What makes a genius? I thought about this over the weekend as I reflected on Leonardo da Vinci. Not only was he a genius, but the exhibit at Houston’s Museum of Natural Science gave some pretty good clues about how each of us can create conditions for our own “genius moments” to arise.
First of all, Leonardo wrote stuff down. Did he ever! He filled hundred of notebooks, and sketch books, and journals. Whenever he had an idea for anything, he wrote it down. He didn’t wait until the idea was perfect, he just wrote down what he was thinking about, or studying. He came back time and again to elaborate, refine, or revise. A rough sketch, then later more detail, then later to incorporate a new insight–everything was a “work in progress.” Perhaps he was so prolific because he was not too much of a perfectionist at the early stages.
Secondly, he didn’t let limitations stop him. He was limited by history: he was working a hundred years before Newton, and before Galileo, so there was no highly developed science of physics or astronomy that he could draw upon to develop his ideas further. He was limited by materials: his inventions were made of wood, canvas, and glue. No steel, no aluminum, no titanium, no plastic, no electricity! And yet, he kept having ideas, whether they seemed feasible or not. He was limited by resources and the imaginations of those around him: many, if not most, of his inventions were never built during his lifetime. Apparently, he didn’t let any possible discouragement stop him: he kept thinking, kept writing things down.
Next, he allowed all of his interests to be expressed. Don’t forget, this is also the guy who painted the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper. Painter, musician, engineer, inventor, he did it all, hence the term “Renaissance Man.” This made me think of how in modern times we “track” kids according to their obvious strengths. We’ve gotten the idea that you’re either good at math and science OR you’re an artistic or literary type. Does this limit the possibilities that a “Renaissance Person” in our own time might emerge? Maybe if we let kids experiment more with what interests them, all of their abilities could grow. Maybe if you and I experimented with what interests us, those abilities could grow, too! He invented, painted, journaled, and wrote music throughout his whole life, so apparently he was not limited by the idea that “it’s too late.”
Moshe Feldenkrais was a genius and renaissance man of the last century. He was an engineer, physicist, accomplished athlete, and judo black belt who spoke multiple languages fluently. His genius, and the genius of the Feldenkrais Method, follows the same path of Leonardo. Work by successive approximations, let learning occur. Don’t crash through a limitation, just keep experimenting and something interesting and useful will probably happen. Open up your mind, your viewpoint, your activities and do something you wouldn’t ordinarily do. You may find more and more moments of your own genius bubbling up to the surface. Think of the possibilities!