The Genious of Observation

and the power of documentation.

Was Da Vinci the grand inventor that many claim him to be or just one of the most astute observers of our time? So maybe I’m on Da Vinci overload. I recently saw the movie, then went to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry (one of the best science museums I’ve been too, though I’d still say the Exploratorium in San Francisco has a richer hands on experience) Anyhow, no doubt that Da Vinci was one of the smartest and chock full of talent, but after leaving this exhibit, you’d think that Leonardo invented just about everything in the modern world. Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoyed the exhibit, but seeing this exhibit made me think back to my art history classes in design school. Think of all the things that were done before Leonardo. The Parthenon, 450BC. This is a serious feat of design and engineering, 1800 years before Da Vinci.

How about the Mayans? They were around from about 250 to 900 CE. They were claimed to be one of the most technologically advanced civilizations of all pre-Columbian civilizations in the Americas.

How about Archimedes? The Chicago exhibit shows the water screw and does give credit to Archimedes, but one part of the exhibit claims that Da Vinci invented the death ray made of mirrors to fend off attacking ships. If my facts are right, Archimedes gets to claim this one too, though the folks at MIT and the Mythbusters have busted this one.

One could go on and on about what was invented first and when, but here’s where I think Leonardo was genius, he documented everything he saw. And yes, he had his share of inventions and improvements on ideas that he had seen.

So here is something for all us inventor/designers to think about, you could be first with the idea, maybe even get it in the public domain, but if you don’t claim that you did it without some kind of documentation, well you may be shit out of luck. (Note, this isn’t an endorsement for the Patent Lawyers Association either) Here’s something else to think about, maybe our famed inventor didn’t care to claim to be the originator. Maybe he was just creating a vast, detailed visual dictionary, but since he’s not around to tell the story, the press and media tell it for us. And finally, maybe all Da Vinci was doing was trying to be the best, most creative and curious problem solver he could possibly be, no fame, no fortune, just the love of exploration and invention. No PR, no stories, just pure passion. 500 years later, he’s got his fame, I wonder if his family got the fortune!