Over the fifteenth century, Florence became a dynamic city teeming with creative minds. A symbol of the Renaissance and the cradle of humanism, the city placed man right at the centre of the scene. The city’s leaders deemed that the human being is capable of doing anything put forward. It was the home for personalities such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci or Raphael, all of whom were already preceded by other minds equally as brilliant, like Brunelleschi, Dante or Francesco Petrarch, to name just a few.
The question hounding me is whether something similar to what occurred during those years in Florence can happen spontaneously. After spending some time thinking about this, I believe that in this case, as in other similar ones, certain initial circumstances must be in place to favour talent attraction, enabling it to flourish and express itself freely. After making it into this virtuous circle, probably it is merely a matter of not hampering and just taking advantage of the synergies generated.
Leonardo is unquestionably the epitome of the creative genius and the Renaissance man; an inventor, painter, sculptor, architect, philosopher, and poet among many other things. Born in a small town in Tuscany not far from Florence, he experienced the greatest years of magnificence in the Florentine Republic of those times. What would have happened if Leonardo had been born in another age? Or born in another place much further away from Florence? Would he still have been the genius he was?
So, what is more important, the individual or the circumstances surrounding that individual? Perhaps we have many Leonardos in our companies. But the environment in most of these companies is too hierarchical, traditional, and obsessed with controlling everything as to allow them to excel and stand out. We are running the risk that people with creative talent go unnoticed if the right circumstances are not in place for that creativity to be able to flow and grow within our organizations.
Florence’s success was largely due to Lorenzo de Medici, known as "Il Magnifico". Lorenzo was a politician, banker and poet, but he stood out first and foremost for his humanistic side and as the facilitator who created the right circumstances for Florence to become the main hub for attracting creativity and innovation in his time.
To discover the Leonardos and Michelangelos living in or sometimes just surviving in our organizations, it is necessary to have more Lorenzos. The more magnificent they are, the better. Innovation must overcome many barriers and that prevents us from moving from words to action. However, there is no doubt that one of the main barriers is the lack of leaders who are committed to creating the right circumstances to boost and favour creative ideas, which in some instances can even challenge the status quo.
Companies by nature find it hard to create a culture of constant innovation. The modern corporation, designed to achieve peak efficiency, generally relies on structures, standards and processes that often inadvertently stifle innovation or even kill it. Be it intentional or not, the premature death of ideas and innovations is something that happens repeatedly. The logic behind suppressing innovation may even make sense. In settings where short-term goals are of great importance, high-level executives try to exert control over organizations and the people within, so that these critical goals can be reached. By doing so, however, key long-term benefits are often sacrificed.
To avoid this, it is essential to have leadership who are able to ignite the spark that allows talent to break out. When talking about leaders, I am not talking about superheroes, nor about charismatic characters endowed with the gift of seduction and the ability to mobilize thousands of people. I am referring to ordinary, yet visionary people, who really believe in their teams going beyond formalities and pleasantries. Such people are capable of trusting others, indicating the goal, and yet let each one chose his or her own path to reach it.
Such managers are flexible and confident enough, so they do not need to control everything. They are also able to delegate and to grant freedom. They are humanist leaders who put people at the centre of their organizations and allow them to develop their talents. They believe, just like the first humanists, that man is not here to only do small things.
Without them, innovation will remain an attractive word, but mostly without substance. Companies will continue to launch initiatives and programs to generate ideas, which often will never respond to expectations.