What the Doumo can teach us about innovation
The Doumo is Firenze’s ultimate point of reference. It’s the mother ship, the gravitational force, the thing you look for first when you arrive and your true north as you navigate this timeless city. Massive – indescribably so – and elaborate, it’s more like an alien life form than a manmade structure. It’s easier to imagine it being delivered intact from another planet than actually constructed, marble block by marble block for nearly 1,000 years by mere human hands.
To riff Steve Jobs, the Doumo could never have been designed by a focus group. Although ultimately a collaborative project, the Doumo is proof of a vision so fierce that it could be handed off over generations, over the course of accelerating artistic and engineering evolution, and still deliver the audacity and impact foreseen by its pioneers.
To riff Steve Blank, the Doumo is the third type of startup – born to be big – and the layers of complexity and “code” (allegorically speaking) could only be driven by an audacity of vision that said from the get-go, “We will be the one beside which all others pale.” The Duomo was no lean startup or minimal viable product. Beautiful examples of those dot the Tuscan countryside, but see them and you know: the Doumo is different. It’s the result of a vision to state something that had never before been stated, a vision to change the world.
So what can we learn from the Doumo about “changing the world,” the seeming mantra of Silicon Valley? Staring in awe at the Doumo (from the countless Florentine perspectives that showcase it) inspires a few parallels with tech innovation today. I’ve listed three below. What others do you see?
Massive platforms create context. As wonderful as Florence is, it wouldn’t hold such gravitas without the Doumo. Remove it, and much falls out of context. Landmarks that make sense in the shadow of the Doumo might lose their meaning if they stood on their own. In a way, the Doumo is a platform – a foundational technology that anchored Florence, allowing complementary advances (and challenges) to develop alongside it.
Lesson? Fairly obvious: look to dominant platforms to create context for your own innovations. You would fail if you tried to “take on” the Doumo, but leveraging its impact and gravitas is a proven model for success. Knowing where you fit in and where you diverge will define your unique value proposition, and help you express it in context to the audiences you serve.
Create an audacious vision – but be open to the outcome. Had the pioneers of the Doumo insisted on absolute control of the final product, we wouldn’t have the masterwork we have today. Brunelleschi’s dome, Ghiberti’s gates – the founders couldn’t have anticipated how their vision would inspire future innovators, or known how engineering advances would augment their original vision.
Lesson here: if your core concept is strong, the talent of others has the potential to take it to a whole new level. This is true whether you’re a Doumo or a corner enoteca, a Twitter or a cool little iPhone app. Create something authentic and vision-driven and those who interact with it will take it to a whole new level.
You don’t have to be the Doumo to change the world. There’s only one Doumo, but you can see its imprint on countless smaller innovations in Firenze, echoing out into the surrounding Tuscan countryside. In small cathedrals and in corner cafes, you see innovation layered on the anchor concept much as an app might layer upon a modern API. Every player in the ecosystem helps shape the expanded experience, and the sum of the smaller parts has a powerful impact of its own.
Lesson here, illustrated visually by the Florentine landscape: collective impact from small innovators is an essential part of any healthy ecosystem. And the presence of a great platform creates countless opportunities for smaller player to thrive.
These thoughts might be a stretch. It wouldn’t surprise me if four days in Florence, surrounded by warmly lit panoramas, cool marble arches, and a rich abundance of physical and cerebral innovations, have gone to my head and shifted my perspective on my day-to-day life in Silicon Valley.
Actually, I hope that’s exactly what has happened. It seems there’s a lesson to be learned in this city, the center of the world’s first massive information revolution, that might make sense to all of us who shape our own revolutions today. What can we learn from the lessons of the Doumo? What patterns or parallels can we recognize in its history that help us better understand our own? And how can we use those lessons to make our own innovations better, stronger, and more meaningful to the audiences we serve? With that thinking, maybe our own creations will have lasting impact and make sense in the sprawling landscape growing in technology today.