Kiss Your Senior Moments Good-bye! interview with Michael J Gelb by Bettina Gordon

Kiss Your Senior Moments Good-bye!

(c) photo by Nathalie Schueller

There is a fascinating topic that keeps crossing my editor’s desk: neuroplasticity, which is the popular term for your brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. The scientific evidence on brain research now points to the surprising fact that our minds are designed to improve as we get older. That’s right – better watch out for the 60 year old start-up CEO with that wise, expansive brain, leaving the youngsters in the dust!

Wherever you are in your life’s circle, this is very good news: Your brain is the one organ in your body that will not squeak, pinch, hurt or outright deteriorate as you age, if you treat it right.  In fact, your brain has the ability to significantly improve as you mature, which will have a huge impact on society and the way we run our businesses as soon as the 76 million baby boomers in this country realize that senior moments can – and should be – a thing from the past.


For the first part on my mini-series on neuroplasticity I recently sat down with accomplished author and international business consultant Michael J. Gelb to discuss the findings of his brand new book “Brain Power – Improve Your Mind as You Age”. Michael was still recovering from knee surgery (and a hip replacement two years prior) when we met in the lobby of the Ritz Carlton hotel in DC. Now turning 60, Michael himself has experienced the physical challenges that come with age. But when I asked him about Brain Power, his 13th book and “the most important I ever wrote” the author, whose previous books sold three million copies worldwide, practically jumped out of his seat.

Bettina Gordon: What exactly is neuroplasticity?

Michael Gelb: Neuro is the brain cell and plasticity means flexible, adaptable, and changeable. To understand neuroplasticity we need to recognize what the old paradigm was that we might call ‘neuro static’. Until recently the scientific establishment had a consensus that the brain couldn’t change, and that the brain is pretty well finished developing in childhood, and starts to decline after age 30. You might even call it ‘neuro necrotic’ because it was believed that your brain cells just die relentlessly and there was no hope of regeneration or developing new patterns of connection. It was believed by earnest, thoughtful scientists that this was the nature of our brains.

Bettina: What changed?

Michael: These assumptions have been overturned largely because we now have the technology to map your brain. We have MRI’s and brain scans so we can watch people as they learn new things.  We can look at a person’s brain when he learns a new task, like learning how to juggle. You practice juggling for 15 minutes as an adult and we can watch your brain form new connections.

Bettina: And how significant is the finding that my brain forms new neuro connections?

Michael: It’s revolutionary because it is infallible proof that our brains can get better with age.  We can now watch the brain grow and adapt and change and improve. Lots of studies have now been done on how to strengthen brain connections, and how to even generate new brain cells. There is another new word ’neurogenesis’; we used to believe it was not possible for grown-ups to generate new brain cells – but it turns out it is. Of course some cells do die as we get older, but we have more than 100 billion cells and use only a fraction of them. We’re underutilizing our mental capacity and can develop much more of our potential and our abilities as we age.

Bettina: The science of strengthening your brain at any age has developed within the last couple of decades, but only now it’s making its way into mainstream’s consciousness?

Michael: Yes, that is why I wrote this book. Many intelligent people read the science section of the newspaper and they’ve heard of neuroplasticity, but they haven’t in any way integrated it into their own life. They grew up believing the neuro static notion and that the brain is getting older. Attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy and that’s surely one of the reasons it took so long to become a more popular topic.

The impact of science on neuroplasticity is outstanding. There are clinicians all over the world that are applying neuroplasticity to do things that seemed impossible, like helping people who have never been able to hear recruit part of the brain in order to hear again, see again, or speak. They help people recover functions we used to think were lost forever. It doesn’t mean that it’s easy and it doesn’t mean that anybody who has a problem will magically be cured, because there’s a tremendous amount of discipline and work involved.  But it can be done.

Bettina: A brain can improve at really any age?

Michael: Yes, any age. The issue is not “do we have the capacity?”  The issue is that we get stuck in limiting habits. We do the same neuro muscular patterns over and over again, as we do the same movements over and over. We think the same thoughts, because we tend to be dominated by unconscious automatic brain patterns. So we’re instinctively more concerned with our survival, safety, esteem and ego rather than with our creativity, vision and transformation.

So in order to change that and develop our untapped brain capacity, it needs a conscious intervention. If you leave your brain unattended by consciousness you will not improve your brain and it will get worse because you do the same thing you are used to doing, and you won’t learn new things and eventually become limited. Some people are on automatic pilot. The good news is you can turn this around at any age, as long as you don’t already have any dementia. There was a study done on people who are 100 years old learning new things and significantly improving their scores on memory tests.

