How to think like Leonardo da Vinci


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Praise for HOW TO THINK LIKE LEONARDO DA VINCI “In HOW TO THINK LIKE LEONARDO DA VINCI, Michael Gelb provides an inspirational, practical guide to developing your Da Vincian powers. I recommend it to anyone who wants to experience a personal or professional renaissance.” —DELANO E. LEWIS, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO “For learning how to approach life like a genius … His view reflects the current trend in working with ‘multiple intelligences’ and creativity.… The Renaissance mood Gelb successfully invokes, however, adds a unique richness to this deeper, more expansive work.” —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY “The seven Da Vincian principles discussed can refine the use of intellect and teach the reader the unchanged art of thinking clearly and fulfilling one’s potential.” —LIBRARY JOURNAL “In HOW TO THINK LIKE LEONARDO DA VINCI, Michael Gelb makes the practical teachings of history’s greatest genius come alive for the modern world. Buy it. Read it! Live it!” —TONY BUZAN, AUTHOR OF THE BOOK OF GENIUS AND THE MIND MAP BOOK “Michael Gelb centers his book on models of the very highest achievement and demonstrates how genius is put together, by steps virtually anyone can take, if they have the willingness to practice. Those who have watched Gelb in action know him as a master practitioner in many disciplines. Get this book and stick with it.” —TED HUGHES, NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF BIRTHDAY LETTERS


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HOW TO THINK LIKE LEORNARDO DA VINCI A Delta Book PUBLISHING HISTORY Delacorte Press hardcover edition published August 1998 Dell Trade Paperback edition published February 2000 Delta Trade Paperback reissue edition / June 2004 Published by Bantam Dell A Division of Random House, Inc. New York, New York The terms High Performance Learning and Mind Mapping are registered trademarks used with the permission of Michael J. Gelb and the Buzan Organization, respectively. “I think continually of those who were truly great” from Selected Poems by Stephen Spender. Copyright 1934 and renewed 1962 by Stephen Spender. Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc., and Peters Fraser & Dunlop Group Ltd. This book presents nutrition and exercise information which may or may not be right for you. In view of the complex, individual, and specific nature of health and fitness problems, this book is not intended to replace professional medical advice. Every individual is different. Before starting any diet or exercise program, get your doctor’s approval. The publisher and the author expressly disclaim any responsibility for any loss or risk incurred as a consequence of the application of the contents of this book. All rights reserved Copyright © 1998 by Michael J. Gelb New preface copyright © 2004 by Michael J. Gelb Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 98-04655 No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law. Delta is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc., and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc. eISBN: 978-0-307-57352-0


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This book is dedicated to the Da Vincian spirit manifested in the life and work of Charles Dent


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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Grazie to all who participated in the evolution of the Da Vincian exercises and to the readers who offered valuable feedback on the evolving manuscript: Ann-Marie Bolton, Jolie Barbiere, Stacy Forsythe, Michael Frederick, Ruth Kissane, John Ramo, Dr. Dale Schusterman, and Sylvia Tognetti. Grazie to the “cognoscenti” of music appreciation: Audrey Elizabeth Ellzey, Dr. Roy S. Ellzey, Joshua Habermann, Murray Horwitz, Dr. Elain Jerdine, and Stacy Forsythe. Grazie to Professor Roger Paden for repeatedly raiding his faculty library on my behalf. Grazie to my clients and friends who keep the Da Vincian spirit alive in their organizations, especially Ed Bassett, Charlie Bacon, Bob Ginsberg, Dave Chu, Jim D’Agostino, Marv Damsma, Doug Durand, Gerry Kirk, Delano Lewis, Nina Lesavoy, Joseph Rende, Harvey Sanders, Dr. Raj Sisodia, Debbie Ronning, Ketan Patel, Marlene Weiss, and the Lucent Idea Verse team. Grazie molto to my parents, Joan and Sandy Gelb, who inspired my Da Vincian approach to life. To Joan Arnold for incisive editing and constructive feedback. To Sir Brian Tovey for sharing his insights on Florence and the Renaissance. To my wonderful literary agent, Muriel Nellis, and her staff, especially Jane Roberts. And to Tom Spain for his Da Vincian vision and brilliant editing, and his team at Delacorte, especially Mitch Hoffman and Ellen Cipriano. Grazie mille to Lorraine Gill for her remarkable commitment to “saper vedre.” Grazie mille to four people who made exceptional contributions to this book: Nusa Maal for her contributions to the Drawing Course, her magnificent illustrations, and for championing the principles of multi-sensory intelligence.


