You too can be like Leonardo daVinci

Ian Dyason. 26 March 2021


Florence, Italy. The province where Leonardo da Vinci was born.



Imagine summer life in 15th century Florence. Life would have been idyllic with the rolling hills, the magnificent cool fresh air, and the warm sunshine on your face. The splash of colour that the flowers all across the countryside makes for a magical setting. One where we can simply lie contented and thank God for a great life. Amidst all these, a creative genius roams the land. He is an artist, a natural scientist, a philosopher and an engineer. He is, as he would later be described by a biographer, "(a man) that transcends nature, a single person (who) is marvellously endowed by Heaven with beauty, grace and talent in such abundance that he leaves other men far behind, (where) all his actions seem inspired and indeed everything he does clearly comes from God rather than from human skill. ... an artist of outstanding physical beauty, who displayed infinite grace in everything that he did and who cultivated his genius so brilliantly that all problems he studied he solved with ease."


Even today, more than 500 years after his death, we still marvel at the creative genius that he was.

That man was Leonardo da Vinci. Even today, more than 500 years after his death, we still marvel at the creative genius that he was. Not only was he accomplished in solving engineering problems, he designed the tank, helicopter, the parachute and a giant crossbow. His mind far exceeded the technological capabilities of his time. Indeed, he designed a 240m bridge for the then Ottoman Sultan Beyazid to span the mouth of Bosphorus river. The plan was scuppered but not without it first being vaulted away, only to have it resurrected in 2006 by the Turkish government to construct the bridge using that very design to span the Golden Horn! Talk about an enduring genius!


In 1998, psychologist and author Michael Gelb wrote a book entitled, How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, where he uncovered seven components of da Vinci's genius. He called them curiosita, sensazione, arte e scienza, connessione, sfumato, dimostrazione and corporalita. These are of course Italian for curiosity, sensations, art and science, connection, focus (or more likely the blurred out-of-focus in painting), logic or proof and fitness and poise. According to Gelb, each of these components (akin to dimensions), when taken together, create the essence of the mental skills that Leonardo da Vinci employed in his creative genius. And so can you! By adopting the right mindset (hint, the growth), you too can think like Leonardo da Vinci. So in this article, I shall share how the 5 Dimensions of the Growth Mindset is very closely aligned with Leonardo's thinking and by focusing on your development of the respective dimensions, you too can be like Leonardo! Let's look at those components one by one.



Curiosity


He could sketch the wing positions of birds in flight as he tried to uncover the secrets of flying. This curiosity is also key in the growth mindset.

da Vinci had an intense curiosity for the natural sciences around him. He used to collect cadavers and dissected them to uncover how the human body (and that of animals too, like the horse) works. He was even known to lay out the bones and used string to act as muscles to see how the whole musculature worked. Even in engineering, he would build replicas, and sketch designs in his many books, to learn how things operated. He was always filled with a sense of wonder, especially of flight. He could sketch the wing positions of birds in flight as he tried to uncover the secrets of flying. This curiosity is also key in the growth mindset. It drives the Learning dimension, and as they say, the growth mindset IS the learning mindset. So if you want to think like Leonardo, then be curious. Stop and ask many questions. Uncover what is really happening.



Sensations


he will dive deeper, probe for what is really happening, and then from that central perspective, take action.

Feelings, the use of the senses and sensations; these are the essence of the second component. Leonardo did not just look at things from afar, he got down and dirty. He touched, smelled, tasted, heard and saw all aspects of a problem - especially the last sense. He used his keen powers of observation to uncover what lies beneath. Hence, he will not just surrender to his assumptions; instead, he will dive deeper, probe for what is really happening, and then from that central perspective, take action. This is very much true of the growth-minded Pride dimension. When one is more growth in Pride, it means that the person will not assume that (s)he knows all the answers, but will endeavour to find that out, applying her/his full faculties to get at the truth. Never assume that you know the answer, find that out.



Art and Science


We have to risk a little, and brave the contra-logic of art and science to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts!

One must understand the Science of Art and the Art of Science. This means that we must be multi-disciplinary. There is preciseness in the natural world as there is in art; just as there is finesse and flair to technology. By being able to meld the two together, we can get a synergy of knowledge and ideas. But we must dare to do it. We must be willing to let go of what we think is right, and look to embrace what might make use look like a fool. If we cannot risk a little bit of the known to embrace the unknown, if we are unable to go out of our comfort zone and try something new, knowing full well that we may "fail" along the way, then the Art will remain in the realm of the curious and the tech will remain in the realm of the techies. The synergies of both would be lost, and with it, the richness to mankind. We have to risk a little, and brave the contra-logic of art and science to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts!


