from How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci 
by M. Gelb
also see DaVinci Power Point

Great musicians claim that their art comes to life in the spaces between notes.
Master sculptors point to the space around their work as the secret of its power.
Similarly, the spaces between your conscious efforts provide a key to creative living and problem solving.
These spaces allow perceptions, ideas, and feelings to incubate.

When Leonardo was working on The Last Supper, he spent many days on the scaffold, painting from dawn until dusk; then, without warning, he would take a break. The prior of Santa Maria dell Grazie who contracted for his services was not amused. As Vasarl noted, "The prior of the church entreated Leonardo with tiresome persistence to complete the work, since it seemed strange to him to see how Leonardo sometimes passed half a day at a time lost in thought, and he would have preferred Leonardo, just like the labourers hoeing in the garden, never to have laid down his brush.Vasari explains that the prior complained to the duke, who questioned Leonardo about his working habits. He tells us that Leonardo persuaded the duke that "the greatest geniuses sometimes accomplish more when they work less."

Clearly, Leonardo didn't underestimate his stature; yet pride in his abilities and confidence in the rhythms of incubation were balanced with humility and delightful humor. Vasarl relates that the maestro explained to the duke that he still had two faces to complete: Christ and Judas. The face of Christ, which ultimately was to remain unfinished, was a challenge that Leonardo felt to be beyond his powers, "for he was unwilling to seek a model on earth and unable to presume that his imagination could conceive of the beauty and celestial grace required of the divinity incarnate." As for the face of Judas, Leonardo explained to the duke that it would be a great challenge to find a model for one "so wicked as to betray his Lord the Creator of the World. Nonetheless, he would search for a model for this second face, but if in the end he could not find anything better, there was always the head of the prior."

Although your boss may not accept the idea that "the greatest geniuses sometimes accomplish more when they work less," the art of incubation is, nevertheless, essential to actualizing your creative potential. Almost everyone has experienced "sleeping on a problem" and awakening with a solution. But incubation is most effective when you alternate, as Leonardo did, between periods of intense, focused work and rest. Without periods of intense, focused work, there is nothing to be incubated.

Discovering and learning to trust your incubatory rhythms is a simple secret of accessing your intuition and creativity.
Sometimes incubation yields an obvious insight, or Aha! But frequently the fruits of unconscious work are subtle and easy to overlook.
The muses demand attention to the delicate nuances of thought, listening for the faint whispers of shy inner voices.

Neuroscientists estimate that your unconscious database outweighs the conscious on an order exceeding ten million to one.
This database is the source of your creative potential. In other words, a part of you is much smarter than you are.
The wisest people regularly consult that smarter part. You can, too, by making space for incubation.


Where are you when you get your best ideas? Over the past twenty years, I've asked thousands of people this question. The most frequent answers:
"resting in bed, walking in nature," "listening to music while driving in my car," and "relaxing in the shower or bath."
Almost no one claims to get their best ideas at work.

What happens when you walk in the woods, rest in bed, or luxuriate in the shower that isn't happening in the workplace?
Solitude and relaxation.
Most people experience their breakthrough ideas when they are relaxed and by themselves.

Although Da Vinci loved exchanging ideas with others, he knew that his most creative insights came when he was alone.
He wrote,
        "The painter must be solitary.... For if you are alone you are completely yourself,
                  but if you are accompanied by a single companion you are half yourself."

Nurture Sfumato by taking time for solitude. Take a little time, at least once or twice a week, to go for a walk or just sit quietly by yourself.


Young children are not ready to deal with the profound paradoxes of life. They do, however, love riddles and mysteries.
Nurture Sfurnato with games, puzzles, and stories.
For example, tell your kids the same bedtime stories, but make up different endings each time.
In addition to stimulating your own imaginative powers, you will be encouraging their delight in the unknown.
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