Introduction: Your Brain Is Much Better Than You Think.
Although it is hard to overstate Leonardo da Vinci's brilliance, recent
scientific research reveals that you probably underestimate your own
capabilities. You are gifted with virtually unlimited potential for
learning and creativity. Ninety-five percent of what we know about the
capabilities of the human brain has been learned in the last twenty
years. Our schools, universities, and corporations are only beginning to
apply this emerging understanding of human potential. Let's set the
stage for learning how to think like Leonardo by considering the
contemporary view of intelligence and some results of the investigation
into the nature and extent of your brain's potential.
Most of us grew up with a concept of intelligence based on the
traditional IQ test. The IQ test was originated by Alfred Binet
(1857-1911) to measure, objectively, comprehension, reasoning, and
judgment. Binet was motivated by a powerful enthusiasm for the emerging
discipline of psychology and a desire to overcome the cultural and class
prejudices of late nineteenth-century France in the assessment of
children's academic potential. Although the traditional concept of IQ
was a breakthrough at the time of its formulation, contemporary research
shows that it suffers from two significant flaws.
The first flaw is the idea that intelligence is fixed at birth and
immutable. Although individuals are endowed genetically with more or
less talent in a given area, researchers such as Buzan, Machado, Wenger,
and many others have shown that IQ scores can be raised significantly
through appropriate training. In a recent statistical review of more
than two hundred studies of IQ published in the journal Nature,
Bernard Devlin concluded that genes account for no more than 48 percent
of IQ. Fifty-two percent is a function of prenatal care, environment,
The second weakness in the commonly held concept of intelligence is the
idea that the verbal and mathematical reasoning skills measured by IQ
tests (and SATs) are the sine qua nons of intelligence. This narrow view
of intelligence has been thoroughly debunked by contemporary
psychological research. In his modern classic, Frames of Mind
(1983), psychologist Howard Gardner introduced the theory of multiple
intelligences, which posits that each of us possesses at least seven
measurable intelligences (in later work Gardner and his colleagues
catalogued twenty-five different subintelligences). The seven
intelligences, and some genius exemplars (other than Leonardo da Vinci,
who was a genius in all of these areas) of each one, are:
Logical-Mathematical--Stephen Hawking, Isaac Newton, Marie Curie
Verbal-Linguistic--William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Jorge Luis
Borges Spatial-Mechanical--Michelangelo, Georgia O'Keeffe, Buckminster
Fuller Musical--Mozart, George Gershwin, Ella Fitzgerald
Bodily-Kinesthetic--Morihei Ueshiba, Muhammad Ali, F. M. Alexander
Interpersonal-Social--Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Queen Elizabeth I
Intrapersonal (Self-knowledge)--Viktor Frankl, Thich Nhat Hanh, Mother
The theory of multiple intelligences is now accepted widely and when
combined with the realization that intelligence can be developed
throughout life, offers a powerful inspiration for aspiring Renaissance
men and women.
In addition to expanding the understanding of the nature and scope of
intelligence, contemporary psychological research has revealed startling
truths about the extent of your potential. We can summarize the results
with the phrase: Your brain is much better than you think. Appreciating
your phenomenal cortical endowment is a marvelous point of departure for
a practical study of Da Vincian thinking. Contemplate the following:
is more flexible and multidimensional than any supercomputer. can learn
seven facts per second, every second, for the rest of your life and
still have plenty of room left to learn more. will improve with age if
you use it properly. is not just in your head. According to renowned
neuroscientist Dr. Candace Pert, ". . . intelligence is located not
only in the brain but in cells that are distributed throughout the
body.... The traditional separation of mental processes, including
emotions, from the body is no longer valid." is unique. Of the six
billion people currently living and the more than ninety billion people
who have ever lived, there has never, unless you are an identical twin,
been anyone quite like you. Your creative gifts, your fingerprints, your
expressions, your DNA, your dreams, are unprecedented and unique. is
capable of making a virtually unlimited number of synaptic connections
or potential patterns of thought.
This last point was established first by Pyotr Anokhin of Moscow
University, a student of the legendary psychological pioneer Ivan
Pavlov. Anokhin staggered the entire scientific community when he
published his research in 1968 demonstrating that the minimum number of
potential thought patterns the average brain can make is the number 1
followed by 10.5 million kilometers of typewritten zeros.
Anokhin compared the human brain to "a multidimensional musical
instrument that could play an infinite number of musical pieces
simultaneously." He emphasized that each of us is gifted with a
birthright of virtually unlimited potential. And he proclaimed that no
man or woman, past or present, has fully explored the capacities of the
brain. Anokhin would probably agree, however, that Leonardo da Vinci
could serve as a most inspiring example for those of us wishing to
explore our full capacities.
LEARNING FROM LEONARDO
Baby ducks learn to survive by imitating their mothers. Learning through
imitation is fundamental to many species, including humans. As we become
adults, we have a unique advantage: we can choose whom and what to
imitate. We can also consciously choose new models to replace the ones
we outgrow. It makes sense, therefore, to choose the best "role
models" to guide and inspire us toward the realization of our
So, if you want to become a better golfer, study Ben Hogan, Jack
Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods. If you want to become a leader, study Winston
Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, and Queen Elizabeth I. And if you want to be
a Renaissance man or woman, study Leon Battista Alberti, Thomas
Jefferson, Hildegard von Bingen, and best of all, Leonardo da Vinci.