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To the modern uomo universale Tony Buzan for creating mind maps, the Da Vincian thinking tool. Grand master Raymond Keene, O.B.E., for sharing his profound knowledge of history and genius. Audrey Elizabeth Ellzey for invaluable support in research and administration and for her Da Vincian fealty to truth.


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Contents Cover Page Title Page Copyright Dedication Acknowledgments Preface to New Edition: “A Touch of Eternal Beauty” Preface: “Born of the Sun” PART ONE Introduction: Your Brain Is Much Better than You Think Learning from Leonardo A Practical Approach to Genius The Renaissance, Then and Now The Life of Leonardo da Vinci Major Accomplishments PART TWO The Seven Da Vincian Principles Curiosità Dimostrazione Sensazione Sfumato Arte/Scienza Corporalita Connessione


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Conclusion: Leonardo’s Legacy PART THREE The Beginner’s Da Vinci Drawing Course Rebirth of a Dream Leonardo da Vinci Chronology; Life and Times Recommended Reading Contact List of Illustrations


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PREFACE TO NEW EDITION: “A TOUCH OF ETERNAL BEAUTY” One of Leonardo da Vinci’s favorite images was the rippling, repeating circles of water emanating from the point where a stone is dropped into a pond or a lake. I see Leonardo’s own life as a gem tossed into the pool of time that became known as the Renaissance, with his genius rippling on and on into eternity. This image came back to me one night in the summer of 2003 as I was sitting in the audience at the Second Stage Theatre in New Y ork City, watching Mary Zimmerman’s brilliant play The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, for her work reminded me once again of the way in which the maestro’s genius lives on. There, brought to vivid life on the stage, thanks to the marvelous stagecraft, the wonderful ensemble of actors, and Mary’s own creative reimagining of Leonardo’s world, were Leonardo’s casual observations about everything from the day’s to-do and shopping lists to the most fundamental questions about art, architecture, space, history, and philosophy. Over five centuries after he wrote them, the words Leonardo tossed off in his daily journals had become the basis of a full-length play with a sold-out run and stellar reviews. Invited by the artistic director of the theater to speak to the audience afterward, I was particularly struck by a question that one young woman asked, which may reflect something that you, too, have wondered about: “How can the scope and depth of Leonardo’s genius be understood, and why does his influence seem to growing?” To the first part of the question I have no answer. The longer I study both his biography and his works, the more the mystery of his unparalleled genius seems to grow. But the reasons for his influence are easier to understand, and were perhaps best summed up by the art critic Bernard Berenson when he said of Leonardo: “Everything he touched turned to eternal beauty.” Beyond that, we sense in his Notebooks and other writings the potential to turn our own lives into creative endeavors, to guide our own efforts toward the creation of something beautiful.


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It was with the idea of finding the principles underlying Leonardo’s limitless creativity that I began my work on the book you are now holding in your hands. The seven principles I eventually identified were simply my attempt to write the how-to guide that Leonardo never put down on paper, to codify the principles implicit in Leonardo’s work so that they can be used by others. I feel very strongly that the genius of Leonardo resides not just in what he created but in what he can inspire us to create. Beyond all his stellar achievements, Leonardo da Vinci serves as a global archetype of human potential, giving us intimations of what we ourselves may be capable of doing. I think that is the vein my book has tapped, the reason why people of such diverse ages, backgrounds, nationalities, and interests have responded to it with such passion. Since How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci debuted in 1998, it’s been translated into eighteen languages, and I’ve heard from enthusiasts around the world. A Polish elementary-school teacher uses the seven principles to organize her class curriculum. The head of strategy for a major Londonbased consulting firm discovered that Leonardo was an invaluable ally in helping his multinational clients solve some of their most important business problems. And a thirty-two-year-old father from Tennessee commented, “This book gave me everything I always wanted to teach my children but didn’t have the words to say.” One of my favorite bits of feedback came from renowned anthropologist, visionary, author, and shaman Jean Houston. A modern Renaissance woman, Jean serves as an adviser to world leaders on accessing the essential wisdom of the universal archetypes expressed in diverse cultures and traditions. About a year after How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci was first published, I was invited to speak to a group of five hundred psychotherapists in Washington, D.C., on how to apply da Vincian thinking to family therapy. After the presentation, Jean, who was also there to address the conference, appeared and whispered in my ear, “Leonardo is very pleased.” If he was, then the publication of this book was only one of many events from which he must have taken pleasure in just the last decade, as his legions of admirers continue to celebrate the man, commemorate his spirit in their own creative works, re-create, and, in at least one instance, realize for the first time ever the works and plans that Leonardo left behind. I like to


