Da Vincian Principle 2: Dimostrazione

Dimostrazione — A commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence and a willingness to learn from mistakes.

Leonardo da Vinci’s practicality, intelligence, curiosity and independence led him to be an astute learner and to question much of the accepted theory and dogma of his time.

As an apprentice in the studio of Andrea del Verrocchio, he learned to prepare canvases and paints and was introduced to the optics of perspective. He also learned the technical secrets of sculpture, bronze casting and goldsmithing.

In his studies of geology, Leonardo walked the hills of Lombardy with fossils in his hands. To learn anatomy, he dissected more than 30 human bodies and countless animal corpses. He repeatedly challenged the popular attention given to alchemy and astrology. He maintained his own library where he habitually studied classical and medieval authorities. As a chef, he sculpted dining courses as miniature works of art.

Despite mistakes, disappointments and failures (he only completed a handful of paintings), Leonardo never stopped learning, exploring and experimenting. Next to the drawing of a plow in his notebook, he proclaimed, “I do not depart from my furrow.” Elsewhere, he noted, “Every obstacle is destroyed through vigor.”

So how can we follow in Da Vinci’s footsteps and develop dimostrazione?

Examine past experiences — Leonardo wrote, “Experience never errs, it is only your judgment that errs … .“ List the most influential experiences of your life and determine how they have colored your attitudes and perceptions. Ask yourself if you need to reevaluate and adjust some of your conclusions.

Check your beliefs and sources — Leonardo’s willingness to challenge dominant worldviews led him to realize he must first evaluate his own opinions, assumptions and beliefs. Aim to determine, through reflection and contemplation, the dominate sources of your information and the underpinnings of your beliefs and opinions. See if you hold any beliefs for which you have no experiential verification.

Learn from mistakes and adversity — Leonardo made many mistakes, some of which actually ruined some of his work. He faced adversity in the form of false accusations, misunderstandings, invasions and exile. Yet he never gave up. Neither should we. Ask yourself what you would do differently if you had no fear of making mistakes. Then live accordingly.

Create affirmations — Leonardo surrounded himself with people who appreciated his talents and affirmed them: Italian architect Bramante, artist Verrocchio, patron Sforza and Francois I, king of France. He also wrote lines of self-affirmation in his notebooks: “I shall continue” and “I never tire of being useful.” You, too, should develop friendships with those who build you up and don’t tear you down. Likewise, you should create ways to affirm yourself when facing doubt and difficulty.

Adapted from How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci by Michael J. Gelb