On a long ride across the state of Florida, I downloaded an audiobook from CloudLibrary to pass the time. My selection was the biography of Leonardo DaVinci by Walter Issacson. As I listened to the fascinating life story of the archetypal Renaissance Man, it struck me that Leonardo was in fact a knowledge worker well ahead of his time. Knowledge work is characterized by the worker having to define their own goals and the steps needed to achieve success. Back in the 1500’s, Leonardo DaVinci was doing many of the best practices of knowledge work naturally and to powerful affect.
For example, not trusting his head to remember ideas, Leonardo was constantly taking notes. It is estimated that he wrote 5000 pages in his lifetime. These wide-ranging notebooks jump from scientific studies, to sketches of machines and animals, to subjects for artwork, to notes about his personal life. Leonardo was constantly generating new ideas and the notebooks detail how he pieced different ideas together for larger impact. This made him an early expert in the field of personal knowledge management.
Another advanced knowledge worker skill was his drive to ask challenging questions. Leonardo was always seeking out experts in the courts of Florence and Milan to engage in deep discussions on a wide range of topics. This incredible multi-disciplinary and collaborative approach was a secret to his success. For example, his knowledge of anatomy allowed him to accurately draw the muscles of people in his paintings. This small detail gave the images a sense of realistic movement that other paintings of the time lacked.
To read more about Da Vinci’s fascinating life, copies of the Issacson biography should be available at your local library. You can also view pages from his notebooks at the website of the British Library. Unfortunately, I don’t think you will find a secret DaVinci Code in any of his notebooks!