Thinking Like da Vinci

Although it was many years ago, my mother distinctly remembers the reassurance of a kind guidance counselor during report card time. The counselor comforted her by saying that even if none of her five children managed to bring home stellar report cards, they were on track to become solid, all-round, good citizens. 

While she was right about that, the scholastic gene must have misfired when it was passed on to my two delightful nephews who recently brought home exceptionally good report cards. What was most exciting is that both of them received top marks in a category that assessed them in terms of their curiosity and practice of seeking opportunities to learn. It was an accurate assessment as, at the ages of nine and eleven, they are indeed bright, inquisitive, and keen to learn about almost everything.

Of all categories assessed on their report cards, it seems to me that being excited about learning is the most important of all.

As in turns out, it was also a principle that contributed to Leonardo da Vinci being an accomplished scientist, mathematician, inventor, painter, sculptor, musician, and writer.

Best known for creating many famous works including the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, Da Vinci has been cited by many as the most diversely talented individual to ever have lived.

His interests, abilities, and accomplishments spanned across many fields of study and in each area he pursued, he demonstrated an unparalleled brilliance.
In How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci, author Michael J. Gelb outlines the essential elements of Da Vinci’s genius and pinpoints what he calls the seven da Vinci principles.

He believed anyone can emulate da Vinci by cultivating their thinking in these areas:

1. Curiosità: An insatiably curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning. Like my nephews, great minds have one characteristic in common-they continuously ask questions throughout their lives. Leonard reflected this in his endless quest for truth and beauty.

2. Dimostrazione: A commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistakes.

3. Sensazione: The continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience.

4. Sfumato: A willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty.

5. Arte/Scienza: The development of the balance between science and art, logic and imagination. In other words, “whole-brain” thinking.

6. Corporalitá: The cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness, and poise.

7. Connessione: A recognition of, and appreciation for, the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena. Today we would typically refer to this as big-picture or systems thinking.

Ultimately, Gelb believes that da Vinci’s genius stemmed from the ability to see the world through a lens of imagination, creativity, and wonder. To harness brilliance, one must use all parts of their brain, both artistic and logical, and have the ability to see how the various puzzle pieces of life fit together.

To think like da Vinci is to question the way things are, and why, and to have an unending curiosity and desire to create.

A key job for adults is to nurture that curiosity and desire in kids like my nephews as well as in ourselves.

Posted on 12-12-10


Love this blog!  As a creature with an art history background, I’ve always loved and admired da Vinci.  Glad to see him brought into a modern day context.

•Posted by Janet Naclia  on  12/16/10  at  10:04 AM


Nicely said!

•Posted by Paul Watson  on  01/26/11  at  09:44 PM

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