When considering how innovation stacks up, it can be difficult to gauge who has the most lasting impact in real time. When we go back in time, it’s easier to read innovation more clearly, without the distraction of brands and details about technologies. Suddenly, the question becomes “did the work stick”? And the stickier the work was, the more effective the innovation.
For that reason, I was intrigued by Eric Weiner’s Harvard Business Review piece “Renaissance Florence Was a Better Model for Innovation than Silicon Valley Is.” Talk about a compelling title–everyone wants to be the Silicon Valley of their industry, and yet Weiner has pointed out what is lacking in that fabled land of innovation.
Weiner presents several principles of an innovative climate, two of which I’d like to share. Taking a look at the novice-master relationship, he suggests that people today move out of the apprentice stage quicker than necessary. In contrast, Florentine Leonardo da Vinci remained an apprentice for 10 years before beginning his remarkably innovative career.
“… Why did Leonardo stay an apprentice for so long? He could easily have found work elsewhere, but he clearly valued the experience he acquired in the dusty, chaotic workshop. Too often, modern-day mentoring programs, public or private, are lip service. They must instead, as during Leonardo’s time, entail meaningful, long-term relationships between mentors and their mentees.”
Mentorship has a huge impact on growth, and we ought to do a better job feeding those relationships. At the same time, Weiner feels that a candidate with great potential but relatively little experience might just be the best choice to deliver results–even if he has not achieved in the same arena previously.
“When Pope Julius II was deciding who should paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo was far from the obvious choice. Thanks to the Medici patronage, he had become well-known as a sculptor in Rome as well as Florence, but his painting experience was limited to small pieces — and little in the way of frescoes. Still, the pope clearly believed that, when it came to this ‘impossible’ task, talent and potential mattered more than experience, and he was right. …”
In this way, we err on the conservative side when we insist the best for the job has already done the job. The Renaissance atmosphere allowed for granting a relatively inexperienced painter the opportunity to create a magnum opus work–isn’t that an environment we should remake? Frequently I discuss the importance of mentorship in the arts, because I feel that mentorship is vital for mentees in gaining experience, as well as for mentors who have a need to give back. I think we as a culture would spark innovation by recreating some of these Renaissance conditions for artists today.