For most of my life I have struggled with the idea for specialisation. Specialisation in a career path, specialisation in a knowledge area, specialisation in life. Today we see we are living in a period similar to the Renaissance (1300 – 1600). A period of time questioning the idea of and need for specialisation. A time challenging silos and institutional thinking.

During the 20th Century we experienced industrial or linear thinking. This resulted largely from the early growth of the Scientific Method and mass production methods. We saw linear thinking in our education systems, businesses and other areas. We atomised things to understand them. We then built machines around what we learnt. We believed specialists were more important than generalists. People we categorised. Needlessly and unfairly in many cases. People became their career title- a doctor, lawyer, engineer, CEO and so on.

I always believed people are more complex, dynamic and powerful than any simple title. I never understood or related to the dominant trend of the 20th Century. I gravitated towards fluidity- ‘entrepreneur’, ‘creative’. These made more sense to me than narrow titles.

During my whole life I was interested, fascinated by everything. I could never choose. I loved numbers, words, art, physics, cosmology, business, writing, psychology, philosophy, finance- anything requiring me to think differently. To think beyond the apparent, beyond what already existed. The power of the creative idea was my only guiding light.

When I was a teenager a teacher directed me to the Renaissance. Here for the first time I felt at home. Like the Internet today, the printing press liberated knowledge and creativity during the Renaissance. Renaissance means ‘re-birth’. It was a period of enlightenment in human history. 

Today like the Renaissance, we see a break down of institutionalised knowledge. The Internet and digital technologies are unifying knowledge and ideas are spawning a global creative playground. Silo thinking and institutionalism are slowly fading- again. Specialisation is giving way to generalisation, as machines take over mundane tasks. We are returning to the power of creative ideas. We are seeing this in all fields, as innovation becomes the key driver for all enterprises to thrive. We now call this Disruption. I simply see it as a return to the Renaissance Mind.

Many years ago I remember studying the greats such as Galileo, Michelangelo, Copernicus and of course, Leonardo da Vinci. Today we call Leonardo a Polymath. I simply call him a creative. Leonardo too loved all things. From art to mathematics to inventing flying and other machines that we would create hundreds of years later. Leonardo lived in a time where he could naturally find flow in creativity.

During the Renaissance an important idea was born- The Universal. Inventors, thinkers, artists, writers, entrepreneurs, merchants and others, looked for universal principles that existed beneath all knowledge and human endeavour. The Universal was closer to natural systems. Closer to the freedom needed for creative ideas.

Today in the 21st Century we are on the cusp of returning to the Universal. A return to First Principles, a simplification of 10,000 Things to find again the essence, what works perpetually- the creative. This exists at the edges and intersections of current knowledge. It always has.

An example is the rise of sustainable business models and products. We realise we cannot create products that pollute and are discarded. Plastics are a case in point we spoke about recently. Imagine if we could create a substitute for plastic, which was completely biodegradable and had multiple uses. We move from a linear model to a circular model. For instance, a plastic carry bag could be used many times and potentially as compost for the garden, or as global carbon sinks. Nature works this way. We are now slowly learning to do the same as nature. She has been a teacher quietly waiting for us to return. To return to the Universal.

Natural systems have always been sustainable. They are underpinned by first, universal principles that have worked for many thousands of years. Nature shows us the power of adaptive, evolutionary systems. Industrial systems of the 20th Century are not sustainable. Their time has come. Our time has come. We often forget we are borne from nature. Our challenge is to rise beyond 20th Century thinking to return home. To find the power and simplicity of the Universal and the Renaissance Mind, which I believe exist naturally in all of us.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”-  Leonardo da Vinci

By Lee Spano, Creatness International 

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