Bettina: But many of our elders already struggle with dementia or other forms of deterioration of the mind.

Michael: It does not have to be like that. My book is of huge benefit for all the people who do not want to experience any form of dementia in their later years, and who are willing to form good habits now. Look, I’m aware that parts of us do wear out as we get older. I had a knee replacement and a hip replacement, because I used them a lot and they wore out. But the good news is that is not how our brain works!  If you use it a lot it doesn’t wear out, it gets better.


Bestselling author and international business advisor Michael Gelb: “Although it’s hard to overstate Leonardo da Vinci’s brilliance, recent scientific research reveals that you probably underestimate your own capabilities.” Photo (c) M. Mahoney


Bettina: Then let’s talk about the different ways to prevent dementia and improve the brain!

Michael: It’s been found that activities that challenge the mind actually help to prevent dementia. People who play chess, play bridge or learn new languages, are less likely to get dementia. You can compare it to going to the gym and lifting weights or getting on the exercise bike – you are building your strength and your cardiovascular abilities so that you’re healthier and stronger and keep more muscle tone with less bone loss. When you learn new things you’re strengthening your brain by making new neuromuscular connections and new synaptic connections – new pathways of your brain – so you’re getting your brain functioning in a more lively way. And the more parts of your brain that are working and being challenged and awakened, the healthier and sharper your brain seems to be. Your brain likes to be stimulated.

Bettina: Are people with a more positive outlook on aging more apt to improve their brain, or does general attitude towards life not matter that much?

Michael: Well, there was a study of 650 subjects; those with a negative attitude toward aging, and those with a positive attitude toward aging. The positive attitude group outlived the negative group by an average of 7 ½ years. I’m interested in longevity PLUS improvement. I don’t want you to just live longer, with no memory, no joy, and no pleasure. This book is about living longer and more intelligently and improving your mind as you get older, really.

My expertise is in the educational elements of the new paradigm. In other words, what are the practical, simple, research-validated things that the average person can do to prevent dementia and improve their minds as they get older? It’s about fundamentally shifting your mindset about getting older so that you look forward to deepening your wisdom. My favorite line is “aging well is the supreme expression of wisdom”. I don’t think we should use the phrase “anti-aging” any longer but rather talk about aging gracefully, aging intelligently, aging wisely; that’s what this book is about.

Bettina: Attitude is obviously key. How else can I change my brain’s circuitry?

Michael: Multiple studies show that people who keep a gratitude journal improve their brain’s circuitry. It’s simple things, like writing down something you’re grateful for and feeling grateful for these things for just five minutes each day. These people have a much better perceived sense of well-being over the course of however long they keep the gratitude journal. They also show improvements in their immune function, which is why they may live longer. Same thing with forgiveness, which is harder for a lot of people. Humor is an amazing tool and also strengthens the immune system, and keeps your mind alive and sharp. If you are witty you are making new connections with your mind. Laughing is therapeutic; you’re deepening your respiration and stimulating your endorphins. Learning something new, like a new language, and studying for 15 minutes per day makes a huge difference in your brain’s functionality.

Bettina: 15 minutes a day is all?

Michael: Yes, that’s not too much to ask to keep your brain alive, is it?! Learning something new seems a key factor. Regular exercise is important as well, because your brain is 2% of your body’s weight but it uses 20% of your body’s oxygen. So walking, strength training or stretching is paramount, a minimum of 20 minutes to an hour a day would be best. Also working on your balance is key. People are often losing their balance when they get older.  It’s a missing link in a lot of fitness programs, so we teach you how to do it in the book. We give people a lot of advice on how to start and maintain a fitness program because it’s something I’m very passionate about. The next key point of course is diet and nutrition. In the book we suggest simple things that everybody can do, like drinking plenty of water, eating breakfast, eliminating all junk from your diet, no more trans fats, no excess sugar, that kind of thing. In short, don’t eat toxic crap!

And watch those high glycemic carbohydrates. Some people digest them better than others, but if you cut calories and notice you’re still gaining weight it’s probably the effect of carbohydrates on your metabolism and on your hormonal balance, or rather, imbalance. There are supplements that I recommend as well to improve your brain function. Bottom line is that if you decide you want to feel good, you’ll start making better choices. Among the anti-oxidants that are “rust proofers” are, in moderation, red wine with dinner, coffee in the morning and high-quality dark chocolate once a day, for example. They are all high in anti-oxidants and really good for you.


