Leonardo da Vinci, Disciple of Experience
Friday, April 18, 2003
by Mark Hurst
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I recently saw the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit at New York's
Metropolitan Museum of Art. Almost 500 years after his death,
da Vinci is still popular. Some visitors waited 90 minutes to see
The sketches, of course, were beautiful (see Head of the Virgin). But what really struck me was the sheer
breadth of this one man's talents. da Vinci wrote treatises on
physics, anatomy, astronomy, warfare, art, and other topics. Without
a formal education, da Vinci never mastered Latin, the language in
which academic treatises were written at that time. Some scholars
dismissed his work.
da Vinci replied that he was a "disciple of experience":
"[They may say] I'm a man without learning, [but]
I will cite something far more worthy, quoting experience..."
(quoted from Met exhibit; emphasis mine)
In another essay, da Vinci writes that
...the subjects I am dealing with are to be dealt with by
experience rather than by words, and experience is the muse of
all who write well. And so, as my muse, I will cite her in every
500 years ago, da Vinci understood the power of experience. Academic
pedigree is fine, but a direct grasp of experience is essential.
Analyzing and learning from direct experience is innately more
powerful than hiding behind obscure academic methods. da Vinci
"got it." Maybe he was the first.
500 years later, there are still those academics whose frameworks,
methods, and terminology talk *about* experience but don't help much
in bringing people to an understanding of the experience itself.
Remember the Italian scholars who were so concerned with da Vinci's
knowledge of Latin (the "method" of the day) that they completely
missed (or dismissed) his genius - and didn't help others to see it.
The business we're in today - call it user experience, branding,
CHI, product development - is based on an innate understanding of,
and empathy for, the experience a user or customer has when engaging
the product, service, or brand we're creating. Those who would lead
or teach in this field (whether in consulting or the academy) should
focus on the *experience*. Anyone trading on gratuitously
complicated methods, or academics alone, should remember those
Italian scholars. The rest of us will remember da Vinci.
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Metropolitan Museum of Art
Exhibit site: Leonardo da Vinci, Master Draftsman
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