Sometimes, it pays not to beat around the bush. In 1482, a 30-year-old painter and engineer called Leonardo da Vinci wrote a letter to Ludovico Sforza, who would later become the Duke of Milan, commending his services, in “all possible humility”, and offering to: construct light, portable bridges; demolish any fortress whose “foundations have not been set on stone”; make a noisy kind of cannon which hurls small stones like hail causing “great terror to the enemy”; “noiselessly construct to any prescribed point subterranean passages” and, “as the occasion requires… supply infinite means of attack or defence”. In case that wouldn’t suffice, the ultimate Renaissance man threw in the offer to make a bronze horse to honour the Duke’s ancestors and ridiculed his competitors saying that, having considered “all those who pose as masters in the art of inventing instruments of war”, he had decided their inventions “differ in no way from those in common use”.
At first glance, the letter looks like the ultimate ego trip. But it worked because, along with a bit of flattery and the sweeping suggestion that his rivals weren’t really up to much, Leonardo offered Sforza a clear, incredibly tempting proposition. Warfare was the one discipline in which, in 15th century Europe, no Duke could afford to fail in so Leonardo made, as the mafia might put it, an offer Ludovico couldn’t refuse. That letter ignited a fruitful 16-year association between Duke and genius, a bond that was only severed when the vastly superior French army invaded Milan. (Even da Vinci’s inventive brain could only do so much.)
Five and hundred thirty years since Leonardo put quill to parchment, it might be worth asking yourself: you ever offered a customer such a tempting proposition?