Michael Gelb: Aging well is the supreme expression of wisdom. If you want to age well, then nurture your wisdom by studying the lives of great men and women from all walks of life who continued to be productive and fulfilled in their later years.


Bettina: How about stimulating your creativity and your senses?

Michael: Absolutely, I call it the brain enhancing environment. Peel yourself away from those nasty TV shows and listen to good music instead, or go outside for a walk in nature. We need to consciously create a positive, enriching, stimulating environment, instead of the stupor many people find themselves in almost automatically, whether by using drugs, alcohol or TV as their mode of relaxation.

Getting enough rest is also important. Just as we are chronically dehydrated, we are chronically rest deprived. So getting eight hours of sleep, taking a nap, and learning to meditate are some of the absolute best things to do. We included a lot of guidance on sleeping well, and 20 minutes of meditation in our book. Our book comes with a downloadable Brain Sync Audio program to balance your brain hemispheres and optimize mental performance, created by my co-author. I’m also very excited about our research because of its implication on society: if we could get millions of people doing the exercises in this book, the savings would be phenomenal. It would literally save billions of dollars in healthcare.

Bettina: What is the impact in the business world?

Michael: There is absolutely no reason anymore, to retire a 65 year old who has improved with age!  Or to make it difficult for a 50 year old to find a new job, because he’s “old news”. Wrong! With this knowledge, every employer can now make a more informed decision. They would be crazy to let go of their wisest and most experienced people who only get smarter with age. An older employee who consciously improves can be the biggest asset for a company and quite easily outperform younger people.

Bettina: Can and will these scientific findings now significantly shift the way that we look at old people here in America so that we start to revere our elders and treat them with respect?

Michael: Well that’s my intention, which added a new dimension to my sense of purpose. If television programs or public speakers said about women or ethnic minorities what is said about old people they would be vilified or even put in jail for discrimination, but people continue to slander people over the age of 55 as if they are some sort of pathetic wretches. Your brain’s functionality has less to do with age than your long-term habits. So put Mozart on your computer, start playing chess, stop eating crap every day, meet new people; and of course, read our book!

ONLINE SEMINAR: Brain Power – Improve Your Mind as You Age

Sponsored by en*theos academy

Starts SATURDAY April 28, 2012!

Time: 4 Saturdays at 9:00 AM PT / 12:00 PM ET
Dates: April 28 + May 5, 12, 19

Can’t make the calls? No problem! Download an MP3 of the class the next day.

Tuition: $125
(If cash is tight, we offer a “Pick Your Price” model where you can choose to pay $125/$100/$50. And, if cash is *super* tight, you can apply for a scholarship! )

Enroll Now!

Course Overview:

In the last 30 years the scientific evidence supporting the notion that your mind can improve through the years has become overwhelming. Clearly, the question is no longer whether your mind can improve with age, but rather how you can optimize your mental powers as you get older.

This program presents practical, evidence-based information on improving your mind throughout life.

Just as Copernicus overturned the myth that the earth was at the center of the universe, so contemporary neuroscience has revolutionized our understanding of the potential to improve mental functioning as we age.

In this compelling, inspirational and supremely practical 4-week program you’ll be presented with the evidence for this new paradigm and, most importantly, you will learn to incorporate this new way of understanding aging so you can improve your mind every year of your life.

Enroll Now!

What You’ll Learn Each Week:

  • Week 1 – Intro to The New Paradigm + Think Counterclockwise
  • Week 2 – Be a Life-Long Learner + Exercise for More Brain Power
  • Week 3 – Mind Your Diet, Your Environment + Your Social Wealth
  • Week 4 – Conclusion + Applied Neuroplasticity

Textbook for the Course:  Brain Power: Improve Your Mind as You Age  by Michael Gelb & Kelly Howell

Learning to Think Like Leo

Laura Rafaty | Posted: Thursday, March 15, 2012 12:00 am



Michael Gelb thinks you’re a genius. Or thinks you can be if you follow his program, which teaches the creatively challenged thinkers of today how to emulate “the greatest genius of all time.” And that very model of a modern innovative thinker is not Steve Jobs or Stephen Hawking; it’s Leonardo da Vinci.

So explained Gelb, a best-selling author, motivational speaker and self-made Renaissance man, at the recent Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood, co-hosted by the resort and the Napa Valley Vintners. Convening for four days in February, the symposium attracted some 70 speakers, panelists and attendees, including Joshua Greene, editor of Wine & Spirits Magazine; Eric Asimov, chief wine critic for New York Times; Guy Woodward, editor of Decanter Magazine; and Antonio Galloni of Wine Advocate.

