Da Vincian Principle 7: Connessione

Connessione — A recognition of and appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena. (Systems thinking)

When you toss a stone into a still pond, the water ripples out in a series of widening circles. This ever-expanding circle is a perfect metaphor for the principle of connessione and is perfectly illustrated with these observations by Leonardo Da Vinci:

“The stone where it strikes the surface of the water causes circles around it which spread out until they are lost; and in the same manner the air, struck by a voice or a noise, also has a circular motion, so he who is most distant cannot hear it.”

“Swimming in water teaches men how birds fly in the air.”

“Mountains are made by the currents of rivers. Mountains are destroyed by the currents of rivers.”

One secret of Leonardo’s unparalleled creativity is his lifelong practice of combining and connecting disparate elements to form new patterns. As a child, he would gather an assortment of creatures into his bedroom and borrow from their features to sketch terrifying monsters. As an adult, he once took a live lizard and crafted a horn, beard and wings for it. He kept it in a special box and “showed it to his friends to make them flee in fear.”

Leonardo’s “dragons” are a wonderful example of his creative recipe of combination and connection. Many of his inventions and designs arose from the playful, imaginary combinations he made from differing natural forms. His serious nature drove him to penetrate the essence of things while his playful nature allowed him to make unprecedented, original connections.

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

Contemplate wholeness — To Leonardo, a landscape, like a human body, was to be understood part by part in relationship with the whole. Rocks were not simply decorative silhouettes. They were part of the earth’s bones, with an anatomy of their own. Do you experience wholeness in your daily life? Do you see a connection between your mind, body and emotions — and the rest of the world?

Make your own dragons — Leonardo’s wonderful dragons — and many of his innovations — sprang from the fanciful connections he made between seemingly unrelated things. The ability to see relationships and patterns, and make unfamiliar combinations and connections, is the core of creativity.

Origin-all thinking — Leonardo’s explorations into the origin of things drew him to a profound appreciation of the relationship between microcosm and macrocosm. Make it a practice before eating something or using an object to contemplate its origin and its connectedness to the world. Where did it come from? How was it made? How did it get here? Is it harmful or beneficial?

Practice meditation — Solitude and personal reflection were an integral part of Leonardo’s life. They need to be an integral part of our own as well. Whether ruminating on a spiritual matter or over an important decision, sitting quieting and breathing deeply brings clarity of mind that helps us see the big picture and our small part in it.

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