Learning from Leonardo
I finished reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Leonardo Da Vinci last night. His conclusion includes a set of bullet points that serve as sage wisdom. The list is especially compelling in these days of physical distancing and social isolation. I offer them, not as a copout of having to write something, but as a resource list. These days are perfect days for being a bit like Leonardo.
• Be curious, relentlessly curious.
• Seek knowledge for its own sake.
• Retain a childlike sense of wonder.
• Start with the details.
• See things unseen.
• Go down rabbit holes.
• Get distracted.
• Respect facts.
• Let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
• Think visually.
• Avoid silos.
• Let your reach exceed your grasp.
• Indulge fantasy.
• Create for yourself, not just for patrons.
• Make lists.
• Take notes, on paper.
• Be open to mystery.
This list serves as a map. You might not be able to paint a Mona Lisa or The Last Supper, but this map will lead you just as far as it led Da Vinci.
I have two comments. First, I now have it in writing by a published, celebrated author, that I have permission to procrastinate. I’ve never needed Isaacson’s permission before, but now that I have it—I am going to procrastinate to the best of my very capable ability to procrastinate.
Secondly, the reassurance to ‘let your reach exceed your grasp’ feels right these days. For the many facts before us, for the wisdom of the listmakers and the notetakers, for the collaborators and the curious trying to cure an illness, for the compassionate caregivers, for the parents and children trying to hold it together for one more day, for friends trying keep their neighborhoods safe—all of these might exceed our grasp, but they are still within reach. With courage, with patience, with perseverance, they are within our reach.