Gerrit van Honthorst (Dutch, 1592 - 1656 ), The Concert, 1623, oil on canvas, Patrons' Permanent Fund and Florian Carr Fund

The Renaissance Man/Woman

A wise friend recently made the observation to me: “People living in a renaissance are generally not aware that they are.” In other words, it’s doubtful that those who lived in Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries thought to themselves, “Well, this is the great period of enlightenment and transformation!” They went about their days, tended to their farms, sold their wares at the market, held their meetings – much like we do today, except with horses, and not hybrid cars.

But it seems to clear to my colleagues and me, especially since the late 90’s and the introduction of the Internet, other major new technologies and paradigm shifts, that we are currently in an age of transformation. A time when ideas are evolving at an incredibly rapid rate.

Similarly, the German philosopher Karl Jaspers identified another period about 2500 years ago, which he calls “The Axial Age”, when there was a global explosion of ideas. From Lao Tzu and Confucius in China, to the Hebrew prophets, the rise of the Greeks, the Egyptians, and the people of the Indus River (the Hindu culture) – there was the emergence of what we call ‘civilization’ across the planet – all happening during a spectacular 150-year period. It’s also noteworthy that many of these cultures had no physical contact with each other, and in many cases did not know of each other’s existence. Quite amazing.

Our point of view is that today, we need renaissance men and women in business. Particularly in the creative industries such as advertising, marketing, design, product development/innovation. We need to bring back the concept of “renaissance man” – a person who is well-educated, well-rounded, with an agile mind. Who can go from high brow to low brow in a heartbeat, connecting the latest emerging artist from the Venice Biennale to the work of an electronic pop music producer (from Schnabel to Skrillex, as it were), and seeing patterns or opportunities to cross-pollenate ideas. Who is aware of history and philosophy, while also understanding how social media shapes our collective and individual thinking.

In our field, advertising, I’m particularly interested in talented people who are intellectually curious and also know how to get things done. Thinkers who are effective doers. Who keep their minds open to new ideas, different perspectives. Because that’s what we need today in order to succeed in business, to stay ahead of change and to shape it, not just respond to it. The Renaissance Man or Woman – is the most valuable player you can have today.

– W.