Connected: Da Vinci left behind mind map

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During the past decade, the technology industry has seen the emergence of several powerhouse companies, including Google and Facebook, as well as the re-emergence of Apple. While the greatness of these companies can be attributed to a number of factors, one rises to the surface: They are all led by innovative leaders and have bred a culture of innovation.

Michael Gelb, author of "How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci" and "Innovate like Edison," believes there are steps any entrepreneur can take to unlock the creativity in himself and his organization -- and that Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Edison have paved the way by giving us mind maps to follow.

Speaking to a group of executives gathered by The Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence at the University of Pittsburgh, Mr. Gelb used specific examples from the lives of these two inventors to help attendees become more creative.

According to Mr. Gelb, one of da Vinci's main principles is to embrace the unknown, which might explain why da Vinci invented the parachute years before he invented the helicopter. If he knew he could safely fall, it would make it easier to embrace the idea of flying.

In da Vinci's time, there were lots of things that were unknown -- and according to Mr. Gelb, a lot of what was known was put into difficult-to-find books, often written in Latin, requiring da Vinci to learn Latin at the age of 40 to satisfy his curiosity.

Today's environment is different, perhaps making the ability to embrace the unknown more important. The rate of change has accelerated as tools for innovation have reached the mass of businesses; and communications can spread globally in moments.

Our uncertainty is often which way the economy or our industry or even our individual jobs will go as we turn the next corner. Unlike da Vinci, we have plenty of data with which to make decisions -- often too much data -- because when not organized and viewed appropriately, you can miss key indicators needed to make decisions in the same way you can't see the needle in a haystack.

Both da Vinci and Edison kept notebooks, as did a number of great innovators, including Marie Curie, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. That gave them the opportunity to collect their thoughts as they happened, instead of waiting to record them when they arrived at work.

Today, many entrepreneurs have switched to computers or cell phones to record their ideas. Mr. Gelb suggests that one of the keys to da Vinci's notebook is that it was written in a non-linear fashion -- with various notes spread over the page and in the margins, helping him unlock his creativity.

Both inventors are also known for having lots of ideas -- and not all of them successful.

Yet entire industries were built due to his working through those failures in electricity, lighting, voice recording and motion picture creation.

The ability to look past failures was certainly one of his strengths; and also a strength in the culture being built in Silicon Valley (home to Google, Facebook and Apple).

While nobody wants to fail in any project, Silicon Valley embraces the experience that comes with failure as knowledge that can be used successfully elsewhere.

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Follow David Radin on Twitter @dradin or learn more at www.megabyteminute.com


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