A few months ago, Luciano Passuello from Litemind suggested me to read the book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael J. Gelb. Having heard about da Vinci’s reputation as one of the greatest geniuses in history, I gladly did.
The author of the book examined the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci and tried to figure out the secret of his genius. The result is something he called “seven steps to genius every day” which consist of Curiosita, Dimostrazione, Sensazione, Sfumato, Arte/scienza, Corporalita, and Connessione.
Curiosita is an insatiably curious approach to life and unrelenting quest for continuous learning. One characteristic of the great minds is they go on asking confounding questions with the same intensity throughout their lives. In da Vinci’s case, his loyalty, devotion, and passion were directed to the pure quest for truth and beauty.
Great minds ask great questions. You can increase your problem-solving skills by honing your question-asking ability. By cultivating a da Vinci-like open, questing frame of mind, we broaden our universe and improve our ability to travel through it.
Here are some ways to apply Curiosita:
- Keep a journal or “notebook”
Carry a journal with you everywhere and write in it regularly. You can write your thoughts or do thinking exercises there.
- Theme observation
Choose a theme for the day and record the observations in your notebook.
- Stream of consciousness exercise
Choose any question, and write your thoughts and associations as they occur, without editing. The secret of effective stream of consciousness writing is to keep writing.
Dimostrazione is a commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistake. The finest teachers know that experience is the source of wisdom. And the principle of Dimostrazione is the key to making the most of your experience.
Here are some ways to apply Dimostrazione:
- Check your belief and sources
Determine the dominant source of your information. See if you hold any beliefs for which you have no experiential verification.
- Three points of view
Try making the strongest possible argument against your belief. Try reviewing your belief “from a distance” (for instance, as if you lived in a different country). Seek out friends who might offer different perspectives.
- Practice internal anticommercial martial arts
Go through your favorite magazine and analyze the strategy and tactics of each advertisement. Note which advertisements affect you most strongly and why.
- Learn from “anti-role models”
Make a list of at least three people who have made mistakes that you would like to avoid. How can you learn from their mistakes?
Sensazione is the continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience. Da Vinci believed that the secrets of Dimostrazione are revealed through the senses, especially sight. Saper vedere (knowing how to see) was one of Leonardo’s mottoes, and the cornerstone of his artistic and scientific work.
Here are some ways to apply Sensazione:
- Describe an experience in detail
For example, you can watch sunrise or sunset and describe the details of the experience in your notebook.
- Study the lives and work of your favorite artists
- Learn to draw
- Listen to the sounds around you
Learn to listen from the loudest (e.g. traffic) to the softest (e.g. your breathing) sounds.
Sfumato is a willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty. Leonardo’s phenomenal ability to hold the tension of opposites, to embrace uncertainty, ambiguity, and paradox, was a critical characteristic of his genius.
Here are two ways to apply Sfumato:
- Make friends with ambiguity
List some situations from your life where ambiguity reigns (e.g. waiting to hear if you were accepted at the college of your choice) and describe the feeling.
- Cultivate confusion endurance
Sharpen your senses in the face of paradox. You can do it by asking questions like “How are my strengths and weaknesses related?” or “What is the relationships between my saddest moments and the most joyful ones?”
Arte/scienza is the development of the balance between science and art, logic and imagination. It is “whole-brain” thinking.
You can use one simple but powerful method for cultivating a synergy between logic and imagination in your everyday thinking, planning, and problem solving. The method is mind mapping. Through regular practice mind mapping trains you to be a more balanced thinker.
Here are ways to apply Arte/scienza:
- Learn the rules of mind mapping
- Practice your mind-mapping skills
It is probably best to make your first few mind maps on relatively simple, light-hearted subjects.
Corporalita is the cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness, and poise. Leonardo’s extraordinary physical gifts complemented his intellectual and artistic genius.
Here are some ways to apply Corporalita:
- Develop a fitness program
It should include aerobic conditioning, strength training, and flexibility exercises.
- Develop body awareness
You can develop body awareness by studying practical anatomy. Explore your body map.
- Cultivate ambidexterity
Leonardo and Michaelangelo regularly switched hands as they worked. You can try to use your nondominant hand for things like brushing your teeth or eating your breakfast. Then you can try to use your nondominant hand for writing.
Connessione is a recognition of and appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena. It’s systems thinking. One secret of Leonardo’s unparalleled creativity is his lifelong practice of combining and connecting disparate elements to form new patterns.
Here are some ways to apply Connessione:
- Look at things that at first glance seem unrelated, and find different ways to link them
For example, you can try to find connections between a bullfrog and the Internet, or mathematics and The Last Supper.
- Imaginary dialogues
“Talking” with an imaginary role model is a time-honored and very effective way to gain insight and perspective. You can also imagine discussions on your problem between different characters.
- Origin-all thinking
Think about the origin of things. Choose an object and consider all the elements involved in its creation.
How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci is a good book to learn about mind development with holistic approach. It talks about improving our thinking through imagination, logic, and even body. The advice to cultivate ambidexterity, for instance, is something I rarely find anywhere else.
The approach is not surprising since the model is Leonardo da Vinci. Just look at how Wikipedia describes him: a scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, painter, sculptor, architect, botanist, musician and writer. That’s a long list! This book gives us insights on how someone with such diverse talents thought.
This article is part of May 2008 theme: Mind