This week we’re going to be playing it like MC Escher. We’re going to do a series within a series. I know. It’s unthinkable. It’s like crossing the streams from Ghost Busters. But I just can’t help it, gosh darn it.
The series, as you might have garnered from the title, is going to focus on the Medici family. As it happens, they have an awful lot to teach us, both good and bad. They pretty much covered the gamut from most positive characteristics to the most deplorable. But first, a brief introduction for those of you who might not know about the Medici family.
The real godfathers
The Medici family started out in Florence as a banking family. They did alright, but nothing special. The big break came when Giovanni Medici took a gamble on a pirate named Baldassare Cossa. Cossa was tired of pirating and decided that he wanted to become Pope, and in fact the Church was so messed up that he actually stood a chance. He just needed the financial backing for his campaign. The Medicis supported him all the way up the ladder, and indeed he became Pope (Pope John XXIII). In return, Cossa essentially appointed the Medicis “Papal bank.” If you hadn’t guessed, that’s a pretty good deal for a little Florentine family.
Over the course of about 200 years, the Medicis had their hands in pretty much everything that had to do with the Renaissance. They commissioned works by Donatello, they adopted Michelangelo, worked with Leonardo, and nurtured Botticelli. It was a Medici who sat in the Vatican when Martin Luther posted his theses. It was the rule of the Medicis that inspired Macchiavelli to write The Prince. The Medicis hired Galileo to tutor some of the later dukes. And in fact, it was Giorgio Vassari, a sort of PR professional for the later Medici dukes, who wrote a book encapsulating the two centuries of Medici rule as the “rebirth” or the Renaissance. Not bad, right?
You can probably see now how we can learn a lot from the exploits of this amazing family. Even so, lesson one might seem like a bit of a paradox. Be humble? In fact, Giovanni Medici preached just that to his son Cosimo.
Afford a fast car but ride a mule
Giovanni Medici became rather rich and powerful during the course of his lifetime, but if you had met him on the streets of Florence back in the 15th century, you might not have realized how well he was doing. Instead of dressing ostentatiously or making a big deal of himself, Giovanni rode around town on a mule. He did not stray far from his humble beginnings, and he advised his son, Cosimo, not to shine the light on wealth. Not all of this was about a Florentine sense of humble pie. Florence was all about family feuds. Giovanni knew that as the Medicis grew more powerful, other powerful families would take notice and would try to take them out (very Hollywood, right?). Giovanni also understood, though, that humility makes you much more attractive than a giant ego. If you’re powerful or wealthy, that will speak for itself. You don’t need to beat your own drum about it, especially if there are people around you who might not be doing so well.
Giovanni’s advice is highly relevant for the online world. He would likely chastise those people who refer to themselves as “experts” or “ninjas” or “jedis.” He would probably have a pretty big problem with something like Klout – why broadcast how much value you have on any given platform? Especially if what is being broadcast can’t necessarily be proven! He might advise you not to worry too much about things like how many followers you have, and it’s likely he would say that you probably don’t need to broadcast how many followers or subscribers you have. Float under the radar. Let your power speak for itself.
Being humble can be less fun
By the time Cosimo was coming into his own, the idea of humility was sort of passing by the wayside. Cosimo brought in Benozzo Gozzoli to paint the walls of the chapel that was within the Medici palace. The room, painted on all sides, depicts the Medici taking part in the procession of the Magi, and any friends of the family also got to be painted in. In other words, if you were hip with the Medicis, your face got on their gold-encrusted wall. Cosimo also used his great power to oversee Brunelleschi’s building of the great Basilica di San Lorenzo dome, the symbol of all things good in Florence. He also got to be buds with Donatello. None of this really sounds too trying, does it?
But as it happens, Giovanni’s advice turned out to be pretty solid. Cosimo got powerful enough that another family, the Albizzi, had him imprisoned and were pretty intent on killing him (he was able to buy his way out and eventually raised an army that took back Florence). Had he stayed a bit off the radar, perhaps the Albizzi wouldn’t have noticed his growing power. Maybe he could have taken advantage of a moment of weakness on their parts.
In the online world, if you fly below the radar you might avoid negative attention. You might avoid negative comments on your blog. You might avoid being “called out” on Twitter. Of course, if Cosimo had been nothing but humble pie, we might not have a lot of the works that Donatello created. We might not know the name Brunelleschi. Maybe the Medicis never would have evolved to where they did.
Perhaps the best advice is not necessarily to be humble, as Giovanni suggested. Maybe the lesson is to be gracious. Be successful, but don’t gloat. Don’t rub your success in peoples’ faces.
What do you think? Do you agree with the advice Giovanni gave his son? How do you approach your own online world? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/yanivba/459712516/ via Creative Commons