An Open Letter on Creativity from DaVinci

Dear friends,

Thank-you for celebrating my birthday each year.  My, time flies! 

It seems like only yesterday that I was painting the Mona Lisa; dissecting human bodies; perfecting my paints through chemistry, then called “amalgamy”; building military weapons; designing theater stages and costumes; planning cities; and philosophizing.

Some people wonder how I was so creative.  Well, let me share a few tips so you too can find your creativity.

1.         Know you, yes you, are creative!  Everyone is creative.  Some of you are more creative than other people.  Some of you create by building on what others before you did.  Others of you are very original in your creativity.  You may be creative in one area and not another.  But, always remember, you are creative.

2.         Be curious!  I was considered a genius in 18 areas, from science to the fine arts, from math to philosophy.  How was I able to do so?  I was interested in everything.  In fact, some of my patrons complained because I would start their project, then get interested in something else, and eventually finished it (usually).

3.         Be observant!  I would spend hours and hours watching one object.  That’s how I got my idea for what you now call the “helicopter.”  I sat for hours watching birds fly.  From that, I drew my prototype– and now you fly like the birds.

4.         Be open to new ideas!  Defer judgment!  If you close down your mind, you can never see the value of something new.  In other words, in order for new ideas to come out of your head, you must be willing to put new ideas in.

5.         Relax and enjoy what you are doing!  Stress is a creativity killer.

6.         Make mistakes!  By making “mistakes,” you will discover what does not work.  Eventually, you will discover what does work– then you have created something new, unique and usable.

7.         Connect things that seem disconnected!  For instance, I became interested in the anatomy of humans and horses partly so my paintings and sculptures were more exact.  Most things are connected to each other.  You just have to find the connections.           

8.         Keep notes on what you learn!  In my career, I kept a detailed journal, about 13,000 pages.  It contained my notes and sketches of my work.  As I was working, I could build more ideas on things I had previously discovered.  To this day, people study my journals.  In fact, Bill Gates owns a part of my journals– paid a lot of money for them too. 

Unfortunately, I did not publish my journals.  Had I, according to some, it would not have taken 40 years after my death for Copernicus to proclaim that the earth revolved around the sun; 60 years after my death for Galileo to discover the telescope; 200 years after my death for Newton to write the law of gravity; and 400 years after my death for Darwin to connect animals and humans.  You see, my notes suggested all these “discoveries”!  In this, your day, 2011, some people have said that, had my notes be available to everyone, your technology would be 200 years advanced from what it is now.

9.         You don’t have to be “special” to be creative!  No complaining, but my childhood was lousy.  My mother was a peasant; we lived in poverty.  My father was a notary, now called an accountant; he showed limited interest in me.  I was an illegitimate child.  I never went to college, though I was an apprentice.  Nevertheless, I always wanted to learn.

10.       Take risks!  You can only discover something new if you embrace risk.  Don’t worry about what other people will say about your ideas. The truth is: at one time or another, people laughed at some of the greatest inventions.  For instance, some people said there was no market for a “box from which voices came out.”  That was the radio.  A former IBM president predicted that there was no market for personal computers.  Grading a paper of Fred Smith, a Yale professor said: “The concept is really interesting and well-informed but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the concept must be feasible.” From that paper, Smith built Federal Express.

11.       Laugh a lot!  Play!  These are invaluable ingredients for creativity. 

                                                                                                                                                                 Very truly yours,

                                                                               Leonardo da Vinci                                                                                      (With the assistance of the folks at the Center for Creative Solutions)