The above image is an illustrated and translated version of an actual "to-do" list written by Leonardo da Vinci. It was put together for NPR by Robert Krulwich and illustrator Wendy MacNaughton, based on information found in a new book, Da Vinci's Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Image, by Toby Lester.
What does a list like this tell us about the guy who wrote it? Krulwich sees in this list an example of what the brain can do when it's allowed to really wander. Maybe you're better off not being able to focus very well on one specific thing:
"We live in an age that worships attention," says my friend (and Radiolab colleague) Jonah Lehrer. "When we need to work, we force ourselves to concentrate. This approach can also inhibit the imagination. Sometimes, it helps to consider irrelevant information, to eavesdrop on all the stray associations unfolding in the far reaches of the brain."
Minds that break free, that are compelled to wander, can sometimes achieve more than those of us who are more inhibited, more orderly, [a scientific study] suggests. Or, as Jonah chose to put it, there are "unexpected benefits of not being able to focus."
That's not a bad point. But I see something else here as well. Take another look at that to-do list. I think it's pretty interesting that of the nine tasks shown, six involve consulting and learning from other people. Leonardo da Vinci needs to find a book. Leonardo da Vinci needs to get in touch with local merchants, monks, and accountants who he hopes can help him better understand concepts within their areas of expertise.
Leonardo da Vinci knows he doesn't know everything.
I think that's a big deal.