Meet the Godfather of Corporate Diversity and Inclusion Efforts, Frans Johansson
“Bridging the connection between diversity, growth and innovation is a recipe for thriving businesses, happy people, and goodness in the world.”
Frans Johansson, CEO of The Medici Group, was born to an African American/Cherokee mother and a Swedish father, and was raised in Sweden. Growing up with such a multicultural background, Frans saw first-hand how the intersection of diverse cultures and backgrounds cultivated new and innovative ideas. This sparked his idea to start his business The Medici Group, which works with businesses to show how the diversity and inclusion of it’s people helps to drive innovation forward and increase revenues. To date, Frans has worked with 30 percent of Fortune 100 companies (including Nike, ESPN, and Disney) to help them capitalize on their innovation potential through diversity and inclusion efforts and is one of the most sought after thought leaders and speakers on the topic.
Yitzi: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
Thank you for having me! My backstory is actually a big reason of where I am today. I was raised in Sweden by my Swedish father and African American and Cherokee mother, so from a young age, I have been witness to both the benefits and challenges that comes with being “different” in a largely homogenous setting. From there, I attended Brown University from 1991 to 1995, followed by Harvard Business School from 1998 to 2000. Throughout my experience in college and in the business world after founding a tech startup, I developed a curiosity and appreciation for the power of combining ideas between different fields and disciplines. In March 2001, I woke up with a stark vision in my mind’s eye: two bright beams of light intersecting. I imagined that the light beams represented different fields and cultures and that the intersection of these fields was where creativity and innovation would be the most potent. Although the vision stayed with me for less than a minute, it came to define my life as it lead me to understand the fundamental role that diversity plays in discovering path-breaking innovations. These insights inspired me to write The Medici Effect, which has become a foundational book on innovation, translated into 19 languages, as well as The Click Moment, which provides examples and guidance on how to conduct business and strategize in an unpredictable world. The concept of diversity driving innovation is also why I founded The Medici Group, a consulting company that helps companies capitalize on their innovation potential through diversity and inclusion efforts. To date, we’ve worked with 30 percent of Fortune 100 companies, including Nike, Google, and Disney.
Yitzi: Which person or which company do you most admire and why?
Martin Luther King, Jr. From a business perspective, without his efforts and those of everyone inspired by his example and work, our country would be far less innovative by nature of the fact that the corporate environment, government bodies, teams — basically any place or situation that requires new ideas and a broad base of talent to stay competitive — would be far less diverse.
Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I believe that my team’s success is inherently tied to ‘bringing goodness to the world’; or to put it another way, we have historically defined success through the lens of making a positive impact in communities at large. Our accomplishments come from our ability to collaborate with organizations and executives on creating fast-paced, innovative environments that allow team members — from diverse demographics, experiences, seniority levels, etc. — to bring their whole selves work. Furthermore, the means through which we have reached success is by championing diversity internally and externally, not only helping companies in virtually every industry build more collaborative teams, but also by bridging the connection between diversity, and growth and innovation; which collectively is a recipe for thriving businesses, happy people, and goodness in the world.
Yitzi: What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why.
1. People often believe that you have to get the money first and then focus on what you’re passionate about. I’ve never seen that work. I suggest reversing the order. I had a lot of people advising me to focus on money, like starting salaries, etc — fortunately my dad told me to focus on what I was burning for (even though that may change over time). It’s made all the difference.
○ Passion first
2. Surround yourself with the right people and embrace collective success. You can have the best ideas in the world but you will not make them happen by yourself — it’s truly a collective effort that makes things happen. Whether it’s your loved ones, co-workers, business partners, etc., you need people that are willing to team up with you and empower you to develop breakthroughs that can significantly impact the world.
○ Foster collective success
3. It’s common to want immediate gratification and success at the start of your career, leading you to develop a narrow focus that can result in missed opportunities. Success however, is most fruitful when you play the long game. When I published The Medici Effect in 2004 it wasn’t an immediate best-seller. Many people would have just said — ‘ok that’s it, let’s move on’. But I had a sense that these ideas were connecting, it just hadn’t fully hit yet. Over time, these sentiments turned out to be true and the vision around the book have become today a foundation for how entire countries have thought about their economic development.
○ Bet on the long game
4. Don’t believe your own hype. Just because others tell you that you have reached success, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the case, nor does it give you an excuse to stop working hard. My first software company — which ultimately failed — received a lot of press. I made it on the cover of magazines and newspapers! All of this lead me to think that I had ‘made it’. It was only until very late that I realized that we weren’t as good as everyone thought, and that I should have worked harder at achieving the success others credited me for.
○ Don’t believe your own hype, work hard instead
5. When I started out, I told people that there might be some great potential in connecting the then separate fields of diversity and innovation. Despite my instinct, a great number of people repeatedly advised me against entering the field of diversity in the early 2000s. “There is no future in that field,” they told me. However, the fact that everyone told me this … AND that my own specific experience seemed to counter that notion, made me actually double down on that pathway. ‘If this is what the word on the street is’, I thought, there is room for someone like me. It is important to note, that being a contrarian doesn’t necessarily increase your chances at standing out and/or developing innovations. If your contrarian view is backed up by your gut and signals you’ve observed out in the world, I always advise people to aggressively explore that, as an opportunity probably exists in that space.
○ Opportunities arise when your contrarian views align with your gut instincts
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If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.