The popular best seller, The Da Vinci Code, stimulated a lot of debate about history, faith, and personal belief. It also stimulated a self-help book, “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day,” by noted author and public speaker Michael Gelb.
A rapt audience of elected officials attended Gelb’s presentation at a recent National Association of Counties conference in Chicago. The seven principles may have special meaning for public sector employees, as new challenges and how to solve them – creating a better future – are stock in trade for local governments.
Mr. Gelb noted that the first principle is curiosity. Leonardo da Vinci, Gelb pointed out, had an insatiable curiosity about the world around him. He invented the parachute – before anyone could fly! da Vinci’s notebooks reveal that his mind was all over the place. He would write, draw, invent, sculpt, and paint. The second principle is demonstration. Da Vinci tested out all his ideas. He jotted his inspirations down in journals, along with doodles that later became the prototypes for modern inventions.
Gelb’s third principle focused on sensation. Da Vinci believed that the five senses are ministers of the soul. Seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling enhance the opportunity to savor every moment which, of course, da Vinci wrote down! Da Vinci needed to be sharp which, Gelb pointed out, is a sensory term. The fourth principle is based on an Italian word, sfumato, relating to the gossamer thin application of paint that gives a hazy, ethereal quality to art. Gelb points out that genius must display a willing-ness to embrace the unknown, and listen to your intuition, not regret the time you didn’t.
The fifth principle centers on the science of art and the art of science. Geniuses use both sides of their brains, not necessarily favoring the right or the left lobe. They often generate ideas first, and then organize them. Too often today, Gelb notes, we spend our time fitting the first ideas into little boxes instead of celebrating creative free flow of ideas. Organization is important, he cautions, but generating ideas should come first.
Another Italian word, corporalita, or the balance of body and mind, is the sixth principle. As Gelb spoke to the group assembled in Chicago, I couldn’t help thinking that this particular principle is similar to what our parents taught us as children: moderation in everything. If you practice the first five da Vinci principles for genius, the sixth one follows easily.
The seventh and final principle is connectivity. In da Vinci’s genius, everything connects. Connectivity is no different than what local elected officials and public sector employees see every day. Whether the issue is stormwater and drainage, mental health and substance abuse, land use and zoning violations, or avian flu and public health, it is local governments and public employees who are tasked with finding solutions that work. They may not view their efforts as genius, but I suspect da Vinci would – from curiosity right on through connectivity.