Thinking Like Leonardo da Vinci
You probably know him as the painter of the Mona Lisa or from The last Supper. Some also know him as a genius and homo universalis. Finally, the general public knows him from the fictional stories of Dan Brown. Leonardo da Vinci was the most important innovator of his time and has been considered the figurehead of the Italian Renaissance for centuries. Even in the new millennium, he still manages to captivate, inspire and enchant. How this comes about, and what even today's entrepreneur could learn from the genius Leonardo da Vinci, is the focus of this blog.
Always learning, always observing
The biographies of Leonardo da Vinci's life, as well as the enumerations and descriptions of his works of art, are numerous. More interesting than a flat description of his achievements, however, is the search for answers to the question of which characteristics of Leonardo's ways of thinking led to his success. What makes Leonardo da Vinci's world view, even today, so appealing to the imagination?
At the heart of Leonardo da Vinci's thinking is the uninterrupted urge to learn and not to waste a second of your life. Da Vinci kept a diary in which he recorded his observations, reflections and insights on a daily basis. He always carried a notebook with him and spent large parts of his life observing the world around him.
For Leonardo da Vinci, there was no difference between science and art. He considered his designs for a machine gun or flying machine as works of art as his paintings and sculptures. They were all the result of a meticulous, unbiased observation of the world—Da Vinci, for example, studied the flight of birds and based his design for a flying machine on it.
The unique way of thinking of Leonardo da Vinci can be explained on the basis of seven basic principles. Below we discuss the principles one by one and we build a bridge to how the entrepreneur can get started with them today.
The uncontrollable need to continuously ask questions with the aim of gaining insights and learning. Especially the why-question and the how-question can lead to new insights, even (or perhaps even) with principles that seem logical.
Anyone who works or has worked in a large company will recognize that a lot of things or rules 'just happen'. Or maybe you recognize it in you own company: you carry out processes according to certain rules because you have always done that. But why? What if you did it completely differently? Or wouldn't do something at all? By asking these kinds of questions you get to the core of your truth and the world as you see it, and you may discover how you can make that world better or more beautiful. Be curious about the world around you, but also about the way in which you and your company move in it.
The will to learn from your mistakes and the urge to continuously test your own knowledge and truths. The best entrepreneurs (like Elon Musk or Richard Branson) take nothing for granted, want to gain experiences themselves instead of hearing them second hand and are continuously looking for opportunities for improvement. You would almost rather fail so that you can improve your business, than have everything go perfectly and not know what your next action should be.
It is human nature to want to be confirmed. We seldom let other people's arguments convince us – because when was the last time you changed your political beliefs? – and find it most pleasant to be proved right. Better right than lucky. But whoever thinks he is always right will never improve.
According to Da Vinci, it is better to be wrong often. To be improved. Gain new, better insights. Make mistakes and learn from them.
Which means as much as: letting your senses do their job optimally. Leonardo da Vinci did it by spending large parts of his life observing the world and recording his findings. We currently live in a rushed society where superficial contact is rampant.
Take time for things that inspire you or that are important to you. Give yourself a breather and really take the time to get to know this new business relationship. Put your phone and laptop away. Listen and look at what is happening in your department and question the things that stand out to you. He who perceives only superficially, can only act superficially.
The urge to stretch. We all constantly say that we like to think 'out of the box', want to 'step out of our comfort zone' and seek 'challenge'. But do you act accordingly? How many times a week do you make a decision that leads to uncertainty instead of certainty? We live in a world where all knowledge is readily available and any uncertainty can be resolved with a short session on Wikipedia. But what does that do to your own development?
Try something completely new. Join another department. Invite yourself to another company. Do things that you're not sure will get you. Before you know it, they'll give you a whole lot.
According to Da Vinci, art and science were supposedly the same thing. We often assume today that a person is either creative or scientifically savvy. Those who think like Da Vinci are trying to find a balance between those two poles.
A tool for this is the mind map: the visual description of thought processes and the connections between concepts, experiences or principles. By getting started creatively with perhaps the driest fare, you force yourself to find that balance.
Our brain is dependent on our body and vice versa. Vitality is the keyword. Those who live modestly, take rest, get enough sleep and take the time for a good breakfast, can rely on a well-functioning brain.
Leonardo da Vinci has devoted his entire life to his physical care. He noticed, like everyone else, that a bad night's sleep was a guarantee for an unproductive day. Yet today we often get stuck in bad habits. We go to bed too late and have no or superficial breakfast. Teach yourself to take good care of yourself. Then your brain in turn takes good care of you.
The last step: recognizing connections and valuing them. This is where the drawing of the bird transforms into a flying machine. With all the previous steps in mind, Leonardo da Vinci continuously managed to observe the cohesion in the world around him. Sound floaty? Perhaps, but realize that the best scientists, physicists and mathematicians all say the same thing. It's about recognizing connections where others don't.
Ultimately, it is similar to a game of chess. If you manage to see how your next move impacts the next three, four, five (or eight?) moves, you're ahead of your competition.
Adapting Da Vinci's way of thinking won't get you a new Mona Lisa, but you might develop a better view of your industry or your company. Look at how the master did it and try to learn from it. He himself did no different.