What Leonardo da Vinci Teaches Us about Creativity
Are you looking to be the best creative thinker you can be? Then you need to be like Leonardo da Vinci and focus on continuous learning. Let me elaborate.
The Italian master had the skill and great ideas, but he also had something else: the ability to look at the world around him differently.
I’d say that the world has never really had another Leonardo da Vinci. While his name might conjure up images of famous works of art such as the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, or The Vitruvian Man, he was much more than an artist.
In fact, he was an architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, an expert in anatomy, geologist, mapmaker, and botanist. In short, he was a genius.
However, genius and creativity are closely linked. How does one make connections that have never been made before? Doing so is the essence of originality.
There are three classes of people: those who see, those who see when shown, and those that do not see.
– Leonardo Da Vinci
No doubt. I am a big fan of the great thinkers. My top thinker of all time? It has to be Da Vinci. Why do you ask? For his abilities in learning and creativity, without a doubt. A mathematician. A scientist. An engineer. An anatomist. A creative and learner. Always learning and creating.
Do you see? Maybe some of the lessons from Da Vinci will help. So what would be the lessons in critical thinking, learning, and creativity derived from Da Vinci?
Here are the ones I continually come back to:
Leonardo da Vinci … sketching and note taking
Over his lifetime Da Vinci created 13,000 pages of sketches and notes. 13,000 pages. By hand, on individual sheets of paper. A sketch in the center, simple and done quickly, the label on top, annotations along the sides, arrows pointing to key content. Sometimes a summary on the bottom.
Build on connections with others
One of the misunderstandings around creativity and imagination is that you have to be utterly original to do it. The truth is all creative people stand on the shoulders of those who came before. Writers learn to write by reading; painting students are sent to museums to copy the masters, while great chefs learn the already tested basics of cooking to create some new dish.
The primary thing to remember with Da Vinci is his observation and belief that “everything connects.” Making connections between disparate things is perhaps the number 1 creative thinking skill, so you should make it a practice to think of ways that different things relate to each other, and how different things could be combined to make something completely different.
Changing the patterns is related to another method, which is to connect the unconnected. One of the methods to find solutions and creative ideas is to connect prior ideas with other incidents or elements of nature that do not have direct linkage with the main problem.
For example, Newton was able to find a solution for the law of gravity law connecting his thought with fall of the apple from the tree. While Da Vinci was thinking of a new transportation method, he threw a paint-filled sponge against the wall and tried to imagine the stain as a horse with four wheels. So, he thought that people could transport using a method that has two wheels instead of four.
Want to think what nobody has ever thought? Start by questioning all assumptions.
There comes a moment in time where everyone agrees with everybody about pretty much everything. For any sized organization that is focused on creating a culture of relentless innovation, hardened dogma is an innovation obstacle they must overcome.
And that starts best with questioning everything, assumptions included.
Don’t hide your light
Early in his career, with little experience, Leonardo submitted his sketchbook concepts to the Royal Palace of Milan.
He signed his letter to the king as “a genius designer of weapons in war.” In fact, most of Leonardo’s military ideas were not to be used until 400 years later, when his drawings inspired the tanks of the First World War.
In his letter, da Vinci boldly offered his instruments of war to the Duke, full of ideas that had never been thought of before. He tempted His Excellency by saying “I can construct bridges… I can demolish every fortress… I can make a cannon… I can make armored wagons that carry artillery”.
As if that were not enough, in a side note he added: “I can further execute sculpture in marble, bronze or clay, also in painting I can do as much as anyone else.” He concluded the letter by challenging the Duke: “If any of these things seem impossible or impractical, I offer myself ready to make a trial and prove myself worthy.”
Observe with all senses
Truly creative people have developed their ability to observe and to use all of their senses, which can get dull over time. Take time to “sharpen the blade” and take everything in. Add thoughts as you go.
Leonardo da Vinci … defer judgment
Your perceptions may limit your reasoning. Be careful about how you perceive things. In other words, defer judgment. Let it all hang out.
Related post: Secrets to Unlocking the Genie in the Creativity Bottle
Widen your experiences
Experience as much as you can. Exposure puts more ideas into your subconscious. Actively seek out new and very different experiences to broaden your idea thinking experience portfolio.
