Michelangelo wasn’t a one-trick pony or a one-hit wonder. He was the archetype Renaissance artist, accomplished as a sculptor, painter, architect, and poet. Michelangelo produced iconic works, across disciplines, throughout the 88 years of his life. Many of Michelangelo’s works are still among the world’s most recognized and appreciated art ever created, five hundred years later, including the Pieta, David, and Sistine Chapel.
It’s hard to argue that Michelangelo wasn’t a genius and that he didn’t leverage his creative superpower to gain the right notoriety and sponsorships. It doesn’t hurt when Lorenzo de’ Medici invites you to live in his Florence palace! But something else is going on when Michelangelo sustains his production at such an amazingly high level across so many disciplines over almost a century. Michelangelo shared his secret on the celebration of his 87th birthday, just a year before he died, proclaiming, Ancora Imparo: Yet I Am Learning.
Michelangelo gave us incredible works of art but he also gave us the most important innovation insight and lesson. Learning curve matters above all else. Michelangelo is my new innovation hero and Ancora Imparo is my new innovation mantra. In a rapidly changing world, learning and reinvention are the most important life skills. Not just when we’re young but throughout our lives. Innovators thrive on the steepest part of the learning curve where the changing rate of learning is the greatest. Watch how innovators, like Michelangelo, manage their careers and lives. They always put themselves on a steep learning curve. I know I always have.
Staying on a steep learning curve is the most important decision criterion for any career choice an innovator makes. Along the way, innovators make many career moves, none of which are primarily about titles, offices, number of direct reports, or money. Innovators believe those things are more likely to happen if they keep themselves on steep learning curves. Every choice to take a new tack or direction is about the next learning curve. Innovators are self aware enough to know they do their best work while learning at a rapid rate and are bored to tears when they aren’t. Steep learning curves matter most.
I have known many people who sacrificed learning curves for money and other extrinsic rewards, and…