This group of top editors and wine writers met to polish their wine writing, deepen their wine knowledge and experience their own creative renaissance with Gelb’s guidance, based on his book: “How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day.”

Da Vinci was a hero of Gelb’s since childhood; a real-life Superman who “embodied all we know about human potential.” And so in 1994, armed with a fascination for the artist and a free ticket to Florence, Gelb followed in the footsteps of the master, studying da Vinci’s notebooks, inventions and artworks and developing a renaissance roadmap for the journey from intellect to inspiration. Gelb distilled from da Vinci’s work seven universal principles of the creative process — “the essential elements of genius,” he said — which include:

Curiositá: An insatiably curious approach to life and unrelenting quest for continuous learning.

Dimonstratzione: A commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence and a willingness to learn from mistakes.

Sensazione: The continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience.

Sfumato: A willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty.

Arte/Scienza: The development of the balance between science and art, logic and imagination.

Corporalitá: The cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness and poise.

Connessione: A recognition of and appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena.

Exploring these elements will kick-start creativity, although this requires concentrated effort and diligent capture of your every fleeting and potentially brilliant thought, Gelb asserted. It also requires hand-gestures, and Gelb coached the crowd on how to punctuate each Italian phrase with the appropriate wave of the arm, flip of the wrist and twist of the tongue.

Gelb would seem the ideal creativity coach for this group, having previously written the book “Wine Drinking for Inspired Thinking: Uncork Your Creative Juices.” Appealing to these oenophiles, Gelb celebrated the role wine can play in unlocking genius potential, or at least in loosening it up a bit.

“Wine is the elixir of genius … the preferred libation for many of the finest minds who ever lived,” he said. “All the great thinkers met at the palace of the Medici, where they drank wine and talked about truth and beauty and goodness.”

In fact, the word “symposium,” he explained, means “to drink wine together.”

Not surprisingly, Gelb said he found the Napa Valley to be a particularly conducive atmosphere for creative thinking, as it embodies the joie de vivre and la dolce vita he advocates. “This is one of the most beautiful places in the world … a temple to the elixir of genius.”

Of course, even da Vinci grew older, and some might worry that it may be too late to teach an old brain new tricks. Not so, assures Gelb, whose latest book, “Brain Power: Improve Your Mind as You Age,” promises that even a mature mind can become better, if properly challenged and exercised.

“We grew up thinking that the brain declines after age 30. We now know that it was intended to improve with use,” he said.

As Gelb sees it: “Iron rusts from disuse and water that does not flow becomes stagnant. … It is the same with the human mind.” With a knowing smile, he suggests that adopting da Vinci’s creative strategies for genius thinking might operate like RustOleum for the brain that, when paired with Resveratrol from fine wine, will keep the mental machinery humming.

Watching Gelb, who, despite having some gray hairs, displayed an infectious youthful charm — juggling fruit, spouting limericks and bouncing around like a precocious teenager — it doesn’t take a genius to see that he’s on to something.


Vinography: How to Think & Drink Like Leonardo da Vinci


by Vinography: A Wine Blog – Alder Yarrow

What Wine Drinkers Can Learn from Leonardo Da Vinci


As some of you know, I was in Napa last week at the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers. The keynote speaker was Michael Gelb, the best selling author and speaker, whose most popular book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, served as the primary subject for his talk. Gelb is a passionate wine drinker, who also has written a book called Wine Drinking for Inspired Thinking, so a talk on creativity from him didn’t come entirely out of the blue. Even though wine was not his subject, he wove several wine anecdotes into his speech.

His talk was focused on using the principles outlined in his book to help those in attendance with their work and career as writers. But it struck me that these principles, which Gelb gleaned from Leonardo’s writings and works, are a wonderful map for aspiring wine lovers. So with Gelb’s permission, I’d like to explore how Leonardo Da Vinci (as interpreted by Gelb) can teach you a deeper appreciation for wine.

From Da Vinci’s life and works, Gelb distilled seven principles that he feels embody “genius thinking.” Each offers something to the wine lover.



Brain Power – Improve Your Mind as you Age featured in The Times London chess column

by Grandmaster Ray Keene OBE

Viktor Korchnoi, now 80, is still performing at a high level, as can be seen from his 60% score in the Tradewise Gibraltar tournament which finished earlier this month. Korchnoi’s gerontological feat might be considered amazing but it should be borne in mind that Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is generally considered superior to his first while Shakespeare’s Tempest (also his last masterpiece) is regarded as one of his best.

