Twenty characteristics that make a genius

Leonardo_da_Vinci_LUCAN_Hohenstatt_20_Uffizi_copyIn keeping with my desire to observe Advent by seeking out beauty (see my November 28th post) and my fascination with Salvator Mundi (see my November 14th post), I just finished reading Walter Isaacson’s masterful and insightful biography of Leonardo Da Vinci.  

Isaacson concludes his book by identifying twenty characteristics that make a genius.  Isaacson has given this list some thought, having written biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, and now Leonardo.

So what does it take?

  1. Be curious, relentlessly curious.
  2. Seek knowledge for its own sake.
  3. Retain a childlike sense of wonder.
  4. Observe.
  5. Start with the details.
  6. See things unseen.
  7. Go down rabbit holes.
  8. Get distracted.
  9. Respect facts.
  10. Procrastinate.
  11. Let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
  12. Think visually.
  13. Avoid silos.
  14. Let your reach exceed your grasp.
  15. Indulge fantasy.
  16. Create for yourself, not just for patrons.
  17. Collaborate.
  18. Make lists.
  19. Take notes on paper.
  20. Be open to mystery.

Isaacson gives examples from Leonardo’s life for each of these attributes.  What’s also nice about this list is that one can adopt these habits of living oneself.  It might not make one a genius, but it will certainly make one’s life richer.

I’m sure at least some of these characteristics also ring true for a number of people in each of our lives.  If I’m to be completely honest, it’s not always easy to live around or work with someone who has even a few of these attributes.  But, it’s always worth it.

Finally, one attribute that Isaacson leaves off the list, that I would add, is divine inspiration.  Although Leonardo was not a notably pious man, he spent his life searching for knowledge, truth, and beauty.  He then recorded what he found.   His was a life fully lived.

Is there any better tribute to God?  Indeed, when you look back on Leonardo’s body of work, it’s hard not to see God in his explorations and his art.

Published by Rob Radtke

President & CEO, Episcopal Relief & Development, husband, father, friend, traveler, reader, New Yorker.

One thought on “Twenty characteristics that make a genius

  1. Good reminder of the true qualities of genius, but also how to look for God in the explorations of all who are around us. Thank you.


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