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Encouraging The Creative Mind: Lessons from Leonardo

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

It’s tempting to think that our intelligence is measured through our verbal reasoning and mathematical capacities but such a narrow version of intelligence has been thoroughly debunked by contemporary psychology.

Howard Gardner in his work Frames of Mind, believes we have 7 major forms of intelligence.

Here they are, as listed by Michael Gelb, from his work ‘How to think like Leonardo da Vinci’, complete with examples of each intelligence in action:


1. Logical-mathematical
— Stephen Hawkings, Isaac Newton, Marie Curie
2. Verbal-Linguistic — William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson and Jorge Luis Borges
3. Spatial-Mechanical — Michelangelo, Georgia O’Keefe
4. Musical — Mozart, Ella Fitzgerald
5. Bodily-Kinesthetic – Muhammad Ali, Martha Graham
6. Interpersonal-Social — Nelson Mandela, Queen Elizabeth I
7. Intrapersonal (Self-Knowledge) — Thich Nhat Hanh, Mother Teresa.

Of course, given such a list of intelligences that we possess, intelligence does not/cannot exist solely in your head! Neuro-scientists insist that we are intelligent at our very cellular level, and as a result, the mind-body-spirit separation that occurred over time in history does not serve us well. Moreover, as we get older, our brains are capable of making increasingly more complex new connections if we encourage them to do so. And this is the rub. In order for our intelligences to become developed equally, we must take a holistic approach to their development, only then do we have a chance of becoming, like Leonardo da Vinci, gifted, multi-talented individuals. Renaissance men and women.

Michael Gelb, based on a study of Leonardo and his methods, offers 7 Da Vincian principles to be remembered, developed and applied (across all ages!):

1. Curiosita – a perpetual curiosity and willingness to ask questions, continually learning about the world around you
2. Dimostrazione – the application of knowledge to experience and being willing to learn from mistakes
3. Sensazione – the refinement and development of sensory intelligence, especially sight as a way of enlivening experience
4. Sfumato – to go up in smoke – the willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty
5. Arte/Scienza – whole brain thinking — balancing science and art, logic and imagination
6. Corporalita – the cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness and poise
7. Connessione – systemic thinking – the ability to recognize and appreciate the interconnectedness of all phenomena.

Renaissance men and women are not restricted to any societal period. Indeed, many people demanding educational reform to create citizens more capable of living and thriving in an interdependent world believe that we need a new form of Renaissance individual for these times. Our current educational systems demand us to specialize, when really, a more general and generous understanding of the holistic nature of our world would serve us better. At the very least, contemporary and future citizens need to be digitally literate as well as globally aware.

In this new year, consider how you can expand your repertoire of intelligences — what would you like to learn this year? what would your kids like to learn? How can you begin to craft a creative mind and life based on Da Vinci’s principles?

With thanks to maven and Dave ‘Coconuts’… for their images!

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