A new book Brain Power – Improve Your Mind as you Age (New World Library) by Michael Gelb and Kelly Howell gives concrete examples of superlative achievements in great age and offers tips, advice and instruction as to how to keep the brain healthy. Chess is given particular prominence since medical research indicates that the game is a powerful remedy against the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease.

The authors quote Leonardo da Vinci, often regarded as the illustrator of the chess treatise De Ludo Schacorum, by the renaissance mathematician Luca Pacioli (see article in The Times of 10 March 2008), “Iron rusts from disuse; stagnant water loses its purity… even so does inaction sap the vigour of the mind.”


Brain Power: Improve Your Mind As You Age – The Aging Brain: Now It’s Serious

I’ve been teaching people to improve their minds as they get older since the beginning of my career.  I led my first seminar on the subject back in 1978 when I was just 26 years old.  Well, I’m approaching 60, and now, it’s SERIOUS!  When I first started leading seminars I was usually the youngest person in the room, and now I’m almost always the oldest.

Although I’m blessed with abundant energy and passion for my work, I also experience the challenges of aging. For example, a few years ago my right hip began to hurt.  Despite my positive attitude and holistic health practices, (and my access to many world class complementary medicine practitioners and energy healers)  my hip joint continued to degrade.  Thanks to the brilliance of contemporary medical technology I was able to get a new hip joint.  Then, my right knee started to break down, and 5 weeks ago I had total knee replacement surgery.  The recovery has been difficult but I’m making progress and hope to be up and running (literally!) soon.

It’s clear that some of our parts, like hips and knees, do wear out with use.  The good news, however, is that the brain isn’t one of those parts. Indeed, the brain is designed to IMPROVE with use. So what’s the best way to use it to ensure improvement?

This is the intention behind my new book, Brain Power: Improve Your Mind as You Age to explain, in clear and accessible terms, the research-validated, practical things that you can do, or stop doing, to improve your mind every year of your life.  The book is based on the confluence of timeless wisdom, practical experience, and the latest research. Contemporary science has established that you can improve your mind as you age, and you can begin that process of improvement now.

Start by embracing a positive, optimistic, attitude toward aging.  According to Becca Levy PhD individuals with a positive attitude outlive those with a pessimistic approach by an average of more than 7 years! Find a guiding purpose for your life and cultivate gratitude, forgiveness, and humor. Continuous learning is the true fountain of youth, so learn something new every day and embrace fresh challenges. Much of what passes for senility and memory loss over the years is a function of the depletion of the supply of oxygen to the brain, so oxygenate your brain and sharpen your wits by creating an approach to exercise that you enjoy, and practice the simple principles of healthy eating. Surround yourself with beauty and a positive, multisensory, stimulus-rich environment. Invest in your social wealth, and practice meditation daily. (Brain Power includes a free link to the brain wave synchronization technology developed by my co-author Kelly Howell. This free audio download will help you train your brain to effortlessly create the brain waves associated with deep meditation).

Imagine the wonderful new world that would emerge if a critical mass of people applied these simple principles. And imagine the huge savings in health-care costs!

Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr penned one of the wisest statements ever made about aging, and life in general.  His Serenity Prayer, adopted as a credo by AA and other groups, advises us to embrace:

 The serenity to accept the things we cannot change;
the courage to change the things we can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Since most of us were raised with ideas about aging that are inaccurate, such as the faulty notions that our mental capacity is fixed at age five and that our brain cells degrade yearly after the age of 30 — we tend to underestimate what we can realistically change.  The Serenity Prayer reveals the secret of aging gracefully and intelligently –serenely accept and embrace the transitory nature of life and the increasing vulnerabilities that present themselves over time –while wisely and courageously cultivating the vast possibilities of mind, body and spirit.

Find out more about Brain Power: Improve Your Mind As You Age

ONLINE SEMINAR: How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci

Sponsored by en*theos academy

Starts this SATURDAY NOVEMBER 19, 2011!

Dates & Tuition

Time: 5 Saturdays at 10:00 am Pacific
Dates: November 19, 26 + December 3, 10, 17

Can’t make the calls? No problem! Download an MP3 of the class the next day.

Tuition: $125

(If cash is tight, we offer a “Pick Your Price” model where you can choose to pay $125/$100/$50. And, if cash is *super* tight, you can apply for a scholarship!)

Enroll Now!

Course Overview

Thinking creatively, learning faster and staying centered, these abilities are at a premium in a rapidly changing and complex world. What if you could call on history’s greatest genius, Leonardo da Vinci, to be your personal mentor in cultivating these highly prized elements of human capital? Anatomist, architect, botanist, city planner, chef, engineer, equestrian, inventor, geographer, geologist, musician, painter, and philosopher, Leonardo da Vinci helped bring the Western world out of the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance. Now, his approach to optimizing human potential is more relevant than ever.