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imagine, for example, the joy Leonardo must have felt during the celebration that took place in September 1999 at the La Scala opera house in Milan. On that glorious day, Ricardo Muti conducted Beethoven’s Fifth in tribute to him, the occasion being the resurrection of Leonardo’s “Lost Horse,” a magnificent twenty-four-foot-tall equestrian sculpture based on the model that had been destroyed exactly five centuries before by invading French troops. After leaving the concert, one could almost see the smile in the eyes of the statue of Leonardo that graces the center of the La Scala square. The rebirth of Leonardo’s Horse began in the imagination of a former airline pilot and art collector, Charles Dent, to whom this book is dedicated. Although Dent was determined to bring this lost masterpiece to life again, he died in 1994, before his dream could be fulfilled. But Dent’s work continued through the nonprofit organization he founded. Honoring a promise made to Dent on his deathbed, the board of Leonardo da Vinci’s Horse, Inc., brought together a coalition of donors, artists, metallurgists, volunteers, and scholars that finally succeeded in making the Horse a reality again. Sculpted by Nina Akamu, the majestic Horse now stands proudly in Milan. A second full-size casting stands in the Fredrik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and smaller-scale bronze replicas also adorn Leonardo’s hometown of Vinci, Italy, and the Dent family hometown of Allentown, Pennsylvania. Leonardo’s spirit must also have rejoiced in October 2001 when Queen Sonja of Norway dedicated a bridge linking her country and Sweden. Constructed according to an original design sketched in 1502 by Leonardo da Vinci, the bridge was originally intended for the Turkish Sultan Bajazet II. But the sultan declined to proceed with the project because its revolutionary pressed-bow engineering and 720-foot span seemed “too fantastic.” In 1996 Norwegian artist Vebjørn Sand saw Leonardo’s sketch and, moved by its graceful beauty and powerful symbolism, dreamed of re-creating it. After six years of fund-raising and testing, in cooperation with the Norwegian Transportation Ministry, Sand’s Leonardo Bridge was unveiled just outside Oslo. Spanning the highway connecting Norway to neighboring Sweden, it is the first civil engineering project in history based on an actual Da Vinci design. Now Sand imagines a Leonardo bridge on every continent—a global tribute to the remarkable


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life and genius of Leonardo da Vinci, a testimonial to his ability to inspire all of us to express our own creative potential. In the spring of 2003 another Leonardo-related event brought Peter Dent and Vebjørn Sand to New Y ork. The two men were both present at the opening of the amazing exhibition of Da Vinci drawings at New Y ork’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I was fortunate enough to join them. Over flutes of Prosecco, we shared our reflections on the maestro’s drawings and his vivifying presence. We agreed that if God could draw, this is what it might look like. Sand then laughed as he shared the story of one municipal council committee that had declined to proceed with the building of a Leonardo bridge because they felt that the design was “too futuristic.” But Leonardo’s genius has always prevailed—over the limited vision of the Turkish sultan, the marauding French troops who invaded Milan in 1499, and the mediocrity of the municipal council. Y es, Leonardo is still “happening” after all these years, as we learn in the opening scene of one of the hit movies of the summer of 2003, The Italian Job, when rapperturned-actor Mos Def walks along the canal in Venice, reading none other than this book, and explaining to Jason Statham, his partner in crime in the movie, exactly why Leonardo is so “cool.” The maestro also stars in Dan Brown’s bestselling mystery novel The Da Vinci Code, and makes cameo appearances in various episodes of Star Trek as a holographic adviser to the captain of the Enterprise. And the maestro will continue to inspire people for many centuries to come, thanks in part to those who have been touched by his creative fire and are working to keep it alive, to find new ways to perpetuate his ideals among future generations. As Peter Dent explained to me that evening at the Metropolitan Museum, now that his organization has kept its promise to re-create Leonardo’s Horse, it is merging with the Discovery Center of Science and Technology, a children’s museum based in eastern Pennsylvania, with a mission to bring Leonardo’s inspiration to science education for children around the world. The center’s educational mission is expressed in the seven principles for “thinking like Leonardo” that you can discover for yourself in the pages that follow. My wish for you is that you will allow these principles to ripple through your mind and heart, setting off waves of inspiration as endless as


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those that flow from a stone dropped into a pool of water, and that you will find in the seven principles a guide to expressing the beauty that is within you too. Michael J. Gelb December 2003



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