Michael Gelb is a leading authority on the application of genius thinking to personal and organizational development. A pioneer in the fields of creative thinking, Gelb leads seminars for organizations such as DuPont, Merck, Microsoft, and Nike. A former professional juggler who once performed with the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, Gelb introduced the idea of teaching juggling as a means to promote accelerated learning and team-building.
Kala: Michael, you’re the author of 12 books on creativity and innovation, including How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day. In your research, what did you find about Da Vinci and how his thought process differs from the average guy?
Michael: It’s like asking how does the inner life of the Buddha or Jesus differ from the average! Just as the Buddha or Jesus can be appreciated as embodiments of our highest spiritual nature, a nature shared by all, so Leonardo can be understood as a manifestation of our highest creative possibilities.
Kala: In the Da Vinci book, you share seven steps to reaching the genius level. One of these is: ‘Sensazione: The continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to clarify experience’. Explain this step to our readers.
Michael: Leonardo da Vinci wrote, ‘The five senses are the ministers of the soul’. He trained his sensory awareness like an Olympic athlete trains his body for competition. But five-hundred years ago, in Tuscany, Leonardo reflected that the average person “looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odor or fragrance, and talks without thinking.” Sensazione refers to refining our sensory awareness as a means to deepening our enjoyment of life and nurturing the soul. Leonardo counsels us to surround ourselves with beauty to help enliven our inner world.
Kala: You then went on to write – Innovate Like Edison: The Five Step System for Breakthrough Business Success. With the current economic crisis, many leaders say that innovation is key to getting us out of this situation. Edison was quoted as saying – ‘If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves’. What are your thoughts about innovation and how it’s being used or not used in businesses today?
Michael: Leonardo was probably the most creative person who ever lived but Thomas Edison is history’s greatest practical innovator. Beyond his invention of the phonograph, motion pictures and a system to light the world, Thomas Edison invented the rigorous, disciplined process of innovation. His methods are more relevant now than ever before. Businesses are waking up to the critical importance of making innovation an integral aspect of the way they operate but they need to pick up the pace!
Kala: Many people feel that the companies they work for have lost their sense of perspective and innovation. What tips can you give our readers to become more innovative and creative in their personal and professional lives, especially if they work for a company that has lost their innovation and edge?
Michael: Many individuals and organizations lose their perspective in the face of grave challenges. Others embrace an expanded perspective and recognize that in stressful times innovation is essential. Although it’s not always possible to change an organizational culture, especially in difficult times, it is always possible for individuals to learn to think more creatively-to cultivate what my co-author Sarah Miller Caldicott (Edison’s Great Grand Niece) and I refer to as ‘Innovation Literacy’.
Kala: In the five step system, you discuss ‘Full-Spectrum Engagement: how to manage and balance a massive workload with social life, family and other obligations’. I’m hearing from many people in corporate america that they are being told indirectly, that to keep their job, not much else matters to the company except that the employee work 60, 80 and sometimes even more hours a week. Even with this, many employees are being told this is not enough and they are often required to do the work of two people and the economy is being blamed as the culprit. What do you suggest people do to balance their intense workload and stress at work in these most difficult of times?
Michael: Most of my clients are being asked to do more with less. This makes creative thinking about how you prioritize and order your life essential. Of course, many folks are too stressed to make it to the stress management class and they don’t have time to come to the time management program. But, if we don’t discipline ourselves to make time to reflect on our own priorities then we are doomed to follow the priorities set for us by others.
Kala: How does one maintain ‘creative resilience’, what you describe as ‘optimism in the face of adversity‘?
Michael: It helps to have role models, like Edison, for example. He overcame adversity many times. One particularly notable example occurred in 1914, when he was 67. A fire ravaged the phonograph factory at his West Orange, New Jersey complex. Edison lost approximately $5 million that night – the equivalent of $75 million today. His son Charles, ran to his father’s side, thinking Edison would be devastated. Instead, Charles was amazed to see his father smiling. Edison told his son, “Go get your mother. She’ll never have a chance to see anything like this again in her entire life.” Edison then called his senior team together and began organizing the recovery campaign on the spot. He urged his team to focus on rebuilding the phonograph factories in a manner that “took advantage of the latest improvements in factory design.”
Edison’s response to the fire highlights the deeply embedded nature of his optimism. As Biographer Dr. Paul Israel describes it, “Where others might see disaster and failure he was always optimistically looking for opportunities and seeing the possibility of new directions for improvements.”
Kala: Speaking of stress relief, your new book is – Wine Drinking for Inspired Thinking: Uncorking Your Creative Juices. The history of wine goes back over 5000 years, with new findings recently of over 8000 years ago in Georgia and of course, in Egypt, with a white wine recently located in King Tut’s tomb and we all are aware of the Greek’s love of wine. What is it about wine that works so well as a creative Muse?
Michael: Fine wine is complex, subtle and nuanced. It invites us to combine camaraderie, contemplation and relaxation. As we relax in a contemplative mode we invite the Muses to emerge. Plato, the father of Western Philosophy summed it up when he wrote ‘What is better adapted than the festive use of wine, in the first place to test, and in the second place to train the character of a man, if care be taken in the use of it.? What is there cheaper or more innocent’?
