By Crystelle Coulon
Painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, writer... phew! Leonardo da Vinci wore many hats for one head. And even though he died 492 years ago, we’re still learning from him.
In a new book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci (Random House), creative thinking pioneer Michael J. Gelb deciphers the genius’ works and finds seven principles he says anyone can develop. Think it’s too late? Experts say no: “We now know that the brain is constantly revising itself,” says neuroscientist Dr Michael Merzenich. “Physical brain change occurs every time we learn something new.” Here, a bunch of ingenious secrets for liberating your intelligence.
Stay curious (curiosita)
You are born with innate curiosity. As a baby your passion is exploring and learning (read: sticking crayons up your nose.) And as soon as you can talk, you begin questioning… well… just about everything. This habit of always asking “why?” is the first key to thinking like a genius: “Great minds go on asking confounding questions with the same intensity throughout their lives,” says Gelb.
Action it Leonardo da Vinci always carried a notebook so he could jot down his ideas, jokes and plans for inventions. Foster your creativity by keeping a notebook or notes on your iPhone. “Busy lives and job responsibilities tend to drive us towards hard conclusions and measurable results, but the exploratory, free flowing, unfinished, non-judgemental practise of keeping a da Vincian notebook encourages freedom of thought,” says Gelb. “In the manner of the maestro, don’t worry about order and logical flow, just record.”
Appreciate connections (connessione)
When da Vinci was a child he was asked to paint a peasant’s shield. Keen to create an image that would terrify, he collected insects and other critters. By adapting various parts of each creature, he composed a frightening image of a dragon. Several of his inventions evolved from imaginative connections between unrelated things.Action it Develop your genius by linking different items. “For example, what connections can you make between a frog and the internet? The frog’s feet are webbed; the internet links you to the World Wide Web,” says Gelb. Come up with three connections for each of the following: an oak leaf and a human hand. Maths and The Last Supper. A laugh and
a knot. You get the idea…
Use your whole brain (arte/scienza)
You don’t often hear of a world-famous scientist, engineer and artist all rolled into one, yet when he wasn’t painting the Mona Lisa or The Last Supper, da Vinci was designing a parachute or pioneering studies of anatomy. Smarty pants. Instead of categorising himself as a left (logical) or right (imaginative) brained thinker, da Vinci embraced “whole-brain” thinking.
Action it Balance out your thinking style with mind mapping; da Vinci’s notebooks were full of detailed drawings — with words, thoughts and pictures all interconnected.
Embrace ambiguity (sfumato)
Sfumato (an Italian word meaning ‘going up in smoke’) is a term used by arty types to describe the mysterious quality that was one of the most distinctive characteristics of da Vinci’s paintings. Sfumato is also one of the unique features of geniuses: the ability to thrive on ambiguity.
Action it How much ambiguity can you tolerate? Rate yourself on a scale of one to 10 — with one representing a complete need for certainty 24/7, and 10 representing an enlightened state. Figure out what you can do to move up a point on the scale. It could be simply listening to your intuition.
To begin mind mapping, you need a topic, like a problem or a goal, coloured pens and paper. Begin with a symbol or picture in the centre to represent your topic. Write down key words and connect them with lines radiating from the central image – colours, pictures and codes provide greater emphasis.
Refine your senses (sensazione)
Back in the 1400s when he was swinging a paintbrush, da Vinci made a call that still rings true: the average human “looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odour or fragrance and talks without thinking”. Recognise the importance of your five senses and truly live in the moment.
Action it “Synaesthesia, the merging of the senses, is a characteristic of great artistic and scientific geniuses,” says Gelb. You can cultivate your awareness of synaesthesia by putting on your favourite song and, as you listen, experiment with expressing your impressions by drawing or painting shapes and colours.
Challenge your knowledge (dimostrazione)
This superhuman was one of the most superstitious thinkers of his time, with willingness to challenge the dominant world view — and his opinions. Genius thinking requires you to question your own assumptions and beliefs. Try it.
Action it In your notebook explore these questions: what are the most influential experiences of your life? List seven experiences, along with a one-sentence summary of what you learnt from each experience and how you apply that knowledge to everyday life. Next, ask yourself if you can rethink some of the conclusions you drew at the time? Sit with this question in the back of your mind for a day or two.
Cultivate grace, fitness, poise (corporalita)
When you imagine a genius – how do you picture them? “It’s amazing how many people associate high intelligence with physical ineptitude,” Gelb says. “With a few exceptions, the great geniuses of history were gifted with remarkable physical energy and aptitude, none more so than da Vinci.” He loved to walk, ride, swim and fence, encouraging others to exercise and eat well (intriguingly the Italian was a vego).
Action it So make like a maestro and follow da Vinci’s very wise advice: “Rest your head and keep your mind cheerful. Exercise moderately. Eat only when you want and sup light. Chew well. Beware of anger. Go to the toilet regularly.” (We knew it!)Read more: reach your goals