In The Book of Genius Tony Buzan and Raymond Keene make the
world's first objective attempt to rank the greatest geniuses of
history. Rating their subjects in categories including
"Dominance-in-Field," "Universality-of-Vision, " and
"Strength and Energy," they offer the following as their
"top ten." 10. Albert Einstein 9. Phidias (architect of
Athens) 8. Alexander the Great 7. Thomas Jefferson 6. Sir Isaac Newton
5. Michelangelo 4. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 3. The Great Pyramid
Builders 2. William Shakespeare And the greatest genius of all time,
according to Buzan and Keene's exhaustive research? Leonardo da Vinci.
As Giorgio Vasari wrote of Leonardo in the original version of his
The Lives of the Artists, "Heaven sometimes sends us beings
who represent not humanity alone but divinity itself, so that taking
them as our models and imitating them, our minds and the best of our
intelligence may approach the highest celestial spheres. Experience
shows that those who are led to study and follow the traces of these
marvelous geniuses, even if nature gives them little or no help, may at
least approach the supernatural works that participate in his
Our evolving understanding of the multiplicity of intelligence and the
capacities of the brain suggests that nature gives us more help than we
might have imagined. In How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci we
will "study and follow the traces" of this most marvelous of
all geniuses, bringing his wisdom and inspiration to your life, every
A PRACTICAL APPROACH TO GENIUS
In the pages that follow you will learn a practical approach, tested in
experience, for applying the essential elements of Leonardo's genius to
enrich your life. You will discover an exhilarating, original way of
seeing and enjoying your world as you develop powerful strategies for
creative thinking and new approaches to self-expression. You'll learn
proven techniques for sharpening your senses, liberating your unique
intelligence, and harmonizing body and mind. With Leonardo as your
inspiration, you will make your life a work of art.
Although you may already be familiar with Da Vinci's life and work,
you'll finish this book with a fresh perspective and a deeper
appreciation for this most enigmatic figure. Looking at the world from
his point of view, you may also get a taste of the loneliness genius
brings. But I guarantee that you'll be uplifted by his spirit, inspired
by his quest, and exalted by your association with him.
The book begins with a capsule review of the Renaissance and its
parallels with our time, followed by a biographical sketch of Leonardo
and a summary of his major accomplishments. The heart of the book is the
discussion of the Seven Da Vincian Principles. These principles are
drawn from an intensive study of the man and his methods. I've named
them in Leonardo's native Italian. The good news is that Leonardo's
principles will probably be intuitively obvious to you. You do not have
to try to invent them in your life. Rather, like much of common sense,
they need to be remembered, developed, and applied. The Seven Da Vincian
Curiosità--An insatiably curious approach to life and an
unrelenting quest for continuous learning.
Dimostrazione--A commitment to test knowledge through experience,
persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistakes.
Sensazione--The continual refinement of the senses, especially
sight, as the means to enliven experience.
Sfumato (literally "Going up in Smoke")--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 grace, ambidexterity, fitness,
Connessione--A recognition of and appreciation for the
interconnectedness of all things and phenomena. Systems thinking. Having
read this far, you are already applying the first Da Vincian principle.
Curiosità--the quest for continuous learning--comes first because
the desire to know, to learn, and to grow is the powerhouse of
knowledge, wisdom, and discovery.
If you are interested in thinking for yourself and freeing your mind
from limiting habits and preconceptions, then you are on track for the
second principle: Dimostrazione. In his search for truth, Da Vinci
insisted on questioning conventional wisdom. He used the word
dimostrazione to express the importance of learning for oneself,
through practical experience.
Pause for a few moments, and recall the times in the past year when you
felt most vividly alive. Chances are, your senses were heightened. Our
third principle--Sensazione--focuses on sharpening the senses,
consciously. Leonardo believed that refining sensory awareness was the
key to enriching experience.
As you sharpen your senses, probe the depths of experience, and awaken
your childlike powers of questioning, you will encounter increasing
uncertainty and ambiguity. "Confusion endurance" is the most
distinctive trait of highly creative people, and Leonardo probably
possessed more of that trait than anyone who has ever lived. Principle
number four--Sfumato--guides you to be more at home with the unknown, to
make friends with paradox.
For balance and creativity to emerge from uncertainty requires principle
number five--Arte/Scienza--or what we now call whole-brain thinking. But
Da Vinci believed that balance was more than just mental. He exemplified
and affirmed the importance of principle number six--Corporalita--the
balance of body and mind. And if you appreciate patterns, relationships,
connections, and systems--if you seek to understand how your dreams,
goals, values, and highest aspirations can be integrated into your daily
life--then you are already applying principle number seven: Connessione.
Connessione ties everything together.
Each principle is highlighted by excerpts from the maestro's notebooks
and illustrated with his sketches or paintings. This illumination is
followed by some questions for reflection and self-assessment. These
questions are designed to stimulate your thinking and inspire your
application of the principles. The questions are followed by a program
of practical exercises for cultivating a personal and professional
Renaissance. To get the most benefit from How to Think like Leonardo
da Vinci, read the whole book first, without doing the exercises.
Just contemplate the questions for reflection and self-assessment. After
this preview, review the explanation of each principle and then do the
exercises. Some of the exercises are easy and fun, while others require
challenging inner work. All are designed to bring the spirit of the
maestro to your daily life. In addition to the exercises, you will find
an annotated reading and resource list to guide you in exploring and
applying each principle. The reading list includes recommendations on
the Renaissance, the history of ideas, the nature of genius, and, of
course, the life and work of Leonardo.
In the final section of the book you will discover "The Beginner's
Da Vinci Drawing Course," and you'll also learn how you can
participate in a history-making project that embodies the essence of the
Da Vincian spirit.
Excerpted from "How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day" by Michael J. Gelb. Copyright © 2000 by Michael J. Gelb. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.