The Mighty Medici
The Renaissance was a time of great intellectual and artistic prosperity. Many people were pulled out of the mud and darkness of the Middle Ages and shown a bright, shiny, new future — one of endless possibilities.
This movement didn’t happen on its own, however. The epicenter of the movement was Florence, Italy, and the governmental system there was quite peculiar compared to the rest of Europe. The social values and geographic location of Florence also played a role.
But the real push for the movement came from a small group of people who had vision, influence, and the desire to see what could happen if those with talent were allowed to focus on what they do best.
They were a family called Medici, and they changed everything.
The Medici were bankers who gained massive amounts of political and social influence in Florence during the 14th Century.
They used this leverage to make sure civic policies that favored the arts, science, philosophy, and other areas of study that suffered in the Middle Ages could flourish.
They sponsored and hired great artists like Brunelleschi, Masaccio, Michelangelo and Donatello. Leonardo da Vinci was a big recipient of aid and sponsorship from the Medici family. Pretty much anyone you can think of from the Renaissance period (in Florence and after it spread) somehow benefited from their influence.
Damnably impressive people, really.
Keeping Up with the Medici
The Medici are a perfect example of the kind of people we need more of. Their later years (filling the Papacy, eventually ruining their good name by turning again the Jews, etc) notwithstanding, during their heyday they made massive amounts of positive change by using their natural abilities and the resources they had available to bring out the best in others.
There are people who do this today, and they are names you likely know.
Y Combinator is a good example of a venture firm that takes risks on people with good ideas from the very beginning. Since they provide what’s call ‘seed funding,’ they provide money to companies like Wufoo before anyone else, taking a very small number of shares in return, allowing people with talent to shake what their mama gave them without selling the car for gas money.
Kiva is an organization that helps impoverished people with good ideas collect money to fund their endeavors using what’s called microfinancing: a little money is collected from dozens or hundreds of people and then combined to make their plans possible.
All three are modern-day Medici, utilizing what they have — marketing knowledge, connections, money, networks — to help others reach the next level, a level that they may never be able to reach on their own because of financial or social limitations.
Making Our Own Renaissance
This is the kind of person I strive to be someday. The more successful people we have in the world, the better off we all are.
If we had hundreds of Albert Einsteins, Simone de Beauvoirs, Leonardo ad Vincis, Ayn Rands, Mohandas Gandhis, Bill Gates, Maya Angelous and Walt Disneys, the world would be a much grander place.
I would hazard to say that the great dearth of capable people in positions of power is one of the most unnecessary and harmful realities of the modern world. A fortunate few are able to leverage their abilities into notoriety and really reach their full potential, but most will never be able to do so, instead scrounging for food to stay alive while working on a cure for cancer or writing the next great philosophical treatise.
So my challenge to you is simple: this year, do everything you can to help other people succeed. Push those you know with talent and provide what assistance you can. Continue to work on your own endeavors, of course, but really make an extra effort to give others a leg up as well.
I think you’ll notice a significant difference in your own life within this year, and that different will carry over to everyone as more and more people bring out their inner Medici.
Update: November 26, 2016
This is a concept I still talk about a lot: figuring out how to create sustainable models around individuals and smaller projects, not just grand-scale tech businesses and the like. Not everything needs to be Google to be valuable.
I don’t think I would include Ayn Rand on a list of ‘great people’ these days (I loved her books back then, but my opinion of her and her ideology waned over the years, as I learned more about how she and other people interpreted her work, and how that differed from how I’d read them), but I do still think people like Seth Godin and smaller incubators (Y Combinator isn’t small anymore, but they still do some cool things) are modern Medici.