Leonardo’s Pitch: Shouldn’t Creativity Trump Capability?

In the early 1480s Leonardo Da Vinci applied for a job at the court of Ludovico Sforza in Milan. He wrote Ludovico a letter listing his core skills in ten points. He was, he claimed, a master at building portable bridges and scaling ladders; he could create cannon, catapults and covered vehicles; he could design tunnels, mines and mortars.

As an afterthought, Leonardo mentioned that he could also sculpt and paint.

Now it may be that Leonardo’s pitch was a canny exercise in audience management. He knew that Ludovico was far more interested in militaria than art. But Leonardo may also have been demonstrating a disappointing lack of confidence in his own extraordinary creative skills.

Do we in the world of marketing and communications recognise something in Leonardo’s job application? Have our own pitches for work become long lists of capabilities and specialisms?

If you examine a variety of Agency websites, you’ll see that many read like a Yellow Pages of skills, crafts, expertise and aptitudes.

’We deliver in data, social media, mobile and build; we excel at SEO, UX and ECRM; we can do e-commerce, coding and content curation…’

Isn’t there a risk that this is all a little undifferentiated? Perhaps a little boring?

Of course, the modern world is one of fragmented platforms, disciplines and skill-sets. Clients are looking for partners who can help them navigate this complexity and they want to be reassured that Agencies have appropriate competencies and delivery mechanics.

But at what stage does the Client say: ‘OK. I know you can do a good job at everything. But are you great at anything?’

Have we, like Leonardo, lost confidence in the power of our creativity? Why don’t we lead with our ideas, prioritize our originality? First and foremost, shouldn’t we be selling our imagination, innovation, invention? Shouldn’t creativity trump capability?

I could, of course, be wrong… In the event Leonardo’s skill-based pitch was successful. Ludovico hired the great artist and, ten years later, commissioned him to paint The Last Supper. 

No. 76