Leonardo da Vinci: An Early Design Thinker

In Unlocking Creativity, Michael Roberto explains how to solve any problem and make the best decisions by shifting creative mindsets.

Leaders at all levels “should not focus simply on finding ‘better’ people, but instead remove the obstacles that impede the creativity of the talented individuals already in their midst. The best leaders acknowledge that they might not have the creative solutions to their organization’s most significant challenges. They seek to marshal the collective intellect of their people and unleash the creative capabilities of those around them. These leaders embrace the responsibility to create a supportive environment and dismantle the barriers to creativity. This book aims to help leaders in this mission to build more creative enterprises.” whatever the size and nature the given organization may be.

Roberto notes several similarities between design thinking and Leonardo da Vinci’s creative process in the 15th and 16th centuries. Before he began to invent and create, da vinci engaged his marvelous powers of observation yo understand people, systems, and natural phenomena…Da Vinci employed analogous reasoning ashe tried to understand how the world worked and developed his ideas. He looked for themes and principles that applied across disciplines.”

Also, much like today’s design thinkers, da Vinci conducted experiments and developed many prototypes. Ian Hutchings, Professor of Engineering at the University of Cambridge, has argued that da Vinci conducted some lof the earliest studies of the laws of friction, and that experiments played a key role in his investigative process.”

Design thinking is an iterative process anchored  in observation, insight, experimentation, evaluation, and iadaptation…and then repeated. Many of va Vinci’s most famous paintings took decades to complete and several — such as The Adoration of the Magi and Saint Jerome in the Wilderness — were never completed. Today, with regard to product development, “many are called but few are chosen.” That is, many are rejected because iterative testing could not improve them sufficiently. In his biography of da Vinci, Walter Isaacson suggests that he was “a genius undisciplined by diligence.”

According to Roberto, da Vinci’s work “demonstrates that “the creative process often comes fraught with tension, ambiguity, and fair amount of dead-ends…Most executives prefer to hire specialists with deep yet narrow expertise, rather than curious polymaths. They desire control,  certainty, and order.  That preference for linear thinking blocks creativity in their organizations,” as do the five other mindsets on which Roberto focuses.  He thoroughly  explains how to identify and then remove “the true barriers to creativity” that can be well-entrenced in almost any organization, whatever its size and nature may be.

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Michael Roberto is the Trustee Professor of Management at Bryant University in Smithfield, RI. He joined the tenured faculty at Bryant after serving for six years on the faculty at Harvard Business School. His research focuses on how leaders and teams solve problems and make decisions. To learn more about him, please click here.

Unlocking Creativity was published by John Wiley & Sons (January 2019).

I also highly recommend Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci, published by Simon & Schuster (2017).


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1 Comment

  1. Michael Roberto on January 7, 2019 at 2:33 pm

    Thanks so much, Bob! I’m glad you enjoyed the book.

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