Aspen Ideas Festival: Walter Isaacson on how we can be more like da Vinci

Walter Isaacson discusses his fascination with Leonardo da Vinci.
Walter Isaacson discusses his fascination with Leonardo da Vinci.
Riccardo Savi | The Aspen Institute

Best-selling biographer Walter Isaacson has written books about some of the world's most fascinating and influential people — Benjamin Franklin, Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein. But his next is about man who he says takes the cake as the "world's most creative genius": Leonardo da Vinci.

Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, said genius isn't just a function of intelligence — it's also about curiosity and creativity. And da Vinci had plenty of both.

"One day he just writes (to himself), 'describe the tongue of the woodpecker,'" Isaacson said.

It's not a question most people would probably ask but da Vinci did because of "pure curiosity."

And that's one of the lessons — or life goals — we can take away from the Renaissance man, Isaacson said.

"We can try to be more like him. When we go outside and see that bird there that's coming down, we can say, 'Do the wings go up faster or down faster?' We can try to observe just like Leonardo," he said. "We can try to be curious — playfully curious and inquisitive, which was his ultimate trait. Those are things we can do. We can't be Newton. We can't be Einstein. But we can try to be more like Leonardo."

Isaacson spoke about da Vinci, the subject of his upcoming book due out this fall, during a July 1, 2017, conversation at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado. Moderated by the Carlyle Group's David Rubenstein, it aired Thursday on MPR News.

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