Thinking Like Leonardo da Vinci

4 mins read

In a stable world devoid of change, we can solve problems by applying standard techniques, principles and rules. However, the age of technological change we are now living in constantly challenges us to find new solutions. Therefore, if you want to keep up with the times and develop your curiosity, creativity or scientific thinking, it would be a great idea to take Leonardo Da Vinci as a role model and learn to think like him.

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Developing Curiosity and Inquiry

Born in 1452 in the Tuscan village of Vinci, Leonardo da Vinci was a Renaissance man. Mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, painter, sculptor, architect, botanist, musician and writer. Curiosity about everything was his defining characteristic. He had insights that were ahead of his time. His observation and belief in the interconnectedness of all things underpinned much of his work.

To think like Leonardo, it is not enough just to acquire knowledge. You also need to question the answers you are given and form your own ideas about the world you live in. A creative thinker does not hide behind safe ideas, but seeks the truth, even at the risk of being wrong. He lets his curiosity rule his mind without worrying if he will make a mistake.

A curious mind embraces the unknown, the mysterious and the frightening (Leonardo spent countless hours studying cadavers in unsterile conditions to learn about anatomy). Curiosity ultimately leads to looking for patterns in ideas and images, finding similarities between concepts. For example, Leonardo Da Vinci would never have invented his bicycle, the “mechanical horse”, without making the connection between the seemingly unrelated concepts of horseback riding and simple gears.

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A Scientific Perspective

Sometimes the simplest questions have the most complex answers. How does a bird fly? Why is the sky blue? It was questions like these that drove Leonardo Da Vinci to his innovative genius and scientific work. Learn to formulate research questions about things that interest you and test them to get results. When you begin to form your own opinion or answer about a particular topic, determine what criteria will be necessary to accept or reject it. What can prove that you are right or wrong? How can you test your opinion? A scientific thinker questions his or her idea until all options have been tried, examined, confirmed or rejected. Don’t be immediately disappointed if your hypothesis is wrong. This is a chance to learn from your mistakes.

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The sketchbooks in which Leonardo recorded his notes are today considered works of art and priceless. These notebooks, in which he recorded his daily experiences and ideas, were the key to his creativity. Writing forces you to think in a different way, to express your fuzzy thoughts in a concrete way. Also, one of Leonardo’s mottos and the basis of his work is “saper vedere”, to know how to see. In other words, observing the world is as important as writing.

No doubt if Leonardo were alive today he would be confused and perhaps frustrated by modern notions of career. Imagine him sullenly going to work in the office, wasting hours and coming home late to watch Netflix. Surely we would not have been able to observe many of the above traits in such a life cycle. He was a character unique to his time and came and went, leaving an important mark on history. However, incorporating small clues from his life into our routine habits may allow us to live more meaningful lives, even if we cannot think like Leonardo.


Ali Esen

Istanbul University, Department of Mathematics. Interested in science and technology.