Friday, May 23, 2008

"How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci" by Michael J. Gelb, Part 3 of 3

Seven Steps to Genius
Part three of a three-part series on the book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael J. Gelb

In this final installment of our four-part series on the book How to Think Like
Leonardo da Vinci, we investigate two more of the seven Da Vincian principles identified by Michael Gelb as "the seven steps to genius." These steps are curiosita, dimostrazione, sensazione, sfumato, arte/scienza, corporalita and connessione. In this post we will address corporalita and connessione. We asked Michael Gelb to discuss these two principles and explain how important they are to our overall development.


Corporalita means to balance the body and the mind. Although most people know about Leonardo's artistic genius and some know about his scientific acumen, very few realize that he was physically gifted as well. He was known as the strongest man in Florence. He was renowned for his poise, grace, balance and skill as an athlete. He was a juggler, in addition to being an equestrian and a fencer. The book outlines a fitness program based on Leonardo's wisdom. Much of this information can be found today in books on holistic health. This was just another way he was ahead of his time. He advocated that people learn to preserve their own health and take responsibility for their own well being. His notebooks also quote him as saying, "Avoid grievous moods and keep your mind cheerful," indicating an awareness of the connection between mind and body.

There is a fun exercise from the book to cultivate corporalita. Step by step juggling instructions are given that help develop ambidexterity, balance and mind-body coordination. Da Vinci biographer Antonia Valentin confirms that Leonardo was a juggler. The art was part of the pageants and parties he designed for his patrons and went hand in hand with his love of conjuring.

There are also a lot of examples in the book of how to exercise. Perhaps the most important one is a self-observation exercise is relative to a discipline called the Alexander technique. This is a simple but powerful method for developing the poise for which Leonardo was renowned. The technique was developed by F. Matthias Alexander. Alexander was a Shakespearean actor in the late 1800s who specialized in one-man shows. His career was hampered by his tendency to lose his voice in the middle of a show. Resolving to overcome this problem, he felt he must find a way to get objective feedback about what was causing this problem. He obtained this feedback by observing himself in specially constructed mirrors. After months of observation, he noticed a pattern that appeared whenever he attempted to recite. With this information, we was then able to "unlearn" the pattern, reeducating his mind and body as a whole system to create change. To use the same principle of observation, you can follow the exercise detailed in the book, or you can seek the assistance of a qualified Alexander technique teacher.


Connessione refers to the interconnectedness of all things. Leonardo was a systems thinker. He found that the way water flows mirrors the way the wind blows. He studied how hair grew and how muscles were formed and their affect on movement. The relationship between the movement of humans and animals was compelling to him. He also looked at how sound and aroma flew through the air and how that paralleled the way birds flew -- and how that might relate to building a flying machine. Leonardo saw connections everywhere and that everything is connected to everything else. This is a simple but powerful idea. The essence of creativity is to see connections that other people don't see.

One of the exercises to develop connessione is also the most important one in the book -- the creation of a mind map. It addresses your own personal sense of purpose vision, values and goals and how they all fit together. This exercise is the culmination of all the other exercises in the book. It ties things everything together for people on a personal basis. It is too easy to go through life without comprehensively considering what we want. We all think about career, relationships and finance from time to time. But rarely do we contemplate our personal goals and how they fit together.

My objective in writing this book was not to get people to paint the Mona Lisa or create great inventions -- although I think it's wonderful when people do creative things because of the principles in the book. I think it's more significant, however, that they take away something from the book that will help them make their own lives works of art.

How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci and the How to Think Like Leonardo Workbook by Michael J. Gelb are available from

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