Filippo Brunelleschi is one of the world’s most influential people that you’ve probably never heard of. His work had nothing short of a profound influence on Renaissance figures like Alberti, Masaccio, Donatello, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael. Names that may ring a bell? He is best known for designing and building the Dome of the Florence Cathedral (Duomo) in 1446, considered the equivalent of a fifteenth-century moonshot and one of the top all-time architectural achievements.
Brunelleschi was by any standard a certifiable genius. His command of mathematics, astronomy, art, design, construction and other disciplines is staggering. What makes him interesting for marketing leaders is not his massive intellect, it’s his hybrid skills and knowledge, the ability to design and build, the blending of tactical expertise with strategic vision. Brunelleschi is known to many as the original Renaissance man, today we might call him a marketing unicorn. Whatever we call him, marketers can learn a lot from him.
Go big – Filippo, or Pippo as he was known to his friends, had to compete to win the Duomo project. His concept was a radical departure from known construction processes and was summarily laughed off. It’s written that Pippo was so passionate about his pitch he had to be physically removed from the meeting. That level of passion may not be optimal for today’s corporate world, but the ability to put forth and defend an idea that breaks from known approaches is an important skill for marketers to develop.
Design and Build – Once awarded, Pippo took on complete ownership of the project. That included sourcing materials, managing a motley workforce and all the other details large and small required to get the project done. It was a huge charter and included the challenge of managing former competitors for the project who remained involved and actively sought to make things difficult (a familiar challenge in many corporate environments). This certainly connects to the previous go big idea, but more importantly was only possible based on his comprehensive knowledge of the complete end to end process. Deep understanding empowers execution and authority.
Enriched by collaboration – Filippo was obviously a brilliant mind, but he learned much of what filled that mind through collaboration with mathematicians, astronomers, artists, and a wide variety of others. He was curious, open-minded and writings indicate a true student throughout his lifetime. He treated collaboration not as a duty, but as an opportunity to expand his skills and experience.
Innovation isn’t always sexy – Apparently, workers atop the 180-foot cathedral walls had a habit of taking long lunches, which when combined with the time to climb down and then back up created a lot of wasted time. Pippo’s solution was to bring lunch, including wine, up the walls to workers. (To address your natural follow-on question, yes, he also provided an elevated lavatory solution). Workers were happy and efficiency improved. A simple innovation with a positive impact for everyone. As marketers, we are sometimes so focused on finding the big new idea that we overlook simple, high-impact opportunities for improvement.
Things will go badly – Another Brunelleschi innovation was the construction of a custom ship. The ship took seven years to make and was designed to carry large volumes of the marble needed for construction. The ship sank on its first trip, fully loaded with expensive marble. This was a huge financial setback as well as a construction delay. Filippo persevered, weathering this huge setback and continuing on. Every marketing leader will face some variation of this situation. Like Pippo, know it will happen at some point, learn from it and move forward.
The power of people – Even with a portion of his workforce being overtly hostile, Filippo took extra measures to consider the work environment and resources he could provide to improve their conditions and empower his team. This was pre-ping pong, foosball, massage table, but he did see the connection between worker happiness and business productivity and as marketers, we should too.
Breadth and Depth are not mutually exclusive – Even lacking Filippo’s level of raw intellectual horsepower, all of us can benefit from continually expanding the depth and breadth of what we know. The range and depth of Brunelleschi’s knowledge were nothing short of inspiring, if we can achieve even a fraction of that expansive thinking we will become much, much better marketers and marketing leaders. Pippo may have been the original “Fat T” marketer.
He delivered the goods – The original project for the Duomo had been put out for proposal after languishing incomplete for many years. Filippo not only proposed a bold solution, he was able to ultimately deliver an amazing result. There were setbacks and chances are good that even with Brunelleschi’s extreme confidence he endured some sleepless nights wondering if things would be completed. Of all the lessons, this one may be the most important. It may not always be pretty or go according to plan, but delivering the desired end result is what it’s all about.