Monday, January 16, 2012

Renaissance Means Diversification

Last week I heard an interview with Walter Isaacson, the author of the recently published biography of Apple poster boy, Steve Jobs. The anecdotes that Isaacson shared of Jobs' quirks and philosophies were truly fascinating. I especially appreciated the refutations the biographer provided when faced with the scathing arguments that the turtlenecked CEO was no more than a tinkerer who only improved upon existing technologies. He was not dismissive of the assertions. He merely offered a defense that, sadly, Jobs can no longer send up himself.

Walter Isaacson
Beyond the intriguing aspects of the life of this Macintosh creator, there was one part of the interview that struck me as especially poignant. Isaacson, in addition to reiterating the life of Jobs, has also written best selling works about the lives of Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. When asked to compare Jobs with the subjects of his other two works, the author was hesitant. Before he would proceed, he paused to disclaim. He clarified that Einstein would always be in a classification entirely of his own, and should not be compared to the other two. Then, rather than place Jobs and Franklin side-by-side, the author went on to speculate as to Franklins definition of greatness.

Isaacson stated that Franklin saw value in a diversified understanding of the world. It was not enough to be proficient in one particular field - a master in the physical sciences or a literary prodigy. A true man of class and commendation is a force to be reckoned with in a variety of disciplines, understanding the world as a whole, not simply one silo. Harnessing equations, understanding language, intelligently appreciating the arts and grappling with chemicals are all weighted equally when qualifying a renaissance man.

The Epitome of Renaissance.
Beyond the fields we often think of when qualifying someone as a renaissance man, one discipline that is sometimes overlooked is the field of business. Franklin, Isaacson argues, saw the ability to negotiate and operate with fiduciary integrity as one of the noblest aims of all. In addition to the research, invention, and discovery that Franklin held in such high regard, he also partook in government and business endeavors to great acclaim. By rounding out the areas of our expertise, the more renaissance we become. Steve Jobs, in a way, did this. Not only was he steeped in the world of technology and communication, but he also intimately understood design, aesthetic, engineering, and of course, business. While some have dismissed Jobs' ability as a CEO, most would agree that he has built a brand that is ubiquitous with success, fluidity, and creativity.

As we continue to strive for Renaissance man (or woman) status in this new year, we must remember to hone ourselves in a variety of ways, and be sure not to forget the business world. Whether arguing to have a fee removed from your bank account or determining the stocks you'll invest in, do not silo these skills as separate from the ascetic labors you love to explore. The ability to conduct yourself with integrity in a business setting is just as noble as your ability to knowledgeably assess a Seurat painting.

Plus, It will probably come in handy much more (no offense to Seurat).


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