Lesson 3


Experiential Learning as the Next Building Block of Everyday Genius

Do you know, or you do only think you know? In this lesson you commit to testing your knowledge via experience.

Your Fantasy Job Application

In your journal, write a fantasy job application to your dream employer. Approach the task from the employer’s point of view, as Leonardo did. If you’ve ever worked in Human Resources, you know that few job applicants do this, generally only listing their own achievements. Someone who demonstrates that she can solve problems for her potential employer is a real find. If you like your fantasy job application, why not rewrite your current résumé in the style of Leonardo?

Act! Demonstrate Your Talents

Dimostrazione is about learning from experience, as Leonardo did, rather than relying on theory. Leonardo was lucky with his teachers, especially master painter and sculptor Andrea del Verrocchio (see page 77 of How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci), because del Verrocchio emphasized experience over mere theory. (Admittedly, del Verrocchio was probably more interested in the cheap labor he got from his apprentices; nevertheless, he was a great teacher.)

If you weren’t as lucky in your teachers, or if you find that you’re relying more on theory than practice, this lesson will challenge you to become a doer, as Leonardo was, rather than a dreamer. This lesson will ask you to test your ideas and beliefs and to commit to making mistakes with awareness.

If you’re thinking that this is a lot to ask, look at it this way: all you have to offer the world is you — your unique perceptions and experiences. Therefore, the more experiences you can garner, the more you will learn — and the more you have to offer that is uniquely you. It’s unfortunate that modern schooling emphasizes theory rather than experience, because this is the source of many of our less creative habits.

We tend to accept the idea that if we know the theory behind something, we understand it. But to think like Leonardo, you need to emphasize what he did: experience.

Take the Museum Tour

To see how real-world inventions can develop from sketchbook pages, click on the icon below to go to Floor 2 of our Virtual Museum. Click on “Leoardo da Vinci Muesum Floor,” then on “Various Sketches and Inventions.” You’ll be able to view Leonardo’s rough notebook sketches next to photographs of the objects developed from his ideas

[Flash Animation: Think Like Leonardo DaVinci Museum, 2nd Floor Window]

Do You Value Your Experiences?

The big problem with personal experience is that we usually don’t value it enough, or we tend to denigrate it, thinking that somehow other people (with less experience) know better. In a moment, we’ll discuss creating a fantasy job application. The idea here is to start you thinking of your experiences as being valuable, and to make this an engrained habit in your thinking.

Once you start to think of your experiences as being valuable in and of themselves, you’ll value your mistakes because of what they teach you about how the world works. You’ll stop being embarrassed by your mistakes, because you’ll know that often your mistakes teach you more than your successes.

The Ultimate Job Application

Leonardo da Vinci was a doer, not a dreamer; he was always ready to demonstrate and express his ideas.

For example, read his job application to Ludovico Sforza, regent of Milan, on pages 21 and 22 of How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. This is the ultimate job application. In it, Leonardo is completely focused on what he can achieve for Sforza. He emphasizes that he can create machines of war in a time of war and can create monuments in a time of peace. Would you hire someone like this, who could solve all your problems?

Dimostrazione Self-Assessment

Complete the Dimostrazione Self-Assessment on page 81 of How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. Discuss your assessments on the Message Board. What’s holding you back from utilizing your experience? How willing are you to stand up for what you know from experience to be true?

Don’t forget to use your notebook to collect quotes as you read and to add your own thoughts. Some readers like to add their own ideas in book margins, but if you have the accompanying workbook to How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, you’ll be delighted to see not only that there’s ample space for your own notes in the margins and text, but also that you can turn the book over so that you have a wonderful hard-bound notebook to jot your ideas and experiences.

Next, you’ll mine your own experiences for nuggets of gold.

Learning From Experience

Do you often make the same mistake again and again? These techniques will help you learn from experience:

  • Analyze your experiences daily
  • Admit your mistakes (at least to yourself)
  • Try again
  • Persist until you get it right (most self-made millionaires have survived a bankruptcy before they achieve success)

Mine Your Experiences For the Gold They Contain

Your experiences have made you what you are today, but they are much more valuable to you if you acknowledge and value them. Make a note of your triumphs in your notebook. The memories of your triumphs give you the courage to attempt more; they also bolster you when you’ve made an error and are feeling down.

Everyone suffers unhappy experiences and makes mistakes. Leonardo wasn’t destroyed by his unhappy experiences, such as being thrown into jail in Florence (see page 26 of How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci). Afterwards, he stayed in Florence and even received commissions from the same Florentine government that had jailed him. Leonardo had confidence in himself and in his skills, and he had his notebooks to remind him of his talents and goals.

Examining Your Experiences

Just as Leonardo used his notebooks to evaluate his experiences, you can too. Examining your experiences for their value is important: try to do it daily. It only takes a few moments. Starting today, take some time before bed to describe and assess the day’s events. Briefly note:

  • Your achievements today
  • Any mistakes you made
  • What you learned from both of them

Start a daily section in your notebook: “Today’s Review.” This heading makes it easier to read your daily assessments when you leaf through the notebook in the months to come. Leave some space after each assessment so that you can add notes when you reread them.

