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Motion System Design

Vene, vede da Vinci Curiosit

Leonardo da Vinci's formula for creativity, described in the prologue of this series, is based on seven characteristics or behaviors. Da Vinci believed that by cultivating these behaviors he could develop his creativity. I suspect we can do the same.

The first and perhaps most important requisite in creativity is curiosity. This profound quality, inherent in nature, is the engine of the learning process, displayed by humans and animals alike. Without it, no living creature could reach its potential.

When reflecting on his own curiosity, da Vinci wrote, “I roamed the countryside searching for answers to things I didn't understand — why shells existed on the tops of mountains, along with the imprints of corals and plants and seaweed? Why the thunder lasts longer than the lightening which causes it? Also why, immediately on its creation, lightning becomes visible to the eye while thunder requires time to travel? How the various circles of water form around the spot that has been struck by a stone, and why a bird sustains itself in the air? These questions and other strange phenomena engaged my thoughts throughout my life.”

Da Vinci understood the connection between curiosity, the unknown, and creativity. The unknown — for da Vinci, for all of us — is curiosity's playground, and the place where creativity cuts its teeth. Creativity, after all, amounts to making the unknown known and establishing the unestablished. How we go about it, how we fill in the blanks, is a process learned by exploring the universe and discovering how it works. From this perspective it is clear that we are all born to be creative, and no one has laid claim to this birthright quite like Leonardo da Vinci.

Over the course of his life, Da Vinci's curiosity led him to study anatomy, astronomy, biology, botany, geology, geometry, materials, optics, and physics. I kind of picture him moving from one subject to the next like an inquisitive puppy or kitten jumping through a field of flowers. Although he never mastered any subject, his explorations were more than sufficient to provide him with a context for his creativity, manifested primarily through his drawings and designs.

Even in the “confines” of his artwork, da Vinci found ways to awaken his curiosity and thus spark his creativity. One technique that he practiced was to look at his work in a mirror so that it would seem like someone else created it. This fresh perspective often helped him see what he could not envision within the grip of the picture's working perspective. Imagine what he could have done with the computers and computer graphics at our disposal.

Another trick da Vinci often employed was to walk away from his work and return with an open mind and unfettered eyes. In the meantime, he would go out and “roam the countryside,” filling his senses with the sights and sounds of nature. For us modern da Vinci emulators, even a quick break, a stroll in the employee parking lot, can help clear the mind. Of course, a two-week vacation to a remote corner of the globe would work even better.

Sometimes da Vinci walked away from his work only to look back at it from a distance. He believed that the new observation point could reveal interesting and potentially helpful details. Getting someone else's opinion — tapping a truly unique vantage point — could be just as helpful, if not more so.

Thankfully, there are many things we can do to make ourselves more creative. And they begin with the pleasure of exploring our own curiosity. We may never be da Vincis, but we can most certainly train ourselves to be more da Vinci-like.

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