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“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”, Leonardo da Vinci.

April 15th is a significant date. It matters not if the letters I, R, or S are present in your email address, to do list or worry box. For April 15th marks the birthday of a true thought leader. A moment or two spent considering his accomplishments and contributions to our collective knowledge base may help us become better thinkers ourselves.

Leonardo da Vinci would be something on the order of DLXIII years old on the 15th day of this year’s fourth month. To put things into perspective, there was of course no internet nor Google, no television nor radio, and the printing press was celebrating just its tenth birthday. The United Nations estimates the total earth’s population was 500 million then, or roughly that of present day North America. Leonardo had already drawn the iconic Vitruvian Man by the time America was even ‘discovered’. Yet his achievements dwarf those of any today in spite of the latest technological and scientific advancements.

Today we are the direct beneficiaries of many of Leonardo’s thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. He is credited with inspiring generations of painters, having himself brought a wryly smiling lady and fateful dinner get-together to the staggering heights of the planet’s most recognized works of art. And he was a master of mathematics, engineering, anatomy, geology, physics, cartography, botany, writing, sculpture and architecture. Today we over-use the term “Renaissance Man”, but he was. He was the Renaissance Man. He knew how to think. His principles embodied curiosity, experience, self-awareness. The ability to embrace ambiguity and trust in one’s senses, engage the entirety of one’s brain in thinking, all the while displaying grace, fitness and poise all factored into his ideology. Most importantly, Leonard could meld not just art and science, but he was keenly aware of the interconnectedness of all things as a means of ‘system thinking’.

Each of us addresses the problems we must solve and the decisions we must make using our own tools and methodologies. We have likely honed these skills by learning from our mistakes, applying one theory or the next, or simply devising ways to look at the world through our own lenses. As we go about readying our organizations for the opportunities of today and uncertainties of tomorrow, let’s just for one day think about how Leonardo attended to the challenges that he faced. An analogy to the notion of business performance improvement from Leonardo: “The painter who is familiar with the nature of the sinews, muscles, and tendons, will know very well, in giving movement to a limb, how many and which sinews cause it; and which muscle, by swelling, causes the contraction of that sinew; and which sinew, expanded into the thinnest cartilage, surround and support the said muscle.”

So it is true for us process innovators, business optimizers and general system consulting do-gooders. We must understand the interconnectedness of the sinews, muscles and tendons within our organizations to be able to understand the implications of their effects to other parts of our structural beings. The integration we strive to improve upon is always part of a bigger perspective. Think larger and deeper, and then take action.

One last quote from the master to inspire:

“Iron rusts from disuse, water loses its purity from stagnation…even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.”

Today let’s go forward and each draw a picture using our senses to see our challenges a bit clearer. Good luck. And happy tax day.

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