Connection


don't be fixated on a linear cause and effect, but embrace the interconnectedness of our world. Because that is how EVERYTHING works!

Which leads us to the next component, connection; to know that everything is connected to everything else; just like the 5 Dimensions of the growth mindset are all connected to one another. After all, Learning drives the growth mindset, right? But that learning is driven by one's actions going Forward. This means one would need to take the Risk of being wrong. Fortunately, one's ability to Bounce Back can support one's Risk Taking ability. Of course, if one is determined to simply rely on past knowledge and experience to dictate current activity, then he is fixed in his Pride. That would stop all abilities to grow. But, with the knowledge that we don't know what we don't know, and embracing the fact that we need to Learn the limits of our knowledge and experience, we can then take those plaintive steps towards Learning and Growing. Hence, all Dimensions are interconnected, just as da Vinci predicted. Hence, don't be fixated on a linear cause and effect, but embrace the interconnectedness of our world. Because that is how EVERYTHING works!



Focus


When we let go our Pride and accept that we don't know what we don't know, we become more focused on Learning. That will allow us to uncover the minutiae of information that may otherwise elude us.

Leonardo created the painting method called sfumato, which blends the out-of-focus vision when we focus on a subject matter. This gives rise to a technique that brings the looker onto the intended area of focus. Focus is an intensely important component in creating genius because as we focus on something, everything else fades away. This allows us to have complete attention on what we are doing, and not get distracted by unrelated and unimportant events around us. This goes back to Learning and Pride. When we let go our Pride and accept that we don't know what we don't know, we become more focused on Learning. That will allow us to uncover the minutiae of information that may otherwise elude us. In fact, Leonardo had been known to be intensely focused in his work when, at times, he would be found working on his painting from dawn till dusk without even stopping for food. Such was the intensity of focus that he brought to his work, and which we should too, if we are to embrace the learning with every new event and environment.



Demonstration or Proof


the minute we take that step, our entry into the environment would have changed the whole dynamics within it, and our plans will therefore have to change.

The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. If you don't eat the pudding, you will never know whether it is good. There is no way to tell simply by relying on the words of the person selling us the pudding. We will therefore take tentative bites of the pudding, and only greatly savouring it when the proof is established. Such is also the way we take our Forward actions. We don't go all in and plan activities from A to Z, and finalising what we expect to get at each phase of the journey before we take that first tentative step. This is because the minute we take that step, our entry into the environment would have changed the whole dynamics within it, and our plans will therefore have to change. We do need to be aware of our actions, and be able to demonstrate the steps we had previously taken to end up where we did, but we cannot rely on all plans at the beginning of the journey; we must be prepared to adapt to the changing environment. Because as the proof of a bad-tasting pudding tells us to modify our recipe, the proof of reaching a dead-end requires us to double back and search out a new way. The proof is always in the eating, not in the cooking.



Fitness and Poise


when one feels out of control in a situation, and Bounce Back seems illusive, we focus on building the 5 C's of Resilience

Finally, the health of mind and body. Leonardo was often referred to as a beautiful man. He had an athletic proportion and while he did not draw the Vitruvian Man based on his own proportions, one can imagine that he might have taken some personal inspiration. Having said that, the health of mind and body is a very important one, and we mentioned it when we spoke about building a resilient mindset. Because, when one feels out of control in a situation, and Bounce Back seems illusive, we focus on building the 5 C's of Resilience - character, competence, confidence, connection and coping. And it is in coping that we see the primary importance of a healthy mind and a healthy body.



And so, there you are. The 7 components of Leonardo da Vinci's creative genius and how the 5 Dimensions of the Growth Mindset link to them. Indeed, it goes to show that we can become more like da Vinci, even though we will never become him. He is a unique personality in our history, whose genius and brilliance comes perhaps once a millennium. But, at least we know that we can be LIKE him as we embrace the growth mindset; by building our Learning, Bounce Back, Risk Taking, Forward and Growth dimensions.


And if you want to find out what YOUR growth mindset dimensions are, click here to take the FREE assessment.

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