Learning from Leonardo

Da Vinci's Genius Habits

Leonardo da Vinci's Arte & Scienza: Using Both Sides of Your Brain

By Linda Dessau | Posted 6/6/06 | Updated 4/6/23

Da Vinci's Genius Habits

Da Vinci made the most of the left- and right-sides of his brain as seen in his note taking, likely inspiring Tony Buzan's technique of mind mapping.

Be honest, now. Have you ever used your creativity as an excuse for being disorganized? Or claimed any other cliched artist trait like being flaky, bad with money, late or scatter-brained?

“Arte/Scienza: The development of the balance between science and art, logic and imagination. 'Whole-brain' thinking”, is a chapter in Michael J. Gelb's, How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. Arte/Scienza is one of seven principles that the book explores.

Gelb writes, “Left-brainers think, ‘I'm sorry, I'm left-brained. I can't possibly be creative or imaginative.’ And right-brainers make the mistake of programming themselves: ‘Well, I'm right-brained — I can't possibly come to meetings on time’”(170).

So it's not just artists. Right- or left-brained, we've all become victims of our stereotypes. Though most of us draw on both sides of the brain much more than we think, we usually get boxed into thinking we're predominantly wired to either imagination OR logic.

Mind Mapping

One method that Da Vinci used and Gelb explains exquisitely is mind-mapping. “Mind mapping is a whole-brain method for generating and organizing ideas, originated by Tony Buzan, and largely inspired by Da Vinci's approach to note taking (169).”

Mind mapping encourages you to spread your ideas out, one-by-one, in a graphic way versus a linear way.

Mind-mapping helps you to be a more balanced thinker because it draws on your imaginative and creative abilities AS WELL AS your organizational and analytical abilities.

“Be sure you know the structure of all you wish to depict” (from da Vinci's, Treatise on Painting (167).

I love structure. One of my strengths as a writer is to pull together and organize thoughts into a coherent whole with a clear topic and sub-topics that are easy to identify and follow.

And, what I've noticed is that I can't start with the structure, I have to start with the ideas.

“It is just plain illogical to try to organize your ideas before you've generated them (171).”

When I remember to use a tool like mind mapping or free writing to brainstorm and generate ideas, I'm blessed with a much bigger pool of thoughts and possibilities to fit within a structure for my end product.

10 Ways Mind Mapping Can Help a Creative Mind

1. Connection

Mind mapping provides a visual guide to the connections between ideas; you can see all your many ideas laid out in the same place.

2. Creativity.

Opens the floodgates and calls on your senses, not just your thinking mind; mind mapping is a visual and tactile process, gets you away from the computer and back to using paper and pen.

3. Awakening

Lights numerous sparks, evokes new ideas and challenges you to be open to them.

4. Confidence.

Shows you the breadth of your work and ideas, immediate visual feedback of your efforts.

5. Practical

Gets you into action and moving forward; "dump" now, organize later.

6. Forgiving

Non-intimidating and non-judgmental; there's no wrong way and no wrong answers on a mind map; bypasses the inner critic.

7. Structure

Gelb provides basic ‘rules’ (176) and these rules are explained, not just decreed; mind mapping provides a form for your formless ideas.

8. Passport

Provides access for you and your ideas into the left-brain world; helps you to help left-brainers understand your ideas.

9. Safe House

A place for your ideas to live while you're contemplating them; nothing gets lost; no fear of forgetting; you don't have to know what you're going to do with them yet.

10. Infinite

You can stop your mind map and start again; you can re-do it so it's a closer interpretation of your current thought process; you can add to it or scribble things out and write over them.

I've used mind mapping recently, with very successful results. It was to create an article for my newsletter with a topic I'd been pondering for months, and been collecting opinions and feedback from readers and experts beforehand.

I was left feeling a bit overwhelmed about how to turn it all into a coherent piece! My solution? Maybe I'll try a mind map!

As a result I was able to pull together all of my thoughts as well as the quotes and interviews I'd collected. The mind map loosened me up and, most importantly, got me into action!

There's no reason we have to settle for scattered thoughts just because we're creative. And there's no reason to settle for a mediocre trickle of ideas because we desire a structured finished product.

We can enlist both parts of our brain to work together and watch our creativity pour forth AND take shape.

Copyright ©2006 Linda Dessau. All rights reserved.

How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day

Da Vinci's Art and Science

Using both sides of your brain.

Da Vinci's Sfumato

Opening to experience.

Da Vinci's Dimostrazione

Learning from your mistakes.

Da Vinci's Corporalita

Taking care of your body

Da Vinci's Sensazione

Awakening your senses.

Da Vinci's Connessione

Seeing the connection in everything.

Da Vinci's Curiosity

Being curious about everything.