Sunday, January 23, 2011

Be Like Leo - Step One

Long time collaborator Mavis Penney and I have, from time to time, read the same books together for both pleasure and elucidation, sharing points we've been challenged by or disagreed with. It's been great for me to use brain cells that might not be used otherwise. Recently we agreed to read Michael Gelb's book, "How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci".  For fun we're inviting you to join us in this conversation.

This is not a Cliff's Notes version of Gelb's book. My intention is not to critique Gelb's research or writing style. The purpose of this study is to examine what one author has determined to be a system to which one might subscribe, the goal of which is to improve one's investment in their world. And that's a really convoluted way of saying that we're taking a look at Gelb's recipe for getting more out of each day, and for going to bed with a bit more satisfaction than we had yesterday.
My first thought at Mavis' suggestion for reading this book was, "Sure!" After all, who wouldn't like to think like the greatest thinker of all time? I'm in!"  Creator of the first flying machine, sculptor, painter, scientist, architect and all around ponderer of just about everything, Leonardo is considered one of the greatest minds since, well, ever.  Leonardo da Vinci is the primary example of human potential in the realm of discovery and renaissance thinking. For the next 7 weeks, this blog will focus on each of Gelb's "steps" for enhancing our inner Leonardo.  Will I march into March able to understand algebra, or the theory behind atomic energy?  Probably not. But I - and you if you choose to come along - will hopefully use these exercises to expand our horizons just a bit to include a new sense of wonder and appreciation for the world in which we live.  

How does one achieve the kind of status given to Leonardo Da Vinci?  You're thinking "Sure, get someone to pay me to do nothing but think all day and I could come up with some pretty cool stuff, too." Let's just get this on the table right off the bat, shall we?  Let's agree that Leonardo lived in a special time.  It was safe to think outside the box and test new theories after centuries of heavy handed control condemning anything approaching enlightenment.  Da Vinci also had benefactors, which allowed him the time and resources to ponder deeply anything that caught his attention. 

Even at that, he was different than the average 15th Century guy.  Why?

Gelb says the first step to thinking like Leonardo is to be curious. About everything.

Are you? And why not?

Today we are repeatedly clobbered with alarms, bells, whistles, and warnings to slow down, hurry up and move over. Elevators have music to chase away the intense boredom that sweeps over us during the several seconds - seconds - that we wait to arrive at the next floor. Children, youth and adults focus on tiny little electronic hand-held games and gadgets to fill the spaces between jobs, games, dance lessons and real conversations. From the time they can stand upright and alone, children are whisked off to lessons, games and pageants for "learning experiences".  Which leads me to education, which is not learning at all, but "outcomes".  Who would Leonardo Da Vinci have been had he been born  in the last 60 years?  That's something to think about.

We don't have time to be curious. More honestly, we don't take time.  (Using Google  to flit around from link to link chasing information doesn't count as curiosity.)

Gelb invites us, in a series of exercises and assignments, to take that time.  To pay attention.  To pause and ask: how?  Why?  What color?  How did it get that way? And when?

Curiosita.  Take time, unplug and s l o w  d o w n.  Wonder about something, anything.  A shadow. A texture.  A rule.  A religion. Allow that question to form.  You don't even have to dash out and find the answer, at least not yet.  For now allow wonder and interest to develop and grow.

Your thoughts?


Patricia said...

From Handsome Husband -
Normally I read your blogs, offer my support from afar and smile. I could not resist the urge to comment on the subject of curiosity, and to move from my traditional role. For many years I had a beautiful saltwater aquarium in our living room. Many friends and acquaintances visiting our home frequently made the comment and said after seeing it, “I used to have a gold fish”. That comment always interested me. Occasionally, however, a friend or acquaintance would stop by and, after pausing at the sight of my beautiful aquarium, would ask questions like “Where does the saltwater come from?”, “How do you get that type of fish to your tank?”, “What about the chemicals”?, or “How difficult is this hobby?”. I was always intrigued by the inquisitive person whose curiosity had to contribute to him or her having a greater understanding of the world around them.

Mavis said...

“What does Thinking Like Leonardo” mean to me?

I am so pleased to be working through “How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci” with a group of other interested people, and I am hoping to compare our differing reactions to Gelb’s interpretations of Leonardo processes. Over the next few weeks, I am challenging myself to do the drawing exercises in the book as well as the written exercises and quizzes to broaden my style of thinking and problem solving. I’ll let you know how it works out.

In the section on Curiosita - curiosity – I was truly impressed with what I learned from the Theme Observation exercise, which I applied to cooking a family dinner. I noticed everything from how I peeled the vegetables and cut the meat to how I dealt with the washing up. I was aware of the little details of what I was doing, and not just automatically putting the carrots into the pot. And I started asking myself a lot of “why” questions. It felt like I was so focused on what I was doing. And it felt so good!

I am looking forward to similar experiences with the other topics we will be covering.

Thanks to SkartzBlog for getting this started!


Karine said...

I once had a professor in college who told us that an artist's role in society was to be the utmost observers. We were to notice things others did not. I think this is similar to having curiosity about everything.
Sounds like a cool book.

Patty said...

Karine, wouldn't it be great if everyone took the time to observe thoughtfully? Artists, geologists, paperboys...we all have the ability to find interest in what's in front of us.

Sheila said...

This lesson definitely makes me want to slow down and be in the moment. We are always thinking about the past or looking toward the future. For now I would just like to think of what color the shadows are in the snow....