Kala: Wine Drinking, the book, encourages us to ‘think outside the bottle’ to tap into our creative potential. Albert Einstein said – ‘We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them’. Explain how innovative thinking outside the bottle works…
Michael: The best wine isn’t usually found in a box. And the same thing is true with thinking. Creative, ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking involves generating and exploring lots of new ideas, thinking analogically and metaphorically, and nurturing different perspectives. This kind of thinking is much easier to do when we relax, let go of our preconceptions, and begin to engage the imagination. For the last thirty years I’ve been exploring the most effective means for helping people relax, let go, and engage the other half of the brain. Sharing wine and poetry is at the top of the list. It is a delightful and creative way to liberate the muse and free us from the habit of using only half the mind.
Kala: One of my favorite quotes about wine is from Dom Perignon, when he said after his first sip of champagne – ‘Come quickly! I am tasting stars’! I ascribe to the philosophy that ‘we are all one and thus all interconnected, therefore in each sip of wine there lies a universe, the same as within each person’. What is your philosophy with wine?
Michael: It sounds wonderful but Dom Perignon didn’t say it (those words were written by a marketing department 200 years after his time to promote champagne sales).
Kala: History miscommunicated through a PR campaign, always fascinating to me.
Michael: He actually spent much of his time preventing the formation of bubbles in wine as they were considered a flaw in his day. Dom Perignon was, however, a genius who pioneered many of the best practices that still influence wine makers today. And I agree with you about our essential interconnectedness and the role of wine in attuning us to our oneness. As Socrates noted twenty-five hundred years ago on the effects of sharing wine and poetry : ‘You will find that suddenly something extraordinary happens. As they are speaking, it’s as if a spark ignites, passing from one speaker to another, and as it travels it gathers strength, building into a warm and illuminating flame of mutual understanding which none of them could have achieved alone’.
Kala: ‘Conscious Capitalism’ is a new philosophy being referred to in 21st century business ideals. Many small business owners build their company on just these types of principles. Do you think that the ideals of conscious capitalism can be maintained by a business or company, when it evolves into a conglomerate or massive corporation?
Michael: Yes. It can be maintained, but it takes profound commitment, visionary leadership, and a culture of continuous learning.
Kala: What do you feel holds people back the most often? If a person could work on just one of the tips from your Wine Drinking book that would have the greatest impact on their life, what would you say that would be?
Michael: Our self-imposed limitations hold us back, more than external challenges. The one tip that will have the greatest impact on reader’s lives is to ‘Put more Dolce in your Vita’.
Kala: In my work as a Business Intuitive, I feel that we are in a new Renaissance period. I’ve been quoted as saying – ‘In this new decade, we are moving into a new Age of Enlightenment. The Aquarian information from the gods can no longer be contained, the Divine Feminine is being released in all her glory and we will once again see a Renaissance period, where great art, architecture, philosophy, literature and science will develop and flourish. During this decade the greatest minds will stir, to share, to illuminate and to build and create works and ideas that will be marveled around the world’.
There are certain people whom we can look at around the world and say ‘Aha, there is one of the leaders of this new renaissance’! I would list you as one of these leaders. So Michael, as a leader of the renaissance of the 21st century, what do you see coming for the world in this decade?
Michael: Thanks, Kala. I agree with you that we are moving into a new Age of Enlightenment. Consciousness is shifting to better integrate the modalities of empathy, intuition, and receptivity. Once considered primarily within the province of the “Feminine” these modalities are now essential to the evolving Modern Renaissance Man/Woman. In the United States, over the past 30 years, we’ve seen a dissolution of the John Wayne version of masculinity and a corresponding ascendancy of women in politics, business and social life. But, this has created lots of confusion as women adapt to more freedom and power and men try to deal with it. One of the most exciting developments that I look forward to in the next decade is the emergence of new, healthy models of both masculinity and femininity. All of my work is devoted to helping others find this balance between yin and yang, rationality and intuition, logic and imagination.
Kala: Michael, thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate you taking the time to chat and share your wisdom and inspiration.
Michael: Thank you for your wise and inspiring questions.
More about Michael Gelb…
Michael J. Gelb, is a leading authority on the application of genius thinking to personal and organizational development. Gelb is the author of 12 books on creativity and innovation including the international best seller How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day. (1998) How to Think Like Leonardo has been translated into 25 languages and has appeared on the Washington Post, Amazon.com, and the New York Times best seller lists. In 2007 Gelb released Innovate Like Edison: The Five Step System for Breakthrough Business Success, co-authored with Sarah Miller Caldicott, the great grand niece of Thomas Edison.
In 1999, Michael Gelb won the Brain Trust Charity’s “Brain of the Year” award; others honorees include Prof. Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Garry Kasparov and Gene Rodenberry. In 2003, Michael was awarded a Batten Fellowship by the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business. Michael co-directs the acclaimed Leading Innovation Seminar at Darden with Professor James Clawson. Michael Gelb also serves as the Director of Creativity and Innovation Leadership for the Conscious Capitalism Institute. His latest book, Wine Drinking For Inspired Thinking: Uncork Your Creative Juices, will be released by Running Press on March 23, 2010.
Kala Ambrose is an award winning author, intuitive and talk show host of the Explore Your Spirit with Kala Show. Her thought-provoking interviews entice listeners to tune in around the globe! Described by her guests and listeners as discerning, empowering and inspiring, she speaks with world renowned authors, artists, teachers and researchers delving into metaphysical, holistic and paranormal topics. Kala’s book, 9 Life Altering Lessons: Secrets of the Mystery Schools Unveiled delves into the mysteries of ancient Egyptian mystery schools and explains their wisdom teachings. Kala’s Guided Meditations CD’s include a sacred site trilogy including Spirit of Hawaii and Egyptian Mystery Temple and Tibetan Mountain Journey.
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