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BEING Da Vinci.

Seven steps to thinking like a genius.

"NEAL HERMANN, FOUNDER OF THE WHOLE BRAIN CORPORATION, DEVELOPED A TEST TO determine hemispheric dominance. In his workshops, Hermann has been known to take those who test out as 'ultra-left' and 'ultra-right,' and give them a special assignment. They are allowed two hours to complete it. The ultra-left-brained group returns exactly on time, having completed a typewritten report, with all the i's dotted and t's crossed. Beautifully organized, their report is painfully boring and uninspired. The ultra-right-hemisphere group involves itself in a philosophical debate on the meaning of the assignment. They return at different times with ideas scratched on scrap paper, disorganized and generally useless.

"The two groups are then combined into one, with a facilitator guiding them as they work together on another task. They return on time with a balanced, organized, creative product. The, lesson: Effectiveness demands the creation of balanced brain teams."

Michael J. GeIb, organizational consultant and founder and president of The High Performance Learning Center, Edgewater, New Jersey, uses this example to illustrate one of the seven principles in his book How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day (1998, Delacorte Press). In a live two-hour telecast presented by PBS The Business and Technology Network last February, Gelb explained how individuals and organizations can apply his seven principles to improve communication, encourage creative and innovative thinking, and foster a team environment in the workplace.

Learning from Leonardo

"Business today requires a new kind of resume," Gelb contends. "You've got to be critical thinkers and creative thinkers." He believes that Da Vinci embodied the qualities that represent the essence of human potential. Da Vinci cultivated individual thinking and also bad an emotional intelligence that enabled him to get along with and work well with others. With enough determination and persistence, anyone can achieve this level of genius, Gelb says, and his book outlines the steps that individuals and organizations can take to tap into that potential and revitalize themselves.

1. Curiosita: approaching life with insatiable curiosity and an unrelenting quest for continual learning. "One of the simplest things that you can do is keep a journal," Gelb says. "When you have to do a report at work, it has to be linear. Scholars criticized Leonardo for not having a table of contents in his journal. One of the ways to free your mind is to keep a notebook and just muse."

Much of our education is based on a bureaucratic, industrial model, he explains, and as kids we learn that the name of the game is getting the right answer. But maintaining a childlike quality opens the door to creativity. "We need to come to work every day with a tremendous curiosita," he suggests. "Most business innovations are inspired by the question, 'What if?"' That notion of continually seeking ways to improve is at the core of the learning organization.

2. Dimostrazione: committing to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistakes. "The way we learn from our mistakes is the greatest long-term predictor of our success, for individuals and for organizations," he says. "Leonardo knew that to think for yourself you have to be highly critical. He looked at everything from at least three perspectives." The best leaders and managers rely on experience to guide their decision making and don't allow others to overrule their judgment. "What is the most valuable commodity in business today? It's independent thinking."

3. Sensazione: continually refining the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience. Gelb often advises his clients to practice comparative appreciation-listen to two versions of the same piece of music or hold a wine tasting. Both are excellent team-building exercises for organizations, he points out. "Sharpen all of your senses-that's a critical key to business success. You want to be sharper than your competition. The most successful CEOs I know create a vivid, multisensory vision of success."

Gelb notes in his book: "Leonardo emphasized the importance of an aesthetically uplifting working environment. He understood that the sensory impressions from our daily environments act as a kind of food for our brains. Most people in the organizational world, however, suffer from mental malnutrition, the result of a regular 'junk-food diet' of sensory impressions. Our workplaces often resemble government offices, hospitals, schools, and prisons, featuring cubicle structures, generic wall color, and fluorescent lights.

"Ironically, organizations everywhere are issuing urgent calls for greater creativity, innovation, and involvement from all levels. They ask their employees to 'think out of the box' while confining them in boxes. As organizations demand greater creativity and innovation from their members, they must provide environments that encourage the behaviors they require."

4. Sfumato: embracing ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty. "This represents the most distinct characteristic of highly creative people--the ability to go off into the unknown," Gelb notes. Most people say that they get their best ideas when they're in the shower, the bath, the car, or lying in bed in the morning. "Very few people have ever said, 'I get my best ideas at work,'" he observes. "It happens when your mind is free. Listen to your intuition and make space for incubation."

Da Vinci understood that incubation is most effective when you alternate between periods of intense, focused work and rest, Gelb says in his book. "Modern psychological research shows that when you study or work for an hour, and then take a complete break for 10 minutes, your recall for the material you have been working on is higher at the end of the 10-minute break than it was at the end of the hour."

