Since the late Middle Ages, the notion of the “Renaissance Man” has celebrated those people who are well-rounded, broadly knowledgeable and capable across the arts and the sciences, and able to approach problems holistically. This year marks the five hundredth year since the passing of the world’s most famous Renaissance Man: Leonardo da Vinci, the Italian polymath who simultaneously excelled as scientist, engineer, writer, artist, and musician.
Today, highly educated people tend more toward specialization, but in settings that still encourage cross-disciplinary thinking, people are more likely to …
- Challenge outdated assumptions and conventions of thought and behavior,
- Explore and discover new realms of artistic, physical, and intellectual achievement, and
- Develop different and broader visions of themselves.
The renowned twentieth-century thinker Peter Drucker offers a modern exemplar of a Renaissance Man in the field of management—itself a multidisciplinary subject. In an age when the work of running organizations was typically approached as an engineering and optimization challenge, he described management as a “liberal art.” Its best practitioners, he insisted, have always drawn on the wisdom, self-knowledge, and enlightened understanding that comes with a liberal education and continually refined their “art” through practice and application.*
Drucker lived long after da Vinci, yet shared some of the Renaissance master’s fundamental traits. Both were unusual in their intellect and talents; each was driven by an insatiable curiosity about the world around him; neither conformed to the mainstream mind-set. Like da Vinci, Drucker was born in a period of great social change, when the need for continuity (and reverence of tradition) was challenged by the need for innovation (and radical thinking). Both adopted a whole-systems perspective as they looked for connections and patterns.** For leaders, organizations, governments, and individuals today, both offer inspiring examples of the power of breaking rigid thinking patterns.
* see Peter Drucker, Management, 2008
** see Michael Gelb, How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day, 2000
(meant to trigger the thinking process, not to require direct responses)
- How can the spirit of the Renaissance improve the practice of management?
- Do we still need polymaths? What will their value be in the twenty-first century?
- What will be the role of specialists?
- How would you define a “Renaissance Manager”?
- Given the variety of possible learning and teaching approaches, what should be the main focus in developing tomorrow’s leaders, as learners go from kindergarten all the way to business school and beyond?
- Is the “tech” side of the business world sufficiently in touch with the human side, and how could Drucker’s notion of management as a liberal art strengthen that connection?
- What knowing-doing capacities, personal traits, and social skills are required today to lead organizations successfully?
- Just as the notion of the “Renaissance Man” emerged in Europe, other compelling ideas arose elsewhere. How might they inform the practice of management?
- What synthesis happens inside your brain as you work to realize your dreams, and your career path? Have personal experiences taught lessons in how to think more holistically reflective of your own culture, gender, age, parenting, schooling, or occupation.
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