You will be guided to apply the 7 principles for thinking like Leonardo, through a proven series of practical exercises, to your deepest life questions. The da Vinci principles are:

• Curiosità – An insatiable quest for knowledge and continuous improvement
• Dimostrazione – Learning from experience
• Sensazione – Sharpening the senses
• Sfumato – Managing ambiguity and change
• Arte/Scienza – Whole-brain thinking
• Corporalità – Body-mind fitness
• Connessione – Systems thinking

Textbook for the Course

How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael J. Gelb

Who Should Attend?

This inspiring and practical look at the essential elements of Leonardo da Vinci’s genius will be great for all those committed to living an extraordinary life while enjoying the process.

What You’ll Get Out of the Course

In this dynamic, highly-interactive program Michael Gelb brings da Vinci’s genius to life. You will learn how to:

• Make a Mind Map that integrates your life vision, values and goals
• Nurture creativity and innovation
• Put more Dolce in your Vita
• Find opportunity in uncertainty
• Improve memory and problem solving
• Balance mind and body to reduce stress
• Access and apply the real spiritual teachings of Leonardo

Leonardo da Vinci invented the parachute before anyone could fly. That’s thinking ahead! Imagine what you will accomplish when you learn the approach of humanity’s supreme archetype for the fulfillment of human potential.

Enroll Now!



Create Like Leonardo, Innovate Like Edison, an interview with Investment Advisor Magazine

Need to differentiate? By studying what made da Vinci and Edison great, advisors can teach themselves to be more creative and innovative

Have you ever wished you could think as creatively as Leonardo da Vinci, who designed a flying machine, invented musical instruments and painted the Mona Lisa? Or that you could turn innovative ideas into profitable reality like Thomas Edison, the Wizard of Menlo Park, who developed the light bulb, phonograph and movie camera?


If so, Michael Gelb has some suggestions for you.

Gelb has extensively studied how “genius thinking” applies to personal and organizational development. In 1998, he published his analysis of Leonardo’s brilliance in the best-selling “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day.” In 2007, he expanded the field of creative thinking with “Innovate Like Edison: The Five-Step System for Breakthrough Business Success,” co-authored with Edison’s great-grandniece, Sarah Miller Caldicott. He has also written 10 other books, leads a seminar on innovation at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, and is the director of leadership and creativity at the Conscious Capitalism Institute.

As part of this focus on creativity and innovation, Gelb has introduced the idea of teaching juggling to promote accelerated learning and team-building. A former professional juggler, he once performed with the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.

I’ve known about Michael and his work for years. When I attended a workshop of his, long ago, I was blown away by his ability to help people unleash their creative selves. Financial advisors can learn a lot from Gelb’s observations on how to unlock their creativity, fine-tune their goal-setting skills and maximize their brainpower.

Olivia Mellan: How did you get into exploring the lives of Leonardo and Edison?
Michael Gelb:
 When I was a child my two biggest role models, my heroes, were Leonardo da Vinci and Superman. Eventually I discovered that Superman was only a comic book character, but Leonardo was real.

One of the great things about being human, once you’re a grown-up, is that you can choose who and what you want to imitate. So if you want to learn creativity, it makes sense to model perhaps the most creative person who ever lived: Leonardo da Vinci. And if you want to learn innovation, then you want to model yourself after the greatest innovator of all time: Thomas Edison.

Part of the reason why da Vinci and Edison make such a powerful one-two combination as role models for creativity and innovation, respectively, is that Leonardo was more interested in pure creativity, whereas Edison aimed to link his creativity to business.

OM: How can we apply Leonardo’s processes to our professional lives? Advisors want to help clients achieve the life they truly want, and find financial security and true serenity.
 For an advisor in a highly competitive world, the challenge is to add value by serving as more than just a resource for good stocks and bonds. The best advisors have the emotional intelligence to bond with their clients and help them take stock of their lives.

I’ve identified seven principles for thinking like Leonardo da Vinci that can guide advisors in developing an ability to integrate the big picture with the details. Not only can these tools help them better serve their clients, but they also constitute a program advisors can follow to integrate the personal and the professional and keep their own lives in balance.

[Click here to learn one way to think like a visionary.]

Q. Can you walk us through the principles for thinking like Leonardo?
 Absolutely. The idea is to first implement each principle in your own life, then see how you can use it to improve what you do for your clients.

