The greatest deception men suffer from is their own opinions.
– Leonardo DaVinci
Recently I visited an exhibit on Leonardo DaVinci at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. It featured a wide variety of his paintings, writings, and most impressive: replicas of inventions he sketched out. It occurred to me that so many of the things we take for granted today – lifts, pulleys, levers, water power, city planning, even aviation – were once considered nothing more than daydreams in DaVinci’s modern world of the Renaissance.
Yet those daydreams became realities that changed everything.
At the exhibit, I realized that in many ways, I’d spent my career daydreaming. Looking back on much of my writing and speaking, some of my better contributions came from those opportunities where I challenged the accepted wisdom, and thought like a Renaissance inventor. What if we tried something different, new, or entirely weird? What if a mere portion of the things we were told told about careers, markets, customers, wasn’t true? What if the problems we struggle with daily had already been solved by someone in the past?
What if the simplest thing we could do each day was to make room for the possibility of:
Call it a Renaissance Mindset. Making space for the possible is perhaps the most important innovation of all. Not until we become willing to entertain the daydream can we make room for new results. We could all use a little more Enlightenment-style thinking in our day.
One of the other things you learn about DaVinci at the exhibit is that he wrote backwards. It looks as if his handwriting was done in a mirror. Talk about an entirely different way of seeing the world: Perhaps unlocking your creative potential can’t even begin until you reverse everything. Put away the spreadsheets and traditions and social streams, and ask yourself, What if I did this all in reverse?
I think about the Renaissance Mindset almost every time I see another article pushed onto the web. This is how it is, so many proclaim. Here’s how it must be, they are so certain. That will never work, they dismiss. It’s understandable why we don’t ask ourselves What if more than we do: Too often a billion social-media fingers are poised to stop us in our tracks. Pushing through that resistance takes a lot of dedication.
Here’s what DaVinci did when he painted: Focus on the shadows. Look at the diffuse, unclear edges of what seems certain, to discover the possibilities. I call this the what if zone of things we consider well defined already. Poke around in the shadows now and then. So many inventions – small differences that created big changes – might be just on the edge of your certainty. You might find a lot of innovations – in how you work and play – are much closer than you think.
And most of all, when you hear the naysayers telling you to stop daydreaming and get back to reality, remember DaVinci’s advice that “it’s the business of little minds to shrink.”