In 1508, Pope Julius II appointed Michelangelo to repaint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Why did he decide to offer this massive task to Michelangelo, who was a respected artist, but in a different field? At the time, Michelangelo Buonarotti was only recognized for his sculpture. He had done some small paintings, however, nothing of this scale. Not to mention, he had no experience with frescos. Why then? Eric Weiner in his excellent book, The Geography of Genius takes us around the world trying to find the magic ingredient without which the advances in science or art were not possible. Florence during the Renaissance was an extraordinary place, and Michelangelo was part of it along with Botticelli, Donatello, and of course, Leonardo da Vinci. So many incredible talents to chose from and yet, the Pope gives the Sistine Chapel commission to a sculptor. Weiner explains that Julius II was following the Medici philosophy of patronage which means you have to take risks. It was about choosing someone who obviously is talented and then, assigning an impossible task, especially if it seems to be a bad fit. It was a gamble. Michelangelo accepted although he was afraid that he was set up to fail. So he had to prove otherwise.
“Without having seen the Sistine Chapel one can form no appreciable idea of what one man is capable of achieving.”
~ Johann Wolfgang Goethe, 23 August 1787
There is another interesting twist in the Florentine Renaissance that Weiner brings up. This time, he takes us back to 1401, which was not a great year for Florence. The city was under a siege from the Milanese army, and if this was not enough, the bubonic plague left only half of its population alive. The city council decided that they need to do something about it. One would think in lines of inventing a cure for the plague or immediately engaging in peace negotiations. Well, they did something very different. An RFP was sent out looking for proposals to make a set of bronze doors to the baptistery of the city’s most praised church, Santa Maria del Fiore. The successful entry would receive a hefty commission and the admiration of the masses.
The competition was fierce with two finalists emerging from the contest: Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi. The judges were split right down the middle. They could not decide. So they offered both men an option to work together on this project. Brunelleschi declined. He would work alone or not at all. So the contract went to Ghiberti.
Not discouraged, Brunelleschi decided to try something else. Architecture was his secret passion—he was a trained goldsmith, and a pretty good one—and after studying ancient ruins in Rome, especially the Pantheon, he proposed to the Florence council his own project – the dome to cover Santa Maria del Fiore’s transept. An unimaginable task at the time. No dome of that size had been built since ancient Rome. “I propose to build for eternity,” said Brunelleschi. His Duomo is now the most recognizable symbol of Florence. A masterpiece admired by the whole world. As for Ghiberti, he spent 25 years on the door project.
So we have an impossible task, a change of profession and the refusal of a lucrative contract that ended with remarkable results which inspired countless architects in many countries. “The rule of unintended consequences” Eric Weiner calls it. Brunelleschi was buried in Santa Maria del Fiore. The highest honour Florence has to offer to its children. He rests in peace under the largest brick dome in the world.
So much is spent now to make sure risks are minimal. Any chance is considered dangerous. We have software, statistics, spreadsheets and tables – all to weed out any possible misfit or miscalculation. Are we missing something? We want a perfect fit, but then, once we have it, there is no tension. According to Weiner, places that offer less than ideal environment foster growth of independent, divergent thinking that is critical to innovation. The well known moment when you leave your comfort zone and are pushed to find ways to solve your challenge. I am not saying that we should all change professions, and start something new. I am sure, we all have predispositions to master specific skills—a talent of sorts. Sometimes though, the foundation skills of one discipline are also part of a very different field making you a good candidate in the unexpected field. It’s all about understanding skills and relations between them and following your passion.
We are now testing our competency modelling environment. The platform has two sides: Profiles where one can create a skill profile—for an individual, for a team or the whole organization—and Competencies or Capabilities, as some refer to this, where Jobs, Roles, Behaviours are defined along with, of course, their associated Skills. We have so far a pretty rich data model, and because of the various entry points, we can present a comprehensive view from both perspectives. We can be very, very precise. Having said that, I think, we also have also left room for unintended consequences. It is one thing to prepare a skill profile and even look at future skills but we can take it one step further. Based on the complementary and associated skills, we can see a whole array of possible career paths – not just vertical moves in the same narrow discipline, but steps that can take an individual to new positions based on the potential of how well this person is going to adapt to new challenges. Yes, it is about taking risks, but these are different risks. Good risks. We have already seen career changes that are not ordinary. This is all pretty exciting. If it sounds interesting, please get in touch with us, request a demo.
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Steven Forth is a Co-Founder of TeamFit. See his Skill Profile. Competency models are a powerful way to organize jobs, roles and skills. They can be used as a lens to get insights into the skills in an …
Steven Forth is a Co-Founder of TeamFit. See his Skill Profile. Last week we started a series of posts we are calling Critical Skills. These are skills that have come up in customer conversations or are part of …
Steven Forth is a Co-Founder of TeamFit. See his Skill Profile. TeamFit and its affiliate Ibbaka rely on software engineers for much of the value they create. Yes, the business and skill analysts make a huge contribution, as …
Gregory Ronczewski is the Director of Product Design at TeamFit platform - view his profile on TeamFit Top Image: Rynek Główny 13, Pasaż 13, Kraków, Poland. Photo credits: Gregory Ronczewski Leonardo da Vinci died on May 2, …