  1. Curiosità (curiosity) is the first principle. Leonardo was on an insatiable quest for knowledge and continuous learning. What this comes down to on a personal level is seeking to understand yourself and fulfill your potential. Professionally, it means eliciting from your clients their most important life questions. Dig deep to find out what truly matters to them.
  2. Dimostrazione (demonstration), the second principle, refers to Leonardo’s insistence on learning by personal experience rather than taking others’ reports for granted. The lesson for advisors is to always think independently and critically, and to help your clients think more objectively about their current situation and their goals.
  3. Sensazione (sensation), which is related to the first two principles, refers to Leonardo’s ability to focus on sharpening his sensory awareness. He wrote, “The five senses are the ministers of the soul.” You can train yourself and your clients to be sharper by cutting through all the spam and identifying the most critically important information.
  4. Sfumato, the fourth principle, is a painting technique employed by da Vinci to create an ethereal quality in his work. To me, this ability to embrace ambiguity and change is probably the most important da Vinci principle for advisors and their clients. It suggests the importance of maintaining a sense of perspective and alignment with your principles in the face of grave uncertainty.
  5. Arte/scienza (the science of art) refers to Leonardo’s whole-brain thinking: his ability to be both imaginative and practical. Advisors too must practice their capacity to think both analytically and intuitively, and encourage their clients to develop the same balance.
  6. Corporalità, which literally means physicality, represents Leonardo’s belief that a healthy mind requires a healthy body. Even though an advisor isn’t meant to be a wellness consultant, you still need to have a healthy lifestyle and help your clients develop one. In big-picture terms, if your net worth goes up but your energy level and general health go down, you’re not a good investor.
  7. Connessione (connection) relates to Leonardo’s ability to weave multiple disciplines around a single idea. In other words, he was a systems thinker—which is one of the primary ways an advisor adds value. You have to see all the important connections in your clients’ lives, which means understanding their vision, values and goals. To advise them effectively, you have to be able to ascertain the most significant global forces that will impact the investments you recommend.

OM: I understand that USA Today asked you what Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Edison would ask each other if they ever met. What did you say?
 Da Vinci would ask Edison about the nature of light, and Edison would ask da Vinci, “Do you want a job?”

OM: In “Innovate Like Edison,” you offer a system for cultivating innovation. Tell us more about the five competencies you’ve identified.
 Edison’s strategies for generating new ideas and finding promising business opportunities are especially relevant for advisors and investors. His five competencies of innovation, as I’ve determined them, are:

1. A solution-centered mindset. This means focusing on solving problems rather than being dragged down by them. This is the attitude that makes innovation possible.

Edison is famous for having said, “Results? I’ve gotten lots of results. I know thousands of things that won’t work.” He continually focused on finding solutions and learned from things that didn’t work. The message for advisors is not to get bogged down by dwelling on past mistakes and regrets, and to concentrate instead on applying the lessons learned.

2. Kaleidoscopic thinking. Edison said, “If you want to get a good idea, get a lot of ideas.” Open your mind to a broad and expansive range of possibilities, then home in on the most compelling ideas.

3. Full-spectrum engagement. This involves the ability to manage complexity—a skill that’s even more important now than it was in Edison’s time.

Edison believed in Occam’s Razor, the principle that when there are a number of possible answers, it’s advisable to chose the one that makes the fewest new assumptions. He sought simplicity in the midst of complexity. In the complicated world of investing, this is a valuable instinct to cultivate. For example, if you can’t understand what a company does or why it’s valuable, don’t buy it!

Also, both da Vinci and Edison were deeply contemplative. Leonardo said, “Men of genius sometimes work best when they work least.” Here he’s expressing the importance of receptivity and deep relaxation in the process of creation. Edison would go off in the middle of a workday to a nearby pond where he would fish with a baitless hook. Why? Because he was really “fishing” for breakthrough ideas, and he knew that relaxation made him more receptive to intuitive insight. He once said, “To do much clear thinking, a person must arrange for regular periods of solitude when he can concentrate and indulge the imagination without distraction.”

These modes of consciousness are critically important to investment success and success of any kind. The key is to find your own natural rhythm, balancing intense focus and concentrated work with reflection and receptivity.

4. Mastermind collaboration. In order to create his amazing innovations, Edison assembled a team of brilliant people from diverse and complementary backgrounds. As an advisor, one of the best things you can do to be more innovative is to create your own “mastermind” group of specialists with different backgrounds and viewpoints.

