Sfumato, an Italian word, when translated to English means “soft, vague, or blurred.” Sfumato is derived from “Fumo” (smoke,fume). According to Leonardo da Vinci, sfumato is a crucial ingredient to genius. He used this technique in his most famous painting, Mona Lisa, but to him sfumato was more than a blurring of the lines on his creative canvases. Sfumato was something he embraced in work and life. You see, Leonardo knew that ambiguity was ever present. You know this as well. Very rarely, in life, are the moments of truth, crucial conversations, or critical decisions we face, seen with 20/20 clarity. At best, we see the big picture somewhat clearly but the details, many times, are but a blur. Leaders, understand this truth.
Leaders embrace ambiguity. Normal humans hesitate. Leaders choose action. Normal humans let anxiety stop them in their tracks. Sfumato is not going away tomorrow. Seems, the more data analytics we deliver, the more anxious we are becoming that there must be one more proof before we can act with confidence. Genius comes when we practice curiosity, test our theories, engage all our senses, embrace ambiguity, and make decisions while normal teams hesitate.
Embrace sfumato, leader, and make more decisions. The risk involved in not deciding is just as real as the risk involved in deciding. Since we can’t calculate the cost of inaction or indecision as clearly as the cost of shooting on the mat, a triple backflip on the beam, having the hard convo with our high performer, making a bet on Franklinton, or setting performance standards sure to send shudders through your system, we decide to wait, delay, and play defensive. Embrace sfumato, leader. Life is risk. Lean in. It’s so much more fun when you take some calculated risk and go for it. You know this. Now let’s do this.
I just finished a four hour film session studying Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine. BO gave me this suggestion at the end of practice 13 earlier this week. FM, baby. I love the MOT (moment of truth) for Dre when he and Jimmy go it alone and their first two releases crash badly. They don’t see their way forward. Sfumato. A cassette tape changes everything. The worlds most successful producer of gangsta rap flips the script by partnering with a cracker. In fact, a cracker, saves his sorriness. His name was Eminem and it was flow at first sight. The rest is history. The lesson?
Never stop. Keep working. Stay open. You never know when the magic’s gonna show up. Thanks BO for thinking of me. Funny how the more you fall in love with your work, the more the universe bends your way.