Lessons from Leonardo da Vinci
I am a big fan of biographies. I believe we have a lot to learn from those who mastered in their field and understanding their lives is the best way to capture some of the wisdom that drove them. When I read a bio, I like to absorb some habits that made that individual so unique and take them as a lesson for self-development.
Well, Leonardo da Vinci was the subject of this time. This man was probably one of a kind in human history. There is so much to learn about him that 600 pages went so fast and still seemed that a lot has been left behind.
Leonardo was a painter, mathematician, engineer, architect, among other fancy titles to define his master skills.
After reading his biography from Walter Isaacson, my brain meltdown with so many lessons to be taken from this man that was way ahead of his time. Then I decided to pick three of his habits that really called my attention to apply to my routine.
Be Curious: Leonardo was probably the most curious person that has ever existed. He learned so many different things from numerous fields that his learnings vary from the study of a tongue of a woodpecker to the muscles of a face to the study of lights. Many of these learnings helped him improve his artistic skills, but still, several others were just out of random curiosity.
Being curious is the best way to keep the brain active. When it comes to learning, we should have a brain of a child and be open to ask and absorb information like a sponge.
I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious — Albert Einstein.
It seems that curiosity is a popular virtue among geniuses. At the end of life, Leonardo was still trying to find answers to questions like why the sky is blue and how to square a circle.
Put your thoughts in a journal: Da Vinci wrote over 7,200 pages in about 40 years. That is the amount that is still around but estimated to be less than 50% of what he wrote. He started taking notes ate 30. I am 31, technically still on time to register some of my thoughts.
I always had Moleskines, but rarely took notes on personal things or random ideas. My notebooks were mostly used for professional purposes — taking notes on meetings, product development, etc. And I had this OCD to separate topics and let everything extremely organized. Leonardo had his organized chaos way of working, mixing notes, to-do lists, personal finance. All in one. But it worked. It incredibly worked. The problem with being rigorous with organizing is that you end up procrastinating and doing nothing. That’s what usually happened to my notebooks. I ended up taking few notes from meetings and business. Observing Leonardo, you realize that there is no right or wrong, no correct method of taking notes. Here is the best way: just take notes. Write whatever is on your mind, and if it is relevant, you will come back for that later. If it is not, let the notes to posterity.
Dig deep into things: Leonardo mastered in so many fields not only as a result of his curiosity but also because he wanted to improve his work, deliver a perfect job and be remarkable. He was frequently looking to refine his skills and artwork.
He learned about movements of lights, so his paintings could have a unique shadow effect (chiaroscuro). He dissected over 30 bodies because he wanted to learn how every muscle works from the inside so that he could draw with perfection — remember the Mona Lisa smile? He has a whole study on the movement of lips.
Leonardo da Vinci and the anatomy of mouth.
After this fantastic book, and also having read biographies from other outliers, I believe there is a clear pattern among brilliant people: they are all curious and relentless in their work.
We all have to learn, regardless of age and field of work; and Leonardo literally took this lesson until the very last day of this life. Always be learning. Always be curious. And like Leonardo wrote in his last notebook page “Perche la minesstra si fredda” or, because the soup is getting cold.