5. Super-value creation. All businesses are based on the idea of creating value for a customer or client. Edison believed he had to create value for his customers in a manner that was dramatically superior to his competitors—hence the term “super”-value creation. Of course, discerning opportunities for value in the investment landscape is critical for long-term success. But in addition to beating numerical benchmarks, advisors can add value by cultivating relationships with their clients that result in continuity, even during periods of underperformance.

OM: What’s the single most important thing for advisors who want to innovate like Edison?
 I think the most important thing is to align your goals with your passion. Edison said, “I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.” The best financial advisors I’ve ever met are by far the most passionate and engaged and caring. They love what they do.

[Click here to learn how to use Edison’s principles to help shape your goals.]

OM: I understand you have a new book coming out soon called “Brain Power: Improve Your Mind As You Age.” Since much has been written about the graying of the advisory profession, planners will be hungry to learn from this book. Can you tell us a little about it?
 I’ve been teaching people how to improve the mind with age throughout my career, but now it’s serious. The exciting news is that scientific evidence that you can improve your mind as you age has become overwhelming.

Most of us grew up believing that our brain power was fixed at age five, and that the mind would inevitably begin to decline after age 30. We now know that that’s not true. The brain, as neuroscientist Dr. Richard Restak explains, is designed to improve with use. Your brain is flexible and adaptable, and is designed to continue evolving over time. As Leonardo da Vinci wrote in his notebooks 500 years ago, “Water that does not flow becomes stagnant. Thus it is with the human mind.”

Contemporary science demonstrates that the question is no longer “Can your mind improve with age?” but rather “What are the best ways to improve your mind over time?” In the new book, I’ve identified the most essential, research-validated and practical approaches to continuous neural development.

OM: As someone about to turn 65, my curiosity is running wild. How about a hint?
 Interesting you should say that: Maintaining your curiosity and a positive attitude towards aging makes a tremendous difference in mental acuity and even actual longevity. “Brain Power” also covers diet, nutrition, exercise, attitude, continuous learning, the importance of social interaction, nurturing what I call a “brain-enhancing environment”—making your home and workplace an environment filled with beauty, music and enjoyment—relaxation, rest and meditation.

Many people are familiar with some of these, but what this book does is take a systematic approach to help readers get the most out of these practices. It also includes something unique: My co-author, Kelly Howell, is one of the world leaders in brainwave training technology. So “Brain Power” comes with a free download of training programs that will help readers experience the brainwave states associated with rest, relaxation and deep meditation.

OM: Something you once wrote inspires me personally: “Aging well is the supreme expression of wisdom. If you want to age well, nurture your wisdom by studying the lives of great men and women from all walks of life who continued to be productive and fulfilled in their later years.” To me, these words have the ring of truth.
 That says it all for me, too.

Adventures with Genius: A Seminar with Murray Gell-Mann and Michael J. Gelb


Murray Gell-MannIn a field cluttered with misinformation, Michael Gelb is an authentic source of practical wisdom for those who seek to develop their creative powers. ~ Murray Gell-Mann

Murray Gell-Mann

Winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics (1969), Murray Gell-Mann is a unique intellectual powerhouse. In addition to being a theoretical physicist he is also a passionate student of linguistics, cultural evolution, archeology, history, ornithology and the psychology of creative thinking. Gell-Mann is a co-founder and one of the prime movers of the renowned think tank, the Santa Fe Institute.


In March 2011 I had the opportunity to entertain Murray at my home in Santa Fe.  We enjoyed some superb wines and a very lively conversation.  In 2002 I released a book entitled Discover Your Genius: How to Think Like History’s Ten Most Revolutionary Minds. Murray was curious about who was on my all-time genius roster; so, I gave him the selection criteria and invited him to guess.  As you might imagine, he did rather well.  And, he had met one of the figures in the book-Albert Einstein. In the course of the evening Murray shared stories of his interactions with Fermi, Feynman, Oppenheimer, and many other great minds.

After we said goodbye I reflected on our conversation and in a blinding flash of the obvious I realized that a marvelous opportunity was at hand.  For the last 30 years I’ve studied the workings of great minds and aimed to make their wisdom accessible to you.  In studying Leonardo da Vinci I traveled to his birthplace and to the place he died.  I read his notebooks and interviewed many of the great da Vinci scholars, including Professor Martin Kemp. In researching Innovate Like Edison I worked closely with Sarah Miller Caldicott, the great-grandniece of Edison and visited the Edison Papers Project at Rutgers where I was able to interview Dr. Paul Israel, the renowned Edison scholar.  I also visited many historical sites including his estate in Ft. Myers, Florida and the extraordinