Lessons from Michelangelo

Insight's THINC! keynote addresses lessons from antiquity for today's innovators at may 19 event

Posted on Apr 1, 2016 :: Connections
Margaret LeBrun
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Paul Voss is a speaker who brings listeners to the edge of their seats as he cites everything from Michelangelo and Shakespeare to Blockbuster and Kodak in the context of business and innovation.

As national speakers go, testimonials of those who’ve heard him don’t mince words:

“His mix of entertainment, education and relevant messaging is incredible,” says Tyler Winkler of Dell Secureworks.

“Dr. Voss is, simply put, the finest public speaker I’ve ever seen,” says Craig Rautiola, vice president of Fairmount Minerals.

Voss, who explores themes on innovation with intriguing historical perspective, will deliver the keynote speech at the fifth annual THINC! event hosted by Insight Publications the afternoon of May 19 at the UW-Fox Valley theater in Menasha.

Insight Innovation Award winners will also be announced at the Technology & Human Innovation Networking Conference, hosted by Insight Publications. The event will be capped with high-powered networking with Voss, award winners and nominees.

His talk, sponsored by TEC-Midwest, will address how companies can take lessons from classical ideas to spur innovation.

“I talk about innovation and disruption simultaneously,” Voss said in a phone interview with Insight. “I’m going to focus on disruptions, those that have happened in history that show there are winners and losers with every disruption.”

As president of the Atlanta-based leadership training company Ethikos and an associate professor at Georgia State University, Voss accepts about a third of the 300-some invitations he receives to speak each year. He works with 85 clients in five countries and is currently writing a book with the working title, “That Michelangelo Moment: Leadership in Times of Chaos and Uncertainty.”

Voss teaches courses on Shakespeare, Dante, Machiavelli, business ethics, Renaissance literature and the History of the Book. He publishes on a wide variety of topics for academic audiences and the popular press and regularly appears on television and radio programs.

His clients include the FBI Labs, General Electric Energy, British Petroleum, the Home Depot, Georgia Institute of Technology, Fairmount Minerals and many others. His work on business ethics, sustainable development and corporate stewardship builds on 2,500 years
of intellectual history.

“The treasury of the world’s knowledge, humanity hasn’t changed too much in 2,000 years, Voss says. “We still use jokes from Roman literature that are 2,000 years old.”

He likes to bring the lessons of history to life through stories.

“Stories are compelling, interesting — sticky. Storytelling is a leadership strategy, because we know we’re not alone, other people have experienced the same things.”

He tells the story of the founder of Netflix and how it completely disrupted — and eventually put out of business — Blockbuster.

He talks about how Uber is now “the most valuable transportation company in the world — but doesn’t own a single car.” What Uber has done is offer a “better experience for people. It’s cheaper, you don’t have to tip and you know who is going to pick you up.” As a result, Uber has created a wave of disruption for taxicab companies nationwide.

He often shares the story of how Michelangelo had to constantly learn new skills as his talent was in demand. Michelangelo, he says, had to switch from sculptor (the Statue of David) to painter (the Sistine Chapel) to architect (St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome). “Michelangelo had to change, adapt and pivot — he didn’t want to, but he did,” he says.

Voss feels an affinity for Midwest audiences, having grown up on a dairy farm in central Minnesota. For hardworking Midwesterners to embrace innovation, they need to “overcome inertia,” he says.

“Wisconsinites and Minnesotans are practical people, maybe a little stubborn,” he says. “Their work ethic is a personification of grit. They keep working; it’s not flash and dash. They tend not to lead
the world in innovation, but once they see the value proposition, they retool. They’ve got pretty good B.S. detectors, with a healthy degree of skepticism.”

Tickets for THINC! are $45 through April, $55 in May and $60 at the door. To register, go to www.insightonbusiness.com/thinc.

Margaret LeBrun

About Margaret LeBrun

Co-Publisher, Executive Editor View all posts by Margaret LeBrun →