“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child”Cicero
Without question, the past three years have rendered extraordinary global change, on an economic, societal, and commercial level.
Not just in how we work, but how we live, and the new perspective of the integration of the two. A study of similar fluxes by McKinsey and Company demonstrates that, of course, other “earthquakes” have struck before. For example, in the immediate aftermath of World War II (1944–46), during the period around the oil crisis (1971–73), and at the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union (1989–92). Like a real earthquake, each of them changed the global landscape with the sudden release of powerful underlying forces that had been building up around a fault line over time—but in these cases, unfolding over a few years rather than in a big bang.” Today, the evidence points to the fact that we’ve entered a new era, a fact made more noteworthy due to its similarities to one of the most pivotal times in modern history.
This era isn’t just a new era, it’s a modern day Renaissance.
The Renaissance of the fifteenth century changed the course of history. A renewed focus of art, science and architecture brought society out of darkness (literally, the Dark Ages). A cultural shift so striking, there is definitively a “before” and “after” Renaissance, painted in beauty, creativity; pioneering scientific advancements that still inform modern day society, and architecture that created are still enjoyed today.
The Renaissance of the fifteenth century was born out of literal darkness. Approximately 800 years of the “Dark Ages” followed the fall of the world’s foremost superpower. This was a time wrecked with plagues and pandemics, in tandem with a power vacuum that arose with the fall of Rome. Rome had been the world’s superpower for half a millenia; in the wake of its fall, the jostling of power between city states in Europe was directly reliant upon their ability to adjust to changing times with agility, ever-adaptive, and poised to recalibrate.
Aside from military prowess, these new powers recognized that true authority, command came not just from military victories, but from building a shared societal philosophy. One of the most effective ways of doing this? Building upon commonalities and shared value. In other words, creating a new concept of gravitas in a redefined culture.
This partially played out in the significant cultural value placed on the ownership of artwork from the Roman Empire (in today’s terms, a demonstration of “old money”, heritage, and family lineage). Entrepreneurship was the seachange between building these bridges, approaching this struggle from an innovative perspective, and producing an innovative solution.
One of the hallmarks of the Renaissance was the way in which a competition for power and wealth in 15th century Florence led to an unexpected focus on art, in this pursuit for gravitas. For example, Michelangelo’s career began because his first commission was a request from his first patron to recreate a statue from antiquity, and make it look old again. This time in history was marked by a tie between the gravitas that owning originals from Roman antiquity carried in society, and the need for creation. In this endeavor, a renewed focus on art, and not just art for art’s sake, or the creation of something gaudy or trivial. Instead, the creation of art that endured, and stand as hallmarks of a culture, such as statues from the ancient world. The term “Renaissance” quite literally means a “rebirth”. It was through the pursuit of beauty and art that architecture again became a cultural focus, but not building for building’s sake: instead, building something that lasts. And finally, as Leonardo DaVinci famously stated, a rebirth of the pioneering mind, and renewed appreciation for the pursuit of science. The Renaissance man was considered one who demonstrated all three core tenets.
“These are the principles for the development of a complete mind: Study the science of art. Study the art of science… Realize that everything connects to everything else.”Leonardo DaVinci
Today, we’re witnessing a similar occurrence: after a period of darkness, a movement towards recognizing and searching for a beautiful life. Returning to roots with a renewed appreciation on valuing beauty. The pursuit of questions about what it truly means to live, right here, right now, is fostering a pioneering mindset. There’s a renewed focus on no longer working just to work- but focusing on building something that lasts, that leaves a legacy. In this pursuit, we’re revitalizing the definition of work. New advancements, new discoveries, new inventive ways of intellectual pioneering are occurring as a direct result of the endurance test that was the darkness of the pandemic.
The 15th century “Renaissance Man” is echoed in the modern day entrepreneur.
The context of history shines a bright light on the similarities between the rebirth of values and pursuits of art, architecture, and science in the Renaissance, that are occurring today. The Renaissance demonstrated that hardship can, for all intents and purposes, look like impenetrable darkness, when in reality, that darkness is the most fertile soil for resilience. Due to their similarities, the correlations between the New Era and the Renaissance are therefore ripe with opportunity for the strategist looking to employ lessons from history to inform the future.