Assessing Your Beliefs

You act on what you believe, so your beliefs form the framework of your life. However, some of your beliefs may be incorrect or you may be acting on false information. It’s vital that you check your beliefs in the light of your experiences. You may find that a belief you’ve always held doesn’t match your experience.

Read and do the exercise: “Check Your Beliefs and Sources” on page 83 of How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. This fascinating exercise will get you thinking about your beliefs.

What Do You Believe About You?

List 10 beliefs you hold about yourself. Then assess these beliefs. Are they legitimate, or are these beliefs based on voices from the past?

Challenge any negative belief you hold. For example, you may believe you’re lazy. In assessing this belief, you discover that you’re holding down two jobs while raising a family (and doing this course). Put a broad red line through “lazy” and substitute “industrious and energetic.”

Regularly challenging your negative beliefs has a profound effect on your attitude.

Unmasking the Hidden Persuaders

Read and do the exercises in: “Practice Internal Martial Arts” on page 85 of How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci.

Can you find examples of particularly manipulative marketing in magazines, on TV, or on the Internet? Make a list of your favorites and discuss them on the Message Board.

Next, you’ll look at your mistakes in a new way.

The Power of Affirmations

“Affirmations are like prescriptions for certain aspects of yourself that you want to change.” — Jerry Frankenhauser

The Power of Silly Questions

“The ‘silly question’ is the first intimation of some totally new development.”
— Alfred North Whitehead

It’s Not a Mistake, It’s An Experiment

How do you feel when you realize you’ve made a mistake? Of course, that depends on the size of the mistake. Investing your nest egg in a company that promptly crashes and burns is a mistake of a different order of magnitude from using the wrong fork at a dinner party. You’re entitled to feel down after making a mistake, but tell yourself that this it was not a mistake but an experiment that didn’t work.

Use Leonardo’s Technique of Affirmations

Leonardo made many mistakes throughout his life, but he didn’t let them defeat him. He wrote heartening affirmations in his notebooks to give himself courage and inspiration. They include:

  • “I do not depart from my furrow”
  • “I shall continue”

These affirmations show that Leonardo suffered disappointments, but wasn’t crushed by them. You can use Leonardo’s affirmation technique too. Affirmations are suggestions to yourself. They depend on repetition to do their work. And the more emotion you can generate while repeating your affirmation, the more quickly the affirmation will work. Michael Gelb’s recommendation to try saying your affirmation with “I feel” rather than “I am” is excellent. (For a full explanation, please read pages 88-90 of How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci.) Using “I feel” rather than “I am” gets around the left-brain propensity to argue with an affirmation: “I feel” doesn’t challenge the left brain directly.

Do affirmations work? Try this: sigh and say to yourself: “I’m so tired . . .” Repeat this twice, silently to yourself. If you’re at all suggestible, by the third repetition, you’ll yawn. Now, wake yourself up again. Smile broadly, and say to yourself: “Wow, I feel great!” Repeat this three times. How do you feel now? If you’ve ever been successful with using affirmations, why not share them on the Message Board?

Be Prepared to Make Mistakes: Accept Them, Learn From Them, and Move On

Are you comfortable making mistakes? If mistakes bother you, why not try making a few deliberately? Tell yourself that whenever you step out of your comfort zone and try something new, you will make mistakes, so you might as well get comfortable with them.

Do a stream of consciousness free-writing session on how you felt when you made mistakes when you were a child. Chances are that before the age of eight, you probably didn’t know mistakes existed. If you fell over and skinned your knee, you picked yourself up and kept on playing. Try to recapture some of the careless exuberance of your younger self on paper.

When you finish your free-write, underline the words that jump out at you and create an affirmation from these words. Use your mistake-buster affirmation every day.

Moving Forward

Are you using your notebook every day? Make a point of doing your daily assessment.

Please take the time to do the assignment for this lesson. In it, you’re asked to describe a major disaster or mistake of your life. You don’t need to share this with anyone: you can write it on a slip of paper and toss the paper in the trash afterward if you like. On the other hand, if you made a major mistake and it had a brilliant outcome and want to share it, we’d love to hear about it. After that, the quiz and several days full of Dimostrazione are all that stand between you and Lesson 4.

You’re guaranteed to love Lesson 4, Sensazione: it’s a celebration of your senses.

Assignment : Dimostrazione: Examine Your Experiences

Read page 82 of How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. In your journal, describe a major mistake or disaster of your life. What did you learn from the experience? What benefits did you gain? Write the answers to these questions in your journal, too. If you like, share your conclusions with your fellow students on the Message Board.

To prepare for the next lesson, do the Sensazione self-assessments on pages 99-104 of How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci.


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