BABL 062: Solocast- How To Think Like Leonardo DaVinci

Today’s show is on one of my favorite books of the past 5 years. The book is How To Think Like Leonardo DaVinci by Michael Gelb.

Michael Gelb is an organizational development consultant, a professional speaker and seminar leader, and a pioneer in the fields of creative thinking, accelerated learning and innovative leadership.

Leonardo DaVinci, if you slept through high school, was only the quintessential Renaissance man who was not only the leading artist of his time (you might recall paintings like the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper), but he was also an enormously talented inventor, musician, scientist, military engineer, and arguably one of the strongest athletes of his time. He lived in the late 1400’s and early 1500s.

I’ve been fascinated by DaVinci’s work ever since seeing a traveling exhibit at our local science center which featured many of his drawings and some life-size replicas of what he had designed. DaVinci reportedly was a pacifist, yet designed many machines that were used in battle — like our modern day tanks. He designed catapults, pulleys and levers, machine guns with bullets as big as water bottles. But he also designed flying machines, the earliest ideas of a modern automobile, and even dissections of humans.

The science exhibit suggested that DaVinci was so enamored with learning and especially the human body that he would practice dissections (which were completely illegal) by bribing those responsible for the recently deceased into letting him cut them open to diagram what the insides of a human look like. To this day, his drawings of the inner workings of the human body are the first known examples of modern day biological science.

In Gelb’s book, he describes the 7 principles of DaVinci’s genius — not necessarily described by DaVinci, but deducted by Gelb from a wealth of study about the man.

I’m going to give you the 7 principles and do my utmost to pronounce them in my best Italian. (Best being in quotation marks as I only learned Italian for 4 weeks through Duolingo, a language tutorial program owned by Google. But hey, I think Duolingo and a couple weeks in Italy does wonders for a guys dialect).

Principle #1: Curiosite – basically having an insatiable curiosity for learning

Principle #2: Demonstratzione – committing to testing knowledge through experience, not fearing failure or mistakes, but instead learning from them

Principle #3: Sensazione – a continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, to clarify experience.

Principle #4: Sfumato – (which means literally ‘up in smoke’) – it’s a willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty.

Principle #5: Arte/Scienza – developing the balance between art & science, logic and imagination. Essentially, he was a master of whole brain thinking.

Principle #6: Corporalita – The cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness & poise

Principle #7: Connessione – recognizing and appreciating the connectedness of all things. He was a master at systems thinking.


These 7 principles were at the heart of everything Leonardo DaVinci chose to pursue in life. And we know about most of them because of the volumes and volumes of notes he took in notebooks that are now on display in museums all over the world. Gelb notes in the book that DaVinci’s drive to take notes in journals was proof of principle #1 Curiosity. It is estimated that Leonardo DaVinci left over 7,000 pages of notes and in 1994, Bill Gates bought 18 sheets from his notebooks for a reported $31million. Those are some valuable ideas!

My Build A Bigger Life Challenge for you today on the podcast is this: Are you a journaler? Do you keep daily or weekly pages of your life and ideas?

About 5 years ago I started journaling on a semi-regular basis in moleskine notebooks. I found a package of 4 moleskines at Barnes & Noble, all of the same color and took a permanent marker and made marks on the spine of the notebooks to denote the order in which I wrote in them. I now have a collection of about 18 notebooks that will continue to grow over time. I write everything from my feelings, to ideas, to my net worth and projects I’m working on. It’s fun to go back and read entries from 5 years ago to see what has changed, but the real reason I continue the journaling process is I think someday my kids, grandkids and great grandkids will find it interesting to read what life was like for us. I know the one or two journals notebooks we found of my grandparents is incredibly meaningful to me, thus the reason I’ve been helping my last living grandfather get his memoirs published on Amazon so that all of his family has access to it.

Speaking of DaVinci’s notebooks, Gelb writes, “He carried a notebook with him at all times so that he could jot down ideas, impressions, and observations as they occurred. His notebooks contained jokes and fables, the observations and thoughts of scholars he admired, personal financial records, letters, reflections on domestic problems, philosophical musings and prophecies, plans for inventions, and treatises on anatomy, botany, geology, flight, water, and painting.”

It seems writing down most of your thoughts is pretty freakin’ powerful.


