| November 16, 2017

A Man's Life, Podcast

Podcast #357: How to Be a Creative Genius Like da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci has become the ultimate archetype of the creative genius. Besides his famous paintings, including the Mona Lisa, da Vinci had insights into anatomy and optics that would take science a few hundred years to verify. While Leonardo’s genius seems like a gift from the gods, my guest today argues that it was actually the result of years of human effort and toil. 

Today on the show I have the pleasure of speaking with famed author Walter Isaacson about his latest biography called Leonardo da Vinci. We begin the show talking about what has drawn Isaacson to write about innovative individuals like da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, and Steve Jobs, and how Isaacson has discovered that it’s at the intersection of science and the humanities that all great innovations are made. 

We then dig into the life of da Vinci and lessons we can take away from him. Walter tells us about da Vinci’s famous notebooks and what he kept in them, and makes the case that all of us should be carrying around a little notebook for ideas too. We then dig into the the myth of the solitary genius and how Leonardo collaborated all throughout his life on some of his greatest works. We then discuss one of the great paradoxes of da Vinci’s life: that he could be both intensely focused and hugely flighty, and how both sides of this character were key to his genius. We end our conversation talking about how we can develop the same kind of power of intense concentration that da Vinci wielded, even in our distracted, digital world.

Show Highlights

  • What is Isaacson’s draw to writing biographies about innovators?
  • Why writing about Leonardo da Vinci was not as challenging as it might seem
  • Da Vinci’s thousands and thousands of pages of notebooks
  • Why every man should follow his example and jot down notes throughout the day
  • How Leonardo honed his genius (and how he was just like us)
  • Cultivating and exploring our own curiosities
  • The ways in which Leonardo collaborated with other people
  • Did da Vinci care about getting credit for his works?
  • Contrasting da Vinci and Michelangelo
  • The ways in which da Vinci’s scientific pursuits informed his art
  • The interplay of direct experience and theory in da Vinci’s life
  • Why it was actually fortunate that Leonardo was born out of wedlock
  • How Leonardo used analogy to form new insights
  • The ways in which Leonardo actually fights being a painter
  • How Leonardo balanced economics and art/creativity
  • Why we need to be tolerant and accepting of people who think different
  • How to appreciate the quirkiness in ourselves
  • Honing our powers of observation and focus in a digital world

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Leonardo da Vinci is a tome of a book, but like other Isaacson biographies, you get sucked in and lose track of how long you’ve been reading because of how engaging and interesting it is. I learned a lot, not just about da Vinci, but also about Renaissance Italy.

Connect With Walter

Walter on Twitter

Walter on Facebook

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Last updated: December 7, 2017

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