The Museo Di Palazzo Vecchio is a palace in Florence. It’s beautiful and ornate, but what sets this building apart is the people who used it over 500 years ago. Florence was the centre of the Renaissance movement. Renaissance means enlightenment. Technology and innovation was progressing at a rapid speed. It was a time not unlike our own period in history.
According to our guide, Michelangelo sculpted David, Galileo built one of the first telescopes and da Vinci sketched his flying machines in residence at the Museo Di Palazzo Vecchio. Flying machines and telescopes would have been the smartphones and VR of today. It must have been fantastical.
Imagine Beyoncé writing Lemonade in the same building that Elon Musk worked on the first Telsa, while Steve Jobs finished the iPod down the hall!
I’m sure there was a tangible energy within the palace walls. Similar to innovation hubs and co-working spaces sprouting up in tech cities today. Here’s some lessons from the Museo Di Palazzo Vecchio and it’s masters:
1. Never stop learning
Michelangelo took 3 years to complete his statue of David, the Sistine Chapel took him 4 years. Despite committing years of their lives to single artworks, the Renaissance masters were also multi-disciplined. Michelangelo was a sculptor, painter, architect, poet, and engineer.
Michelangelo lived to be 89, impressive in an era when the average age was 39! He never stopped his crafts, completing his last sculpture only 5 days before his death.
If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all. ~ Michelangelo
In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. Great poets of our time noted:
“The great’s weren’t great because they could paint, the greats were great because they painted a lot”Ten Thousand Hours ~ Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Now we watch a 15 minute TED talk and believe we understand complex neuroscience theories. We skim the surface of everything, learning a little on many topics. In our time of fast learning and rushed progress, it’s hard to imagine committing ten thousand hours to a new skill.
Think about your time, what are you investing in learning? Are you working towards mastering a skill or just dipping into learning?
2. Look for unusual inspiration
Sculptures before the Renaissance often showed noblemen dressed in their finery. They were a little overweight, to show they had plenty of wealth and therefore food. Michelangelo’s David was different. David had a lean, muscular physique that changed the way we looked at the ideal male figure.
To craft David, Michelangelo spent a year at a hospital. He performed autopsies on bodies to understand how muscles and ligaments worked. This was knowledge he couldn’t learn from his direct peers.
We can get very close to our products and businesses. There’s value in stepping back or sidewards to find inspiration and learn new techniques.
3. Surround yourself with smart people
Michelangelo wasn’t quick to compliment others. In response to one of his peers’ sculptures he remarked “what a beautiful piece of marble you have ruined”. Even so Michelangelo surrounded himself with other brilliant artists and thinkers of his time, including Leonardo da Vinci.
Michelangelo and da Vinci were staunch rivals, and were once commissioned to complete murals on opposite walls of a great hall in the palace. With each trying to out-do the other, must have sparked the competitive fires in both!
Leonardo pushed himself to win the challenge by using new painting techniques with oil-based paints. Unfortunately the paints didn’t dry and the colours trickled together. Frustrated, Leonardo abandoned the project (da Vinci was a notorious non-finisher of commissions).
Michelangelo’s mural was also abandoned, as he was called to the Vatican to work on the Sistine Chapel. While it’s a shame these works weren’t completed, both masters would have learnt from competing against each other.
4. Have a vision
Modern marketing requires us to embrace Agile. Start small, test and iterate. But having a strategy or vision is equally important. Agile helps us move forward, but it doesn’t tell us where we are heading. The vision acts as a compass, guiding your refinements, ensuring you reach your destination.
Michelangelo made no mocks or clay tests of David. He just started sculpting. From a single block of marble he created one of the most famous depictions of the male body today. He famously said:
“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
As Michelangelo chipped away at the marble, he always knew he was creating a sculpture of David, and not a woman or a horse. His vision kept him heading in the right direction.
Creating your own Museo di Palazzo Vecchio
We can’t all work in a palace of masters, but colleagues and peers can help you achieve your own greatness. Seek out people that challenge you, encourage you to keep learning. Learn consciously, think about the skills you want to master. Ten thousand hours is 5 years full time work, so choose carefully!
Genius is eternal patience. ~ Michelangelo