Da Vinci’s Code of Conduct

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Leonardo da Vinci. His mere name conjures up a kind of genius that today’s minds are hard-pressed to match. It’s fair to say, although some will object, that even names as luminous as Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman would be dim stars in da Vinci’s universe.

He was, after all, the man who first sketched the helicopter and the parachute about five centuries before Kitty Hawk. (And his design for the parachute, by the way, contains precise measurements that are still in use today. They also appear to be the only measurements that work.)

If that’s not enough, consider that da Vinci conceived, if nowhere else but in his notebooks, the tank, the double hull, the use of solar power, the calculator and even a basic theory of plate tectonics. And let’s not forget “Mona Lisa” and “The Last Supper.”

Da Vinci was also one heck of a consultant — he was the ultimate freelance talent, working, as clients called on him, for the Medicis, the Sforzos, popes, French kings and many others. In fact, much of his best work was done on retainer.

So what can we learn from da Vinci? Volumes, according to Michael J. Gelb, author of “How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day.” In the book, Gelb, who has written about the mental techniques of some of the world’s greatest minds, lists seven of da Vinci’s traits that can serve the modern consultant well.

For now, let’s delve into one trait – “curiosita” or curiosity – that can help you do more and earn more, whether you build intranets, tweak routers or lay fiber for a living.

New Questions (And Old Questions in New Ways)
In “How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci,” Gelb mentions the work of psychologist Mark Brown, who notes that nomadic cultures began to stabilize (and thus thrive) when they stopped asking how to find water and started asking how to get water to come to them.

The point? Don’t simply ask questions — ask new questions or old questions in new ways.

For instance, if you wonder how to find new clients (as the nomads wondered how to find water), why not ask yourself how they find you? Do you know what they go through to get to your doorstep? Is your ad in the phone book large enough? Does your Web site pop up at the top of Google’s lists?

Stop thinking about how you get to your clients and start asking what they do when they have a problem that calls for your expertise but don’t know your name or even know that you exist. Do you know where they turn? Do you know whom they call? And most crucially, do those paths lead to you, to your competition, or a dead end because no one in your field has bothered to ask these questions at all?

And while you’re putting new spins on old questions, don’t forget to ask new questions, the type of questions you’ve put off because the answers are hard. Or perhaps the answers are more than hard — perhaps they’re disturbing because they indicate problems and even failures you’d rather not contemplate:



  • What’s the one mistake I keep making that costs me business?
  • Just as important, why do I keep making it?
  • If 80 percent of my income comes from 20 percent of my clients (Pareto’s Law), what one thing could I do for those 20 percent to knock their socks off?
  • What have I failed to do or put off because the other 80 percent takes up too much of my time?
  • Should I get rid of that 80 percent?
  • How can I get paid to do the work I truly love? (a question that Gelb asks in his book)
  • What’s holding my business back? It’s easy to blame a down market or bad clients, but as da Vinci himself noted, nothing holds us back so much as our own opinions.


Bear in mind that those who learn more earn more. And those who know more are worth more, not merely as freelance talent but as a member of a rapidly changing world that relies on rapidly changing technologies.

So let me ask a few questions that da Vinci himself might have liked: How much are you worth? How much do you want to be worth? And how much do you have to give?

David Garrett is a Web designer and former IT director, as well as the author of “Herding Chickens: Innovative Techniques in Project Management.” He can be reached at dgarrett@certmag.com.

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