How to Think Like Leonardo daVinci

Quite by accident I found this book by Michael Gelb in a used book store. Cheap, in pristine condition, titled How to Think Like Leonardo daVinci, it jumped off the shelf.  I present it to you with some embarrass- ment and misgiving. Then at the library remainder sale I found his Discover your Genius for only $2. It promised to teach me to think like history’s ten most revolutionary minds. Sure!?

But on the other hand this could be interesting, and I am a very curious person.


I have no aspiration to think like daVinci, or anyone else for that matter, including ten revolutionaries.  We are all the culmination of our own thoughts and experiences… I find the idea of trying to emulate the thinking strategies of another person, even a genius, preposterous and repugnant. The extent to which I already think like DaVinci is a constant embarrassment and inconvenience.  He undertook too many projects simultaneously, left many things abandoned or disorganized, procrastinated, and made excuses. I do these well!

Michael Gelb is a well-known motivational speaker and personal development coach.  That he has taken daVinci’s work and biographical data on great leaders and mined them so blatantly for his purposes annoyed me, but I was curious. Both books are designed as workbooks, with activities and challenging questions… to say nothing of the opportunity to turn to the computer to find images and verification or clarification of the (alternately pompous and condescending) text.

So I decided to start a study journal… coil bound drawing paper, large format, sheets large enough to accommodate computer print outs, clippings, and my own writing and drawing.   Because my creative endeavours turn out best when there is an externally imposed structure and some sort of timeline or routine,  I undertook the exercises that most interested me from Gelb’s seven part guideline. I found myself remembering and thinking about things long forgotten, and writing about private ideas and deepest feelings.  YES, what fun!

Here is the Chapter Outline:

  • Curiosita: An insatiably curious approach to life.
  • Dimonstratzione: A commitment to test knowledge through experience.
  • Sensazione: The continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to clarify experience.
  • Sfumato: A willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty.
  • Arte/Scienza: The development of the balance between science and art, logic and imagination (“whole-brain thinking”).
  • Corporalita: The cultivation of ambidexterity, fitness, and poise.
  • Connessione: A recognition and appreciation for the connectedness of all things and phenomena; “systems thinking.”

For a taste of the exercises try this summary of the DaVinci book 

I have not looked in to the other book yet. Here is some description from Gelb’s website.

Each of these extraordinary individuals embodies a special “Genius” characteristic that you will be invited to integrate into your daily life and apply to your most important organizational challenges. Each genius will be introduced through specially commissioned original watercolor portraits and a brief biography illustrating the role of the key principle in his or her life and work. You will then explore how that principle can and does relate to you and your organization.

The full Genius “Dream Team” includes:

  • Plato (circa 428 – 348 BC): “Deepening your love of wisdom”
  • Filippo Brunelleschi (1377 – 1446): “Expanding your perspective”
  • Christopher Columbus (1451 – 1506): “Going perpendicular: Strengthening your optimism, vision and courage”
  • Nicholas Copernicus (1473 – 1543): “Re-organizing your vision of the world”
  • Queen Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603): “Wielding your power with balance and effectiveness”
  • William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616): “Cultivating your emotional intelligence
  • Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826): “Celebrating your freedom in the pursuit of happiness”
  • Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882): “Developing your power of observation and cultivating an open mind”
  • Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948): “Applying the principles of spiritual genius to harmonize spirit, mind and body”
  • Albert Einstein (1875 – 1955): “Unleashing your imagination and ‘combinatory play”

 I generally despise self-help books, motivational speakers (this includes evangelizing preachers) and the whole pop-psychology/ positive thinking movement. Outside religious proselytizing and broadcasting, Gelb is one of the most  successful and certainly the most intellectually pretentious I have found. He is, to say the least, annoying.  But the excuse to use his material as a starting point for journalling intrigues me

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One Response to How to Think Like Leonardo daVinci

  1. Curmudgeon Bludgeon says:

    Genius is not caring if anyone’s paying attention.

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