The Leonardo Trait – Subtrait Five: Curiosity [Book Excerpt]

Insatiable curiosity is the Fifth Subtrait of The Leonardo Trait - The Leonardo Trait - Angie DixonThis is an excerpt from The Leonardo Trait: How Creative People Can Turn Creative Eccentricity into a Life You Love.

Curiosity didn’t kill the cat, but it plays a vital role in the personality of the Leonardo. We’ll look at how and why curiosity is so important as we explore the fifth sub-trait.

Leonardos are discoverers. We find something new every day, everywhere we go, with everything we do.

As much as we discover, you’d think we’d soon run out of things to discover, but happily that’s not possible.

James Burke, on his show Connections, once said that roughly 400 years ago one man could know everything that could be known. Of course, I think the show was 20 years ago. But still. Aren’t you glad you weren’t born 500 years ago?

Admit it. You peek at tabloid headlines in the checkout lane.

And I bet you listen to people’s conversations in restaurants.

We’re curious people.

My favorite software program is StumbleUpon, a browser plug-in that pulls up random web pages in categories I select. I could Stumble for hours, and sometimes do.

I don’t believe curiosity killed the cat. I think it was bludgeoned to death by someone with no imagination.

Creativity, according to Sam Harrison’s ideaspotting, is a matter of asking questions and then asking different questions, aimed at getting the best answer (Harrison, 2006, p. 86).

I’m also fond of a loosely translated quote from Leonardo: “Life is pretty simple: You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works. If it works big, others quickly copy it. Then you do something else. The trick is in the doing something else.”

This chapter on curiosity is the shortest of the sub-trait chapters. You may be wondering about that, since the chapter is about curiosity.

The fact is that curiosity is one of the sub-traits and one of the most important elements of the Leonardo’s personality. It’s also the hardest to explain and to talk about at length.

So I’m going to go with the probably-not-from-Leonardo quote again. Life is pretty simple. You do some stuff. And so on.

Subtrait One | Subtrait Two | Subtrait Three | Subtrait Four | Subtrait Five

Kitten Photo by Gracey. Image created by Angie Dixon.

The Leonardo Trait – Subtrait Four: Inability to Happily Focus on One Thing at a Time [Book Excerpt]

Sub-Trait Four: Inability to Happily Focus On One Thing at a Time

Leonardos are Completely Unable to Happily Focus on One Thing at a TimeThis is an excerpt from The Leonardo Trait: How Creative People Can Turn Creative Eccentricity into a Life You Love.

There is a large difference between being unwilling to focus on one thing at a time and being unable to do so happily. In this chapter we’ll explore this concept, which forms the core of Sub-Trait Four, and look at the possibilities inherent in being able to do more than one thing at once.

Leonardos don’t focus well. Let me rephrase that. We focus great. We just don’t focus for as long, or on as few things, as many Straight-Liners. In fact, the original title of this sub-trait was “An Absolute Inability To Happily Focus On Only One Thing At a Time,” then I shortened it to “Inability to Focus on One Thing at a Time” so it would all fit on one line. It didn’t, though, so for this edition I changed it back. That’s one of the great things about being a Leonardo—I know I can change my mind.

There really is a difference between inability and unwillingness to focus. We’re willing, most of the time; we’re just not good at it. It’s not that we can’t do one thing, it’s that we can’t happily do only one thing, and we place a great deal of emphasis on happiness in our lives.

Sometimes we do let things get out of hand, but many Leonardos can carry on several projects at once, and always accomplish what they most want to accomplish. It’s like the person who points to the piles of papers on his desk and declares, “But I know where everything is!” He probably does. And so do Leonardos. We know what we’re doing. We just aren’t sure when we’re going to finish it.

Straight-Liners get exhausted just looking at our desks. But the fact is, we’re happy and fulfilled when we’ve got too many projects to count.

This all brings up the idea of multitasking. I recently heard about a study that showed that people who multitask really are not as efficient as people who do one task. I was curious enough about that to check out the book The Myth of Multitasking.

And I have to say, I’ve realized I was wrong about multitasking. I wasn’t wrong about what I do and am capable of, but I was wrong about calling it multitasking. What I actually do is switch tasks often, moving from one thing to another and back, often in a very focused and controlled way, but not doing two things literally at once.

And this kind of multitasking (I like the term better) is what I’m referring to. But not just at work. I’m talking about multitasking at life. Being a writer and a mom and a wife and a business owner. Being a dad and a musician and an advertising person.

What if you could have a serial career, be a serial entrepreneur, even be, in every sense of the word, a jack or jill of all trades, doing multiple things at once? Does that appeal to you? If not, that’s okay, we’re not all alike.

But if you’ve just started trying to figure out how you can be a nurse and an Olympic figure skater at the same time, and you’re 59 years old and have bad knees, you are in exactly the right place, reading exactly the right book, and I hope for exactly the right reasons.

