Silicon Valley is a center of innovation, hosting countless start up companies and representing about a third of United States venture capital. While others look to Silicon Valley as a leading example of development, perhaps they should take a look at an older example: the Florentine Renaissance. In fact, the Renaissance was arguably more innovative than Silicon Valley is today.
The Renaissance in Florence was a time where humanity advanced significantly with a burst of new ideas, new inventions, and new art. Appropriately this time period is called the Rinascimento (Renaissance) which means “rebirth”. Those aspiring to launch the next great innovation hub can look back to the Renaissance to learn some valuable lessons.
What can the Florentine Renaissance teach the Innovators of today?
- Patronage fosters talent The Medici Family of Florence are famous for their support of the arts. Fundamentally they were great at recognizing talent. They patronized some of the most brilliant artists of the Renaissance, including Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Botticelli. The Medici took calculated monetary risks to sponsor genius; this is something that should also be done today. Wealthy organizations and individuals could follow the example of the Medici and consider sponsoring fresh talent as an investment.
- Potential trumps experienceThis mindset was embraced during the Renaissance. For example, Michelangelo had little experience painting frescos, yet he was a well-known sculptor thanks to the Medici patronage. Despite his limited experience with frescos, he was hired by Pope Julius II to paint the Sistine Chapel on the basis of his talent and potential. Today, we have an opposing mindset. Typically important tasks are only assigned to people or companies who have experience in completing similar jobs previously. Perhaps we should take a chance on those who may not seem like a perfect fit but who have demonstrated excellence in a different field. They have the potential to successfully complete the job, probably in an innovative way. While there is some element of risk when hiring “potential over experience”, the possible payoff is well worth it.
- Embrace competitionFlorence during the Renaissance was full of rivalry. Florentines appreciated competition; it pushed them to a higher level of performance. A famous rivalry was between Michelangelo and da Vinci, and the competitive sentiment between the artists encouraged both of them to produce brilliant work. The feud between Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti had the same effect. When Brunelleschi lost out on the commission to built the Gates of Paradise in Florence, he went to study the Pantheon in Rome. This later inspired his ambitious design of the iconic Duomo in Florence. Like the Florentines of the past, we should also embrace healthy competition and recognize that it benefits both the “winner” and “loser”.
- Value mentorship Today our culture appreciates youth over experience. There is little attention paid to older fashioned learning models. Often young entrepreneurs want to forge ahead without stopping to realize what they can learn from those who have worked for years before them. If we look to the innovators of the Renaissance, we see that under-appreciating older mentors is a mistake. Some of the greatest artists and writers of the Renaissance studied for years under older masters of their craft. Renaissance culture valued acquiring experience through mentorship. Leonardo da Vinci for example spent ten years working as an apprentice at the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio. Today modern mentoring programs are too often empty promises of support with no follow through. Instead mentors should take influence from the Renaissance mindset and create long-term, helpful, and meaningful relationships with their mentees.
- Unify great ideas and search for new onesThe rulers of Florence understood the positive impact of adding fresh ideas and people into society. For example, the committee that oversaw the construction of the Duomo changed leadership every couple of months to ensure continuous creativity and growth in the project. The Florentines, especially The Medici, looked to other cultures of the past for inspiration. For instance, they sent representatives in search of ancient Greek manuscripts. “[The Medici] recognized that innovation involves a synthesis of ideas, some new and some borrowed.” Today we can act as the Medici did, and look to them to inspire how we innovate now.
Based on the article by Eric Weiner in Harvard Business Review.
Post by Brianna Pohl