[A Partial Collection Of My Journals]

One of the most powerful ideas shared in How To Think Like Leonardo DaVinci was the 100 Questions List. The exercise Gelb suggests is giving yourself about 60 minutes to write down 100 questions that you’d most like the answer to. The questions can range from Why is the ocean salty to what is my main motivation in life. Literally any question that comes to mind should go on your list until you make it to 100. Then segment the list into the top 10 most important questions on that list. List them in importance from 1-10 and ponder them on a regular basis. The author suggests that the happiest people in the world ask, “What if I could find some way to get paid for doing what I love?” Hmmm… .sounds like they focus on building bigger lives. Curious…

In the Build a Bigger Life Blueprint, one of the tenets is Asking Bigger Questions. You can listen to a solocast on that topic by downloading Episode 43. It was a good one if I do say so myself.

A large part of DaVinci’s notebooks involved what today would be called Mind Mapping. Mind Mapping is a brainstorming process that was first originated by a guy named Tony Buzan. When his book The Mind Map Method first came out I devoured it. I realized that I’d been doing something similar to write content for years. My mindmap for this solocast is posted on the blogsite if you want to see how I do it. Someday soon I’ll record a show about how I create content in record time. It’s a process, a system if you will… something else I learned from Leonardo DaVinci.

There are plenty of apps available today that will help you get started mind-mapping, just google mind mapping apps and an exhaustive list will show up. However, my recommendation is to mind map the way Leonardo did. With a blank sheet of paper, using your right brain to be creative. I’ve found that attempting to mind map digitally just doesn’t work for me, so my normal routine is with either a blank sheet of paper or a white board and different colored markers. The process of mind mapping is simply finding connections with everything you’re writing about. Each connection is an offshoot of the original idea until you have a “map” or spider web of ideas that were sparked from the original subject.



When you look at LDV’s journals, they are full of diagrams, line drawings, and mind maps. Further proof that he believed in combining art and science. Don’t underestimate the power of your creative side and a blank sheet of paper. I write EVERYTHING using mind mapping.

It seems DaVinci tapped into a secret reservoir of knowledge on a regular basis as well. He was an ardent believer in trusting the inner wisdom, what I called the inner knower in the Build A Bigger Life Blueprint. Gelb describes it as the Unconscious Database. In his book he states that neuroscientists estimate your unconscious database outweighs your conscious thoughts ten million to one. I’ve always believed that your brain is the most powerful supercomputer ever designed and it’s literally captured everything you’ve ever heard or read. But much like a computer, there is random access memory, there’s a hard drive, and there’s a garbage can where stuff you never access goes. The best visual representation of it was from the Pixar movie Inside Out. All of those memories that we never access anymore are still there, they’re just down in the basement collecting dust until they’re moved out of RAM and your hard drive.

DaVinci trusted his inner knower, tapped his unconscious database often, and as a result was heralded as a genius. But what if you have the exact same ability and just haven’t been using it? Is that enough motivation for you to spend 15-20 minutes a day in silence pondering the big 10 questions of your life? I sure hope so!

Two of the other big ideas in Gelb’s book about How To Think Like Leonardo DaVinci involve affirmations and taking care of your physicality.

Leonardo wrote affirmations in his journals regularly and they were phrases such as:

‘I shall continue.”

‘Obstacles do not bend me.’

‘I never tire of being useful.’

‘Every obstacle is destroyed through rigor.’


Some of my favorite affirmations are phrases like:

‘I’m alive, alert, happy, healthy, firm, friendly, cordial, and enthusiastic.’

‘Money comes easily and frequently.’

‘When things get tougher I get better.’

What are the affirmations you’re saying to yourself on a regular basis? My friend and mentor Jack Canfield says affirmations are the mind’s way of releasing the brakes. Until we release the brakes, we’re constantly riding them on the highway of success. So today, journal a few of your favorite affirmations and keep them in front of you daily. Remember that they are always positive in nature, always in the first person, and always a statement of having or being what it is you most desire.

Lastly, and probably most interesting to me is the fact that LDV was one of the greatest athletes of his time. His physicality was incredibly important to him, evidenced by his study of the human body, the sinewy muscles in his drawings, and the obvious obsession he had with his drawing of the Vitruvian Man.

DaVinci called it Corporalita — the idea that cultivating movement, balance, poise, and fitness was incredibly important to achieve everything you set out to achieve. Just a great reminder to take care of yourself, if you want your body and mind to take care of you.

So, without question, I highly recommend the book How To Think Like Leonardo DaVinci by Michael Gelb. In the process of building a bigger life, I can think of no greater advice than to pursue curiosity, to demonstrate knowledge through experience, to embrace uncertainty, balance art and science, to be your physical best, and most notably for this Renaissance Man, to journal every thought, experience, and idea while staying attuned to your inner knower.

As they would’ve said in DaVinci’s day, Ciao for now. Here’s to you building a bigger life.
Get your copy of How To Think Like Leonardo DaVinci HERE.