So what if you could do everything you wanted, even if not all at the same time? What if you didn’t have to settle on “one thing”?

Oh, yeah, your grandmother would spin in her grave.

But what if?

Subtrait One | Subtrait Two | Subtrait Three | Subtrait Four | Subtrait Five

Bokeh photo courtesy of DarrenHester. Image created by Angie Dixon.

The Leonardo Trait – The Leonardo Trait – Subtrait Three: Boundless Energy [Book Excerpt]

Leonardos Have Two Speeds: Fast. And. Stop. - The Leonardo Trait - Angie DixonThis is an excerpt from The Leonardo Trait: How Creative People Can Turn Creative Eccentricity into a Life You Love.

Leonardos could replace nuclear reactors as sources of energy for the world, except for our annoying habit of needing long periods of time off.

Some people mistake the Leonardo Trait for Attention Deficit Disorder. Some Leonardos do have ADD, or bipolar disorder, or other brain disorders. But the Leonardo Trait is not those things. There are some good books on those topics. I’m just not qualified to explain them as well as they deserve to be explained.

Leonardos put tremendous energy into everything we do. If you ask a Leonardo to wash your car, you’d better not want to drive it for the next two hours. But when it comes back the floor mats will be laundered, the glass polished, and the tires newly blacked.

Leonardos don’t feel like something is worth doing unless it’s worth overdoing.

At this point I want to make a point that I’m not sure I made clearly in previous editions of this book.

Why Leonardos Expend So Much Energy

What I’m not sure I’ve expressed properly before is why we, as Leonardos, put so much energy into every single thing we do.

You may have heard that when the mountain climber Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Everest, he said, “Because it’s there.”

The thing is that Leonardos have to expend a lot of energy. It’s there, and if we don’t expend it, we can’t do anything else. The energy won’t go away unless we burn it off.

So, the Leonardo puts everything she has into everything she does.

Including resting.

If you look at a typical Leonardo, if there is such a thing, you may see a work pattern of 12-hour days for three weeks, and then a week of hibernation.

I know I just said that we have enormous amounts of energy. We do. But when the energy’s gone, it’s gone until we build it back up.

This is how Leonardos function, and most of us can’t operate any other way.

When the energy is flowing, we flow with it. When it goes, we need extended periods of downtime to get it back.

It may seem unhealthy, and in some people it may be unhealthy, but in most Leonardos, it’s just the way we work.

Many Leonardos are branded as workaholics. Sometimes that label fits; it fit me for years. But for a lot of us, the reality isn’t that simple.

Yes, I have serious workaholic tendencies. I sometimes make myself sick, literally, by working too hard for too long. I do that less now than I once did, but I still do it.

The Two Speeds of Leonardos

As a Leonardo, one reason I do this is that I’m afraid to stop once I get going. I have two speeds – fast and stop. If I stop in the middle of a project, I might not come back to it. And there are days when getting a night’s sleep feels like “stopping.”

Sometimes I do drift into workaholism, and I know that many other Leonardos do, as well. There are some techniques that can help you, Leonardo or not, control your work more effectively. This is what I do that has worked for me.

First, I try to be aware of how much I’m working. I don’t keep a timesheet, unless I’m working for someone else, but I try to notice the time occasionally. Is it lunch time? Have I eaten today? Should I stop and have a bite?

Next, I try to slow down gradually when I feel I’m getting too revved up, rather than trying to force myself to “stop” when I don’t want to.

Sometimes I get in bed, can’t sleep for thinking about a project, and know I won’t get to sleep unless I get up and work on it. At those times, I give myself half an hour, sometimes an hour if it’s not too late, to do whatever I’ve just thought of. Then I go to bed, and I don’t let myself get back up to work on it again that night.

I’ve found one technique really helpful, when I remember it and use it. I just try to keep in mind that if it’s important today, it will be important again. No, maybe I won’t come back to it tomorrow. But I’ve never completely abandoned a project that I regretted abandoning. If it’s important enough, I’ll always come back.

Types of Energy

One thing to keep in mind when we talk about energy, and especially workaholism, is types of energy. Many people consider all energy the same. In reality, when discussing creative work, three types of productive energy come into play. Knowing what they are and how they work is key to using each effectively, whether you’re a Leonardo or not.

New Project Energy

New project energy is particularly hard to put a lid on. This is the excitement you feel when you’re working on a new idea and things are just clicking into place. New projects keep us awake because the possibilities are so stimulating. There is a thrill to putting new pieces in place, like putting the borders on a jigsaw puzzle.

This neophyte energy is hard to control, and sometimes it’s best to clear the decks and let this enthusiasm run as much as possible. However, sometimes you must limit the time and effort you spend on new projects. Keep a notebook handy for brainstorming and noting those flashes of inspiration that contribute to the project. Schedule time to work on your project, even if you can only spare a few minutes at a time. One of the annoying things about new project enthusiasm is that it often interferes with other work. Corralling it and keeping track of your thoughts can keep your days running more smoothly.

