How to Be a Genius: Think Like Leonardo da Vinci
BY ROSEMARY ELLEN GUILEY
[This is one of my favorite articles: wisdom for optimum daily living distilled by author Michael
J. Gelb, a creativity and innovation expert, from one of the most influential thinkers of history.
I met Gelb at a conference in Santa Fe, where he gave a presentation on da Vinci. In this fast-
moving Year of the Dragon, we must be in top form to stay ahead of the curve.]
History has many geniuses, people whose thinking, creativity and innovation have shaped lives
for centuries into the future. It may seem at first glance that geniuses are born into their calling
by some combination of heritage and fate. But geniuses can be made, according to a man who
has studied the works and life of one of humanity’s greatest minds, Leonardo da Vinci. Learn to
think like da Vinci and you, too, can harness new powers of brain and mind.
Michael J. Gelb has developed a seven-step plan for daily living that he says will enable anyone
to step into bigger creative shoes. Gelb, a consultant in innovative thinking, is the author of the
best-selling How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci.
“Leonardo da Vinci is the archetype of human potential, self-knowledge and all types of
intelligence,” Gelb said. “His thinking and teaching were similar to Taoism. One of his mottos
was, fix your course to a star, and follow it.”
Leonardo Da Vinci
Da Vinci (1452-1519) lived in Italy during the Renaissance, one of the most fertile creative
periods in history. Titans of art, science, philosophy and literature flourished. Da Vinci stood
above them all. He may be best-known for his art – masterpieces such as the Mona Lisa and
The Last Supper, recognized as two of the greatest paintings ever done – but he also excelled in
science, architecture and invention. He was far ahead of his time.
His ideas were so prolific it is hard to list them all. He conceived of the airplane, helicopter,
parachute, three-speed gear shift, extendable ladder, folding furniture, bicycle, crane, alarm
clock, hydraulic jack, snorkel and more. In addition, he conceived of numerous labor-saving
devices, and an astonishing array of advanced weaponry. He made significant contributions to
anatomy, botany, geology and physics.
How on earth did all this genius pour out of a single mind in a few decades of time?
According to Gelb, a key to da Vinci’s creativity lay in his approach to daily life. The ideal
Renaissance thinker was well-rounded and open-minded. The modern Renaissance man or
woman also should be well-rounded in education in both liberal arts and science. One needn’t
be an authority in all fields, but should possess good knowledge. Other essentials for genius-
thinking: computer literacy, mental literacy, and global awareness.
Gelb has distilled da Vinci’s personal philosophy and creative approach into the following seven
principles. Embrace and incorporate them into your daily life in order to profoundly change your
Da Vinci was probably the most curious person who ever lived,” said Gelb. “He was curious
Probe, investigate, and don’t be afraid to ask “confounding questions.” Study with intensity.
Keep a notebook for ideas and inspirations. Nothing is too outlandish or impossible. One
seemingly “outlandish” idea may lead to a brilliant breakthrough.
Demonstration, said Gelb, is the “discipline of experience.” Draw your conclusions based on
your own experience, not on the word of others. One of our greatest challenges today, he said, is
too much information. Our own experience suffers as a result.
Da Vinci examined everything from three perspectives or suppositions. For example, when he
drew something, he drew it from three different angles. The lesson here is to examine things
from different perspectives in order to see the bigger picture.
Another part of Demonstration is taking responsibility for whatever you manifest, even your
“Da Vinci said that the five senses are the ministers of the soul,” Gelb said. “He also said that
the average person lives without experiencing their senses.”
Pay more attention to how you experience the world through all of your senses. Every
experience is full of lush subtleties. Most of us are so hurried, stressed and distracted that we
pay little attention to our senses. We’re too preoccupied with multi-tasking.
“Savor the joy of every moment,” said Gelb. “Everything is a miracle.”
“Sfumato” is an Italian term that literally means “going up in smoke,” or “turned to mist.” In
art, it describes the haziness in da Vinci’s art that gives his pieces their mysterious, mystical
To embrace Sfumato means to go into the unknown, the parts of life that are ambiguous and
uncertain. It also means embracing one’s own shadow side, the parts of our inner depths that are
difficult or even forbidding to explore.
The artist or Renaissance person who brings forth Sfumato brings forth what lies within.
This refers to the art within science and the science within art. According to da Vinci, the two
go hand in hand. “He said that trying to be an artist without science is like setting sail without a
rudder,” Gelb said.
Mastering Art/Science involves integrating right-brain thinking with left-brain thinking. It is
expansive ideas that are organized into logical structure. It’s one thing to dream big, but one
must organize the dream into a process of manifestation.
Corporality involves taking care of one’s physical health to maintain vigor, energy and stamina.
Good physical health aids creativity and mental processes.
Corporality also involves poise and grace in all situations.
Connectedness refers to a holistic outlook, and patience in the unfolding of processes and events.
Da Vinci paid keen attention to the patterns and connections in his environment, and how one
thing either profoundly or subtly affected another thing, Gelb said. He related these patterns to
his ideas, and was not afraid to combine different elements into bold new patterns.
In daily life, see how different, even disparate, things and events are interconnected.
Gelb’s exploration of da Vinci’s genius is further explored in his books and audio programs
How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, Da Vinci Decoded, The Spirit of Leonardo and Work
Like da Vinci. He gives numerous exercises and suggestions for integrating da Vinci’s
principles into daily life. Gelb has also written Innovate Like Edison
Rosemary Ellen Guiley is a consulting editor of FATE and the author of more than 50 books on
paranormal and metaphysical topics.