Michelangelo Appeals to People’s Stories – Tip #151

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Compare the two masterpieces by the great Italian artist Michelangelo above. On the left is David, completed in the earlier part of his career, in 1504; on the right is Atlas, created toward the latter part.

David vs. Atlas

David is near perfect. Atlas is unfinished. There’s a shift in style, from one of perfection to one of incompletion, which represents Michelangelo’s beliefs.

“Michelangelo aspired for perfection with David to display his expertise and show the world then that he was the best. The perfect work says ‘look at me’,” a professor once explained to me.

“On the other hand, in Atlas, he wanted people to think and see important messages from his evolving philosophies. He started to dislike the way Florence’s leaders began exploiting people and turned governing into something exclusive to the elite. In Atlas, he wanted people to see that everyone has a role, leaders have to shoulder the world. But instead of a perfect Atlas, he showed only the distinct parts of Atlas’ shoulders carrying the world,” the professor further explained.

“With Atlas, he was sending a message and made sure people would focus on what the message meant. He also allowed people to fill in their own story and not get distracted by perfection (like David’s),” the professor concluded.

Is Perfectionism Detrimental?

Most of our standards are defined in perfect colors, correct writing, and engaging games and multimedia. We want to improve the multi-sensory experience of the learners and deliver the perfect content. But, over-investing in multimedia and advanced authoring software may not be the key to better learning.

Help Learners Find Meaning

We need to learn to deliver less of our content and allow our learners to fill in the blanks with their own meaning — and learn our message in a more personal way.

1 Deliver Less Content

Learners want quick answers that cut the crap so they can solve their problems at work and move on to the next item on their agenda. It’s all about producing learning content that’s simple and easily integrates into their workflow. For content to be valuable, it must answer their personal needs when and where they need them. In one word, personalization — “the #1 growth area in the future,” according to a survey of L&D leaders.
2 Allow Learners to Fill in the Blanks

Leave empty spaces for creative musings. Josh Waitzkin, chess prodigy and tai chi world champion values empty space because this is where the creative process happens and ideas are developed.

Grant permission to learn by discovery (vs. direct instruction). For example, in my story-based approach, I design lessons so they are embedded in stories. Learners discover the answer to a problem in the event by accessing a reference guide.

Trigger a-ha! moments. Take two unrelated concepts and let learners discover or make their own connection. The new insight is like switching on a light bulb.


Try to have more faith in your learners and leave space for them to fill in their own ideas and understand things their own way.


The Accademia Gallery in Florence
The Disruption of Digital Learning: Ten Things We Have Learned by Josh Bersin
The importance of having “empty space” in your day
Tip #79 – Cut the Crap!!!
Tip #58 – Learning in 30 Seconds-Learning ala The Matrix Style
Tip #72 – Creative Musing
Tip #78 – “Chalk and Talk” vs Collaboration – Can We Meet Halfway?
Tip #140 – “Quick Answers are All I Need.” The Learner at Work Tells Us

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”