Gelb goes on to note that in the 1980s, the American Management Association published a study concluding that the most successful managers were distinguished by "high tolerance for ambiguity and intuitive decision-making skill." Additional studies indicate that senior executives overwhelmingly point to a failure to heed their own intuition as the prime cause of their worst decisions. Gelb's advice: "Embrace ambiguity and trust your gut."

5. Arte/Scienza: balancing science and art, logic and imagination...what's known as "whole-brain thinking." The example at the beginning of this article illustrates this principle--Finding the right balance between critical and creative thinking. "In the Information Age, you can't afford to use only half of your brain," he asserts. "The best [thinkers] are those who balance analysis and intuition." But too often, he adds, organizations polarize. The key to creating a team environment in the workplace is to get commitment from the highest level of the organization. "Have senior management involved at every opportunity. Also, literally change the physical environment."

Gelb also encourages organizations to practice "mind mapping"--a whole-brain method for generating and organizing ideas that integrates linear thinking with imagination. "Mind mapping frees you from the tyranny of premature organization, which stifles your generation of ideas," he explains in his book. "Mind mapping liberates your conceptual powers by balancing generation and organization while encouraging the full range of mental expression."

6. Corporalita: cultivating grace, ambidexterity, fitness, and poise. "Craft your own program for balancing body and mind--the two can't be separated," Gelb advises. The same holds true for organizations, he says in his book.

"Most corporate bodies are overly stiff and dominated by unconscious habit. In many meetings and brainstorming sessions, for example, people sit around for hours, in more or less the same position, trying to generate new ideas and solve problems. And then they wonder, 'Why are we stuck?'

"Many organizations are introducing brief, sitting massage sessions, yoga, and aikido classes to help their people discover greater physical and mental flexibility." Gelb describes an exercise in which two people face each other and one person copies the other's movements. More movements are added, with the object being to move as many body parts as possible at the same time. This exercise, he explains, "shakes up old patterns, liberates lots of energy, and wakes up the possibility of making new connections."

(7.) Connessione: recognizing and appreciating the interconnectedness of all things-- "systems thinking." "Leonardo intuited that to understand a system, you have to test it under extreme pressure," Gelb says. "When there is a crisis you find out what your organization's vision really is." He advises organizations to develop a clear and powerful vision that addresses the question, What do we do? Similarly, have a mission that answers the questions, What do we do to get there? What are our values and are they in alignment with the vision and the mission?

"Integrate your mission, vision, strategy, values, and tactics," he continues. "Create an environment that encourages people to learn from their mistakes. Be committed to continuous learning and expand your outlook." Gelb's book stresses the importance of creating a learning organization. "Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, emphasizes that complex, rapidly changing systems demand that we cultivate '...a discipline for seeing wholes...a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than snapshots."' Gelb offers a series of questions to use as a starting point to evaluate an organization's dynamics. (See sidebar, "Do You Have a Winning Team?")

"The biggest problem in organizations is that people haven't been trained to think creatively and communicate effectively," he says. "You've got to address the processoriented questions. I don't have a client who hasn't had a merger, a reorganization, or a reinvention numerous times. The problem is that we don't expect things to change all of a sudden." But every organization needs to focus on the big picture, he emphasizes. "If you don't have a clear purpose, you will be buffeted about by the pace of change, which is only going to accelerate."

Jane Eisinger is associate editor of ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT.


The following questions can lead to a greater understanding of the systems dynamics of your organization and each individual's role, which will strengthen teamwork and promote a learning environment.

* What role does each department play?

* How are the roles interdependent?

* What are the benefits of the distribution of roles? What are the costs?

* What happens to the dynamics under stress?

* What patterns have been handed down over generations?

* What are the primary outside forces that affect the organization's dynamics?

* What were the dynamics like one year ago? Seven years ago? How have they changed? What will they be like in a year? In seven years?

* How do the patterns of functioning you learned in your organization affect the way you participate in other groups?

You can also examine your organization's dynamics by using the human body as a metaphor:

* Who is the head?

* Who is the heart?

* Is the head in balance with the body?

* What is our backbone?

* Does the right hand know what the left hand is doing?

* What is our state of health? Do we have chronic maladies, natural growing pains, or a life-threatening disease?

* Are we working to become more fit, strong, flexible, and poised?

Excerpted from How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day (1998, Delacorte).
COPYRIGHT 2001 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:how to think creatively
Publication:Association Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2001

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