August 19, 2020

In the center of Florence, Italy, sits the Duomo di Firenze — a picturesque cathedral towering over the city.

It took 140 years to build. Its completion in 1436 symbolizes the birth of the Renaissance.

The trickiest part was the dome.

It would be the highest and widest dome ever built. It was also designed to exclude external buttresses, which had been used for hundreds of years to keep domes from collapsing under their own weight.

The task of reconciling these demands fell to Filippo Brunelleschi, a 40-year-old goldsmith-cum-architect.

Brunelleschi didn’t study the most innovative designs at the time. He looked instead to the Pantheon in Rome, built 1,300 years earlier at the apex of the Roman Empire.

Brunelleschi completed the dome and is known today as the founding father of Renaissance architecture.

Creativity is a messy, nonlinear process.

Yet, when you trace its roots, you find that creative ideas spring from a handful of common sources.

One, from a reexamination of the past — Brunelleschi’s dome.

Two, by co-opting concepts from other contexts — the marrying of engines and buggies to create automobiles,’s application of Walmart’s “everyday low prices” to e-commerce.

Three, as a product of problem-solving — the printing press, software that automates processes.

Understanding creativity has been an interest of mine for years.

I’ve found that it rarely comes from within. Rather, it’s almost always a product of external inspiration.

The best dealmakers in banking talk about deal flow. For each bank they buy, they pass on 25 others.

The same is true with creativity.

To create, you need exposure to a torrent of ideas. And you must accept that the time-consuming search for inspiration will oftentimes bear little fruit.

This is hard for organizations that, out of necessity, prioritize efficiency and risk management. After all, you can’t “move fast and break things” when you’re leveraged by 10:1.

But this is a feature, not a bug.

If balancing creativity and business prerogatives were easy, it wouldn’t be a source of competitive advantage.

John J. Maxfield / editor in chief of Bank Director
/ ideas, insights and perspectives on
A partnership between banks and universities in the Lone Star State is funneling college students into financial institutions.

“Done right, banking is a lucrative and fulfilling profession. The more students that appreciate this, the easier it’ll be to recruit them.”

John J. Maxfield / editor in chief of Bank Director