Renaissance thinking

‘Being good at one thing in life, especially art skills, will make you better at everything else. Acting will make you a better director, and editing audio and video will make you a better writer; your skill in one art is transferable to other art forms. That’s one of the secrets to life.’  Michael W. Dean

Renaissance thinking is the desire to gain in-depth knowledge in more than one area of expertise. The term is based on Renaissance humanism, which encouraged people to develop their capacities as fully as possible. 

The most famous Renaissance thinker is of course Leonardo da Vinci, whose contributions to science are as impressive as his work as an artist. Other famous examples from more recent historical periods include Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who has made his mark not only in the field of literature but also through his work on optics. Lewis Caroll (aka Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), who created a legacy not only through Alice in Wonderland and other fiction writing, but also through his work in mathematics and logic. J.R.R. Tolkien, who in addition to his contribution to literature through The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and other writings, also made an impressive contribution to academia within the field of English Language and Literature. For example, while working as a professor at the University of Leeds he produced A Middle English Vocabulary and, with E. V. Gordon, a definitive edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, both becoming academic standard works for many decades. Cher, one of our contemporaries, is not only a music icon but also an Oscar-winning actress.

I have to confess, I’ve pondered over the issue of Renaissance thinking versus legacy focus for quite some time now, and I am still very much confused by what I perceive as a tension between the two concepts. On the one hand, ideas such as the Hedgehog Concept and the Dip seem to suggest to only go for one big thing, rather than spreading yourself thin across many areas. And that seems to make logical sense. On the other hand, there are many cases of legacy creators (such as the ones above, plus many more) who seemed to have managed to create lasting legacies across a variety of sometimes vastly different fields.

Personally, for all my talking of legacy focus, or about the importance of abandoning all else in the favour of one overriding Hedgehog Concept, my heart very much belongs to Renaissance thinking. Over the past few years, this has led me to some pretty radical changes in my life. After several years spent engrossed in academic research, I suddenly changed direction to go into entrepreneurship, along with a stint in politics. Having given birth or contributed to a variety of entrepreneurial legacy projects, completed my PhD, and abandoned the idea of launching my political career (I realised pretty early on it was a cul-de-sac for me), I have now returned to my childhood passion for creative writing and my teenage passion for acting.  Along with starting a blog, of course, and working on a variety of ebooks related to the practical aspects of creating legacy, some of which I will reveal on this site over the coming months.

So yeah, Renaissance thinking seems to be my thing, and I always have to be careful not to be sidetracked into other interests before completing the legacy project I’m working on (so far, I’ve been pretty good at that, come to think of it – I don’t like unfinished business; legacy projects HAVE to be completed if they’re not a cul-de-sac, no matter what other shiny prospects catch your eye). There are SO many exhilarating things to experience in this life, and I feel I am yet so young and so eager to explore different options. Our daily experiences continually change us as human beings, sometimes to the core – and Renaissance thinking allows us to acknowledge these changes and use them to gain in-depth insights into the different aspects of life.

There is one thing in particular I have noticed about Renaissance thinking – and this is where I think Michael Dean’s quote is bang on. It does seem to me like the more areas you explore and set up legacy projects in, the better equipped you are for your next legacy project, even though in a completely different area of expertise. My experience of entrepreneurship helped me enormously when it came to writing my PhD thesis; similarly, my experience of writing my thesis is helping me keep going with this blog, even on days when I don’t feel like writing.

It also seems to me that as long as you are careful to complete the legacy projects you start (or else to quit as soon as you realise you’re in a cul-de-sac, as I did with politics), it’s okay to embrace Renaissance thinking. What you’ll probably notice is that you will start making connections between things that people don’t normally associate with one another, simply because you will have all this in-depth expertise in other areas to draw from, every time you start a new legacy project. For example, the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings have greatly benefitted from J.R.R. Tolkien’s academic expertise in the field of English Language and linguistics – expertise in one area led to an amazing creation in another area. Everything in this world is connected, and as long as we use our detours to get back to creating our path, the legacy projects we set up will be all the more complex and enriching to the people who experience them.  

Okay, I’ve ranted on long enough – what do you think?

If you feel the same way I do, you may want to embrace Renaissance thinking as part of your quest to create legacy. Indeed, Renaissance thinking can make your learning experiences in new areas of endeavour go more smoothly, as you can use the expertise gained in one area to master another area. As long as you make sure your Renaissance thinking helps your legacy focus, having this kind of thinking opens up a world of opportunities.

The time is now.

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Alexa Ispas

I am a social entrepreneur, blogger, and talent scout, interested in helping people who want to create legacy. I have recently completed my PhD thesis in social psychology at the University of Edinburgh, and am originally from Romania. I am writing a daily blog on creating legacy, which you can find at