End-Time Energy

The other troublesome energy comes in the form of end-time energy. If you’ve ever stayed up all night finishing a project, just because you couldn’t stop thinking about it, you know exactly what this wrapping-up surge feels like.

Sometimes, it’s best to let this energy roll. If you’re within three or four hours of wrapping up your project, and you can afford to lose some sleep or hole up in your office through dinnertime (and your family doesn’t mind), it might be best to go ahead.

A mentor of mine is a fan of a “big push” that brings something to a conclusion. Her logic is that you not only get it off your plate and move on, but that you can also put a lot of energy and enthusiasm into one final push. The big push theory works on the idea that if you spread out the work, you also water down the energy.

So, if you’re able to do that one big push and finish up your project, go ahead and do it. If you have to break up the work into two or more sessions, try to leave yourself some notes or sketches or general directions to help you continue with the same energy you started.

These are the two types of energy that normally interrupt our sleep and our lives. The energy that carries us through the middle of a problem is steadier and more stable. Middle energy is plodding, whereas beginning and ending energy are galloping. The energy in the middle of a project can still be powerful and fun, but I’ve never heard anyone ask, “How do I control my enthusiasm for writing page 247 out of 500?”

Subtrait One | Subtrait Two | Subtrait Three | Subtrait Four | Subtrait Five

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The Leonardo Trait – Sub-Trait Two: Multiple Passions [Book Excerpt]

Leonardos are EXTREMELY passionate about everything they loveThis is an excerpt from The Leonardo Trait: How Creative People Can Turn Creative Eccentricity into a Life You Love.

When I subtitled the first edition of The Leonardo Trait “Living the Multipassionate Life,” I got a few raised eyebrows and an occasional sly remark. I almost wished I had been talking about that kind of passion; I probably would have sold a few more books.

But the core of The Leonardo Trait lies in the idea that Leonardos do have multiple interests—passions. Multipassionate lives are what set Leonardos apart. The natures of these play no role in Leonardo-ness; their existence is what matters. The defining characteristic is that Leonardos pursue a multitude of interests, all at once, and with a fierce dedication and energy.

One way the multiple passions of the Leonardo Trait appear in life is a racing creative brain and enthusiasm for almost every new project that presents itself.

In the first edition of this book, I phrased it like this: Are you extremely prone to thought, imagination and action? Do you find yourself taking on a slew of projects, including some very ambitious undertakings and some things that you aren’t sure you’ll ever finish? Is your first response almost always, YES? Guess what? You’re a Leonardo!

Passions, Not Just Interests

I want to emphasize that when I say “multiple passions,” I don’t just mean multiple interests. Most people have more than one interest. I truly mean multiple passions, in that Leonardos get deeply and passionately excited about every project they take on.

As I was working on this section of The Leonardo Trait the first time, I stopped to count the projects on my radar at that time. These included not only projects I was working on, but those I planned to work on soon, or had agreed to do for someone else. I said, in the book, “My current project count is 17, but it’s early in the week. In fact, after I made my list and wrote the preceding section, I discovered a short film shooting in my city, and offered my services shooting still photos. Haven’t heard back yet, but that would be so cool.”

In the end I didn’t get to shoot photos on the movie set, but I very much wanted to. I got as excited about that project as I was about the 18 already on my plate.

This is what “multipassionate” means. It’s the photographer who competes in international bicycle races. It’s the storyteller who teaches preschool, and the professional speaker who built her own art studio in her home.

If you are a multipassionate creator, a Leonardo, you know it. You recognize yourself in this portrait, and you know you’re different.

But you’re not just different. You’re also very special. My first goal in writing about Leonardos was to deliver that message. You’re not weird. You’re not an oddball. You’re not eccentric. You’re special.

I want to hammer home this special quality because, as Leonardos, we tend to not believe it.

I tend to feel very embarrassed when someone finds out how fast I can write. I can write 72 words a minute, when I’m really focused and don’t have to do research. I’m convinced if I could type 80 words a minute I could write 80 words a minute, but beyond that I’m not so sure.

I feel like a freak when people find out I can write three to four times faster than the average person. It’s almost as if I’m too good at it. I feel as if there’s some level of good that’s acceptable, and then my Leonardo brain puts me up in the freak seats.

All of these passions and projects and enthusiasms—they’re who we are. They’re who we’re supposed to be.

If having 17 projects going at one time is too much for you, if it tires you out and wears you down and breaks your spirit, don’t do it.

On the other hand, if you feel more alive with 17 projects than with one project, find 16 more.

Always do what feels right to your Leonardo soul without overtaxing your Leonardo brain.

Subtrait One | Subtrait Two | Subtrait Three | Subtrait Four | Subtrait Five

Photo Courtesy of Gratisography. Image created by Angie Dixon.