Observation is a key element in Da Vinci’s creative thinking methods. To explore new patterns and find solutions in unrelated elements in nature which are around, the team should be able to observe other designs and problems to inspire creative solutions for the existing problem.
The examples above started with observing specific actions or objects and use inherent, as well as external ideas surrounding this object to solve the existing problem.
One of the examples of using observation in reaching new ideas is Archimedes in the bathtub. He noticed that once he got into the tub, the level of the water had risen. This observation enabled him to calculate the density of the gold used in the King Hiero II crown, the golden wreath.
Da Vinci’s basis of the study was simple observation and notes/questions on his observations. He withheld judgments, either positive or negative, for as long as possible. Particularly his own. He appreciated that judgment would be a block to creativity and new ideas.
“The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.”
Always carry a book
When waiting: read. It’s not only about reading per se, but it’s also about focus and self-discipline. You need both to get smarter. How can you solve a problem if you can’t focus? And how would you solve it if you fail to commit yourself to the task?
Now, I am talking about reading per se. It improves your verbal–linguistic abilities, creativity, memory, open-mindedness, etc.…
The ability to project confidence in the face of the unknown is a critical leadership principle because if something is going to be new, it means you don’t know it.
You need to get comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity for a creative idea to emerge. It’s not easy to do since you’ve likely been trained to believe that if you don’t know the answer, there’s something wrong with you.
The essence of creativity is to be surprised, to come up with something you didn’t know. That’s the nova in innovation. It’s the newness. And if you keep doing the same old thing, you won’t do the new thing. But when you suspend the old thing, the new thing doesn’t always automatically emerge.
Leave your comfort zone
Take risks. Here is how. Failing is very important in the process of learning.
Da Vinci used divergent thinking to create lots of ideas. Lots of ideas, questions, and curiosity to stimulate his imagination. He minimized the limitations and constraints when using his imagination to think of the solution space to his many questions.
Leonardo Da Vinci had specific techniques that he used to stimulate his intelligence and heightened creative thinking. He was ambidextrous and could write and paint with both hands at the same time.
You can stimulate your mind by writing with your non-dominant hand for ten mins a day. You could also learn to juggle (yes, Leonardo was great at juggling too!).
Another of Da Vinci’s more famous techniques for inducing creative reverie was his practice of looking for recognizable patterns or images in the ashes of his fireplace. You may remember Jodie Foster’s character in the film, Little Man Tate, practicing this technique with her genius prodigy son. They were gazing at shadows on the ceiling.
You can do the same thing with clouds, patterned wallpapers, bark on trees, etc. Just stare at the clouds and see what pictures you can see in them — faces, landscapes, animals and so on.
Save and revisit later
Most of Da Vinci’s sketches were done on individual sheets of paper. Not in a constrained notebook. He understood the value of multiple revisits and connecting, reconnecting, and grouping related facts and observations. An analogy expert. And an uncanny ability to connect several different observations and ideas to create new ideas.
You should know these: Top Notch Educated Person … 12 Traits You Will Recognize
Curiosity and questions
Perhaps Da Vinci’s greatest asset was his insatiable curiosity. The more observations and connection of ideas, the more questions, and curiosity. And creative ideas.
Leave a legacy of which you can be proud
Leonardo climbed from poverty to achieve high status in society. Shortly after his 67th birthday, he passed away, and the world lost an astoundingly brilliant and diverse creative mind.
According to legend, Leonardo died in the arms of the King of France. He is recorded to have said, “as a well spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death.”
The bottom line
Leonardo Da Vinci’s life as a creative thinker provides inspiration and lessons to learn for individuals and companies working in the creative sector. The lessons above have a direct relationship with the design and innovation process inside companies.
Also, they are linked with different creative thinking and problem-solving tools and methods which can be implemented to connect between different patterns to reach creative ideas and solutions.
Do you see? Very, very few of Da Vinci’s abilities are in the populace. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn to be creative … it can be learned. Can you use these lessons to learn to see or see better? Give it a try. Practice and be persistent. Stick with it, and over the long haul, you will see some good dividends.
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Are you devoting enough energy improving your creativity, innovation, and ideas?
Do you have a lesson about making your creativity better you can share with this community? Have any questions or comments to add in the section below?
Mike Schoultz is the founder of Digital Spark Marketing, a digital marketing and customer service agency. With 40 years of business experience, he writes about topics to help improve the performance of small business. Find him on G+, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
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