towards a schwerpunkt, but it cannot provide the schwerpunkt. Development-in-a-Box can vastly reduce the friction generated when distributed and previously unconnected entities begin to work together. It does not motivate cooperation, any more than the radio motivated maneuver warfare. Still, effective IT will become the defining feature of this era’s most successful companies (it already is for companies such as Budweiser, Dell and Wal-Mart), just as the tank has become a symbol of the blitzkrieg. And this is proper, since it is what makes this era unique – even as the moral dynamics have existed for centuries and will continue to be relevent long after we have passed.

One of the reasons that message Tom Barnett and I push resonates so well with those we meet is that it contains both a technological vision (Enterprise Resilience Management) and a moral vision (Blueprint For Action: A Future Worth Creating).

As Shawn demonstrates, once you’ve experienced “The Medici Effect,” it’s almost intoxicating. A tip of the hat needs to go Mark Safranski, who is a connector of the highest order. I think he relishes his role in helping connect diverse thinkers on specific topics. I look forward to future exchanges (not just with bloggers, but readers as well).