Brunelleschi’s Inversion Technique Therapy

In certain respects, our lives take on parallels to the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore and its architect-builder, Filippo Brunelleschi. In the late 1200s, inspired by the Roman Pantheon, a team of Florentine designers enhanced the original plans for the cathedral by significantly expanding the size and scale of the cathedral’s dome. They intended for all of Italy and beyond to be on notice that Florence was the center of thought, science, arts and letters—the dome would signal the splendor of the Italian Renaissance. The problem was that nobody had ever built a dome like this and they lacked the technological expertise to do so. A lot was invested in this bet and heads would roll if the dome turned into a dud. They knew where they wanted to go, but had no idea how to get there. So, they did what any desperate group would do—they played to people’s egos and held a contest.


In 1418, Brunelleschi (a goldsmith by training) won the competition to build the dome using a secret construction technique he invented, refusing to share his plans with the committee until after he was proclaimed the winner. His revolutionary construction technique utilized inverted arches and a herring-bone pattern for the laying of brick, designed to handle and distribute the forces which resulted from the use of these materials. Completed in 1436, the miraculous dome remains the signature profile of Florence.


So, uh, what does this have to do with me?


The analogy lies in the fact that re-booters have a notion of where we want to go in our lives—of who we want to be going forward—but have no idea how to get there. It’s certainly true for me. It’s not that we’re stupid or lazy or are fooling ourselves about what we seek, we simply lack a clear plan for making this trajectory. Ok, so that’s the “committee” part of our psyche. The Brunelleschi part is our subconscious; it’s our imagination allowed to run free without all the constraints we place on it in the name of practicality or fear or the need to hew closely to the examples of respected others. Remember, nobody had ever built a dome like this! If Brunelleschi had remained within the bounds of known expertise, he would never have invented the herring-bone brick laying technique. He turned the arch upside down! Who does that? And, as it turns out, an inverted arch handles the pulls of gravity in an entirely unexpected manner.


By way of example, years ago, I helped my mom needlepoint a Christmas stocking for my stepdad. It’s a family tradition to have individual stockings and I wanted him to feel part of the family. Only, when it came to my turn to work on it, I really didn’t know much about how to needlepoint, so I pulled the gold thread through to create looping tinsel the way it made sense to me. As it turned out, I had flouted all the standard practices for how one does needlepoint. Nevertheless, as my mom observed, my tinsel looked much more fluid and attractive on the tree—way better than if I had asked her how to do it or stayed within convention.


As you go about redesigning your life, I think it’s safe to say that you’re looking to expand your dome in a way that you’ve never quite seen before and you don’t really know how you’re going to do it. But, you know you want a different dome. You know this is part of your signature and tells the world who you are. So, pull a Brunelleschi, puff up your ego, tell yourself you can do this, and take some of the basic building blocks of your life and invert them! They’ll carry the load. See if you can assemble these materials in a new orderyou’re overlooking some of your greatest talents! They’re right there, waiting for you to put them together in a new way.


Quick—what’s the first thing you want to change in your life? How can you invert what you already have to get closer to it? That glorious dome was designed before anyone knew how; it was built one brick at a time, by a novice who risked winding up the laughing stock of the civilized world. If he could do it, so can you…




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