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Two da Vincian Methods for the Rest of Us

If there was one polymath who would trump all the others by leaps and bounds, that would be Leonardo da Vinci. He has an almost mythical stature among thinkers, philosophers and artists. His brilliance spanned arts, science, engineering and literature.

If you look around at aisles of Barnes and Noble, you would find dozens of books dedicated to help us think creatively. Many of them revere da Vinci as an ideal model that every aspiring creative could adopt ideas from. Among them, “How to think like Leonardo da Vinci” (Michael J. Gelb) is of course a notable one. I too found this book helpful, though the title was misleading. Thinking like da Vinci requires his brilliance that spanned many, many disciplines. That is a tall order to ask for. At least from the vast majority of people.

Two da Vincian Methods for the Rest of Us

1. Collect

While creative excellence is not something we all are born equally with, there are methods and procedures, which we can adopt from the life of da Vinci, that will increase our odds of hitting the creativity jackpot. One such method is following da Vinci’s note-taking methodology, which is simple, yet crude and unorganized. All we have to do is to create a system to capture all our thoughts and ideas and drop them all in one single area. What tool do we use doesn’t really count. The choice of whether it is electronic, physical or something in between doesn’t really matter as much as the act of capturing consistently. The power and potential lie in the process of bringing in disparate and discrete information from different time spans into one breeding ground. News clippings, doodles, jottings, sound clips – whatever. If we are clipping from a web site, getting a small clipping is far more useful than taking the entire web page itself. It will be immensely helpful if we annotate every clip that we bring into this breeding ground. The world that we inhabit doesn’t have scarcity of information. What is in short supply, though, is the intelligent deciphering of the vast ocean of information. Making sense of information and bringing in our own perspective into it are what make us even more creative. When you are capturing ideas, resist every urge to organize them. Ditch the folders – totally. Be happy capturing.

2. Review

What I just described above is only the first step, which is note-taking. The other essential piece of the puzzle is to review them frequently. New thoughts and ideas will occasionally sprout. Capture them as well. If anything sounds valuable, pick it up and expand. Sometimes old ideas serendipitously will join forces with new ideas. Eventually, our mind will get trained to tune in for the footsteps of such epiphanies. In the whole process, just remind ourselves once in a while that this is more of journey than a destination. Enjoy it and make it a life long habit.

New ideas are created when we think about what is possible beyond the edges of current possibilities. Steven Johnson, in his famous book, “Where Good Ideas Come From“, explains this concept as “Adjacent Possible“. It seems that we will find our creative grounds in finding our “adjacent possibles”.

Here is a valuable lesson, which I learned from Seth Godin‘s “Linchpin“. From our school age, we have been always told to “think out of the box”. I think that is an unproductive cliche. Outside of the boxes are arid and empty. Creativity, innovation and potentiality exist along the edges.

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