How to Think Like Da Vinci Guest Post by Lisa Olsen


“The desire to know is natural to good men.” – Leonardo Da Vinci

One of my favorite books is the fascinating book by Michael J. Gelb, How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci. It would take an encyclopedia to begin to share the full scope of his accomplishments. Leonardo the artist is known for transforming the direction of arr. He pioneered the use of oil paints. His universally recognized paintings like the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper are works of superb creativity. Leonardo the inventor made plans for a flying machine, parachutes, the extendable ladder (still in use by fire departments today), the three speed gear shift, the bicycle, a snorkel, the world’s first revolving stage, locks for a canal system, folding furniture, the first elevator, and many more. More than any single invention, he deserves credit for pioneering the concept of automation.

In his book, Gelb breaks down the genius of Da Vinci in a practical guide to problem solving, creative thinking, goal setting and life balance, and harmonizing body and mind. The book was so empowering that I worked to develop a one day workshop for assistants titled What it Takes to Be Great!

Gelb focuses the book on Seven Da Vincian Principles. I’d like to share one of them:

  • Curiositaan insatiably curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning.

Leonardo Da Vinci was often described as “undoubtedly the most curious man who ever lived.” His inquisitiveness was not limited to his formal research and studies, but it also enhanced his daily experience of the world around him.

Let’s consider the role of Curiosita in your life today. Ask yourself how curious you are. Take this short assessment. Your answers will tell you how you are already using it and where you need some improvement:

  • I keep a journal or notebook to record my insights and questions.
  • I take time for reflection and contemplation.
  • I enjoy learning something new.
  • When I am faced with an important decision, I actively seek out different perspectives.
  • I read a lot.
  • I am skilled at identifying and solving problems.
  • When I hear or read a new word or phrase, I look it up and make a note of it.
  • I solicit feedback from my friends, relations and colleagues.
  • My friends would describe me as open minded and curious.

The key to Curiosita is developing these attributes and habits. As Leonardo did, use a notebook to record questions, observations, insights, jokes, dreams and ideas. Busy lives and job responsibilities often drive us toward hard conclusions and agenda driven tasks, but the free-flowing practice of keeping a notebook encourages freedom of thought and a healthy perspective.

Finding the Question:
A key to developing Curiosita is practicing passionate questioning. How can you sharpen your question asking skills so solutions will start to come to you? Here are some ideas:

  • Begin by asking the “naïve” questions that others are prone to overlook.
  • Ask awkward questions such as “Why is this a problem?”
  • Write out questions or problems that you are concerned about in your personal or professional life and ask “ What? When? Who? How? Where? Why?
  • Seek to discover the underlying issues, preconceptions, prejudices or paradigms that may be influencing your perception.
  • Ask: What will happen if I ignore it? What possibilities have I not yet considered?

In my workshop, I show a video of a bird flying and ask the participants to come up with as many questions as they can about how a bird flies. It’s fascinating when we share the questions. Here are few from past workshops: How does it increase speed? – How does it know what direction it’s going? – How does it keep its wings stretched? How far can it see ahead and below? – How does it know how high it can fly? The key to this exercise is not to worry so much about knowing the answers – but instead, to be curious about the process.

Gelb suggests coming up with your own 100 questions that are important to you. You can add or change them at any time. Do NOT attempt to answer them at this point. Then, from that list, create your Top Ten Power Questions. Here are few to consider:

When am I most naturally myself?
What is my greatest talent?
Who are my most inspiring role models?
How can I have more fun?
How can I best serve others?
How am I perceived by my boss, closest friend and co-workers?
What legacy would I like to leave?
What is my heart’s deepest desire?
What do I enjoy doing in my spare time? Is it a valuable use of that precious resource?

I encourage you to take some time to think about the Da Vincian principle of Curiosita. You can strengthen it by asking questions and seeking feedback about your blind spots, best qualities, how you can be more effective and productive.

When we think like Da Vinci, we can have a lifelong commitment to developing our individual self-knowledge which will benefit every aspect of our lives and help us be Star Achievers!


Guest post by Lisa Olsen. Office Dynamics Certified Trainer and Speaker at the 22nd Annual Conference for Administrative Excellence.


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