I really loved Walter Isaacson’s book on Steve Jobs, so I was waiting excitedly for his new book on Leonardo Da Vinci for some time!
Before reading, I knew the general story of LDV, but the richness of the detail provided by Isaacson gave me a much more well rounded and human view of the polymath. To be honest, what I found most interesting was the volume of unfinished or unpublished work left by LDV was so much more that what he did complete and publish. The bulk of the work he’s known for was extracted from his famous notebooks. The amount of information, data, ideas, lists, thoughts, and sketched in his approximately 7,800 pages is daunting. It is in these notebooks where the vastness of his genius is rendered.
Here are a few lessons I took from the book:
How often do we have a fleeting idea that seems brilliant when we have it, but that is soon forgotten because we forget about it? LDV recorded everything, and I should do the same. He used his notebooks (which I plan on emulating), but we have so many capture tools that there is no excuse for not recording any thoughts we have, no matter how silly they may seem. Whether it is a voice memo or picture on our phone, or online databases such as Evernote, Dropbox, or Google Drive, or just a good old fashioned Moleskine, we’ve never been more able to make a quick note or sketch of anything that pops in our head. We should all take advantage. Nothing will come of most ideas, but every so often, a gem will appear, and it would be a shame not to record it!
LDV would not only record ideas in his notebooks, but also questions that he wanted to answer. Isaacson’s favorite questions is about the description of a woodpecker’s tongue, which demonstrates the width and breadth of LDV’s interests. But the point is that he was curious about everything, and followed up with his own hypotheses and studies. I willing to be that most of these questions were just personal curiosities that led nowhere, but the practice of curiosity is essential to innovation. Seemingly trivial questions can lead nowhere initially, but their answers can be useful in the future in ways we can’t yet imagine. LDV questioned and studied the shape, form, and function of bird wings, without which we could not have developed aircraft.
Also, being curious is a form of mindfulness. If you are curious, you are present in the moment, getting out of your own head and observing what’s around you. This is a very healthy practice and a form of meditation, which has many benefits.
In summary, I highly recommend this book. It flows quickly, covers vast swaths of a vast life, and is inspiring to any engineer, or creative type.