The ‘boss’ who stole da Vinci’s resolve

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in Leaders & Managers

As brilliant as he was, Leonardo da Vinci left hundreds of projects and ideas unfinished.

It appears that a brief employment under the ruthless Italian duke Cesare Borgia is at least partly to blame.

As chief military engineer to Borgia in 1502, da Vinci helped the duke draw more-accurate maps, strengthen the walls of his fortress and build bridges for his army. But when Borgia decapitated a rival and placed the rival’s head on a lance in the city square, da Vinci had had enough. He left the duke’s employ after only a few months.

Even that short exposure to Borgia’s brutality left da Vinci a profoundly changed man. He came to see the use of his military engineering skills, once a source of pride and ambition, as a “grotesque error.” Even though da Vinci continued to fill his notebooks with diagrams, drawings and speculations, he followed through on none of them.

“I will not publish, nor divulge, such things,” da Vinci wrote, “because of the evil nature of men.”

The lesson: The grander your ambitions, the more important it is that you adhere to a philosophy on the scale of Google’s high-minded guiding principle, adopted in the infancy of the company: Don’t be evil.

— Adapted from The Artist, the Philosopher and the Warrior, Paul Strathern, Bantam.

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