We all know the Renaissance master Leonardo Da Vinci for his accomplishments as a scientist, artist, and philosopher. His Vitruvian Man, Mona Lisa, and countless inventions make him a fascinating figure for scholars, as well as for entrepreneurs, inventors, and artists.
In a new book, author Toby Lester delves into the collaborative mind of Da Vinci, going beyond what we learned about the iconic figure in grade school. An obsessive and rambling notetaker, Da Vinci kept countless notebooks, where he jotted down dense scribbles on art, engineering, anatomy, and mathematics.
What’s less known is that in many of his notebooks Da Vinci kept to-do lists.
Leonardo”s To-Do List
One of these lists caught the imaginations of science reporter Robert Krulwich and illustrator Wendy MacNaughton, who together translated and illustrated one of Da Vinci’s interesting task lists. (Their annotations are in brackets.)
A quick glance at the to-do list prompts an astounding realisation: the renaissance man was also a prototypical coworking member in the making.
Da Vinci: Artist, Scientist, Coworker
The to-do list is a joyful jumble of ideas and thinking that meanders in different tangents and directions. It shows that Da Vinci was earnestly curious about a wide range of subjects, and also expressed a desire to fill the gaps in his personal knowledge.
Take a closer look at the list, and you’ll find that Da Vinci set out no less than six tasks for himself that involve finding people to give him advice.
We always knew Da Vinci had an insatiable appetite for learning, but what we didn’t quite know is that he sought the help of other people. He didn’t go it alone.
In numerous lists like the one above, he reminds himself to consult with others: a local clergyman to show him a medieval text on mechanics; an accountant to teach him how to square a triangle; a medical scholar to show him about proportion; and so on. With this inquisitive nature and desire to network with others, there’s little doubt that Da Vinci would have thrived in the collaboration-rich environment of a coworking space.
Collaborating for innovation and creativity
Behavioural studies have long shown that sharing and collaboration can lead to instances of creativity and innovation in the workplace. In his book, Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration , Keith Sawyer says that acts of collaboration, not solo flights of genius, are the key to breakthrough creativity. “Even though these products [e-mail, airplane, mountain bike, telegraph] didn”t result from a single conversation, their historical emergence followed the same process as an improvised conversation,” Sawyer writes.
Collaborative working may be at the heart of harnessing your creativity. According to Maria Popova, creator and curator of BrainPickings.org, “[C]reativity is combinatorial… In order for us to truly create and contribute to the world, we have to be able to connect countless dots, to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of disciplines.”
Coworking spaces serve as ideal places to do this and to your recharge creative juices. While functionally they offer an alternative to the confines of cubicle walls, the distractions of working at home, and the inconveniences of public venues, coworking spaces also do more than that: they offer respite from the isolating silos of working alone.
When we are barred from much-needed quality interaction with others, not only does our productivity and motivation suffer, but also our creativity. Working alongside others from different fields and backgrounds at a space, idea-fusion takes place. In the focused and random conversations you have with fellow members your creative thinking is bolstered. It’s the economies of scale argument: the power of collective brainpower.
“Power of collective brainpower”
Jeff Shiau, director of The Hub Bay Area, says that prospective coworkers should look at the creative payoffs of coworking. “[You’re] able to make connections, to build a community around your ideas quickly— at a creative level that”s beyond what you would be able to do if you were just working by yourself in a single office space, if you were working out of a coffee shop, or working at home.”
Coworking enables the freelancer or the solopreneur to reach a certain level of creativity more quickly because of collaboration. Jeff cites the metaphor of density and critical mass from Stephen Johnson’s book Where Good Ideas Come From to describe the benefits of coworking. “You look at these bigger cities, these condensed cities where people are frequently colliding, where people are frequently having to compete against each other. Whether it’s friendly competition or fierce business competition, people are constantly interacting. There is a lot more innovation and creativity in these areas.”
A problem shared…
CoCo co-founder Kyle Coolbroth who has also gotten help from his coworking community for his design business, Unlimited Options, says, “I think what [coworking] has done is unleashed a new way of looking at and solving problems. Suddenly we’re not stuck within our own solutions. We’re exposed to a lot more, so I think the bottom line impact has been an acceleration of creativity and new ideas.”
One of the amazing things about coworking is finding other people to bring fresh insight, skills and connections that you may not have to a project that you’re working on.
Graphic designer Judi Oyama’s experience at NextSpace shows that one of the core attractions of coworking for small businesses is that it enables you to get things done by filling in any gaps in skills and needs. When you aren’t stymied and stonewalled by things you can’t do, you feel motivated to launch new projects and try new business ventures. She tells us, “Working with people that have special talents and being able to team up with others on a project-basis helps you get things done.”
Reesa Abrams, another NextSpace member, says being a coworking member has been a great way to get and give relevant advice on a range of topics. “[Coworking] has brought me cheaper resources in IT management, free web advice, short-term consulting, a place to validate or learn about new ideas, sales associates for my new startup, a reputation that has brought me new clients, and serious support from compassionate people.”
“Almost everyone we’ve hired or used as a contractor has been part of (or had connections to) this community,” says James Archer of design and marketing firm Forty Agency, who works at Gangplank. “There’s so much talent among members with whom we have relationships that there’s seldom a need to look elsewhere. I can find someone or have an answer within minutes. If we were working in isolated offices somewhere, each of those little things could take weeks.”
“The new sharing economy”
In the spirit of the new sharing economy credo, exchanging services and products for professional advice from other members makes it easier for you to enhance and promote your own work. Tapping the expertise of the person next to you let’s you outsource what you can’t do or don’t want to do and focus on the things in your business or organisation that really matter.
Orpheus Media Research founder Greg Wilder and former member of Indy Hall also agrees that coworking encourages a sharing ethos. “It’s a very diverse group so the knowledge that everybody has is worth sharing, even my weird music knowledge, which was used by people making music for their games, or by people who needed a soundtrack for an iPhone app.”
Coworking spaces also give you different perspectives on your work. Many members turn to their coworking community as a sounding board to test new ideas and get feedback. Jason Beatty, a member of NextSpace, says coworking gives him a chance to bounce ideas and independent projects off of each other— almost like an instant litmus test or focus group with the person next door. “We discuss our independent projects, designs, architecture, and ideas throughout the week— be it a bug, new feature, or code issue. This is what you don’t get in your home office, or in a traditional office: someone who is very good in a different skill set chiming in on your project, helping you see something you missed, or adding some value.
For others, being around people is a necessity for their business, especially for those in the creative field. Graphic designer Johnny Bilotta says that he turned to coworking at Indy Hall to test ideas and get immediate feedback. “One of the things I lost by working at home was the social aspect of going to an office. I couldn’t bounce an idea off of somebody, and being a designer, I need people’s opinions on things. I like to get people’s opinions on colours, for example. Even if it’s just waxing philosophical over a cup of coffee about a different design philosophy or something— I missed that from working at home.”
Creativity flourishes less in the autonomy of working alone and more in the intellectual checks-and-balances that a room full of smart coworkers provides.
So the next time you’re looking for a creative fix for your business or organisation, try working at a coworking space. The best way to find a place to work is to use a coworking directory or portal like WorkSnug (Ed. note: Good idea!). Soon you’ll be making your own to-do lists like the Renaissance master himself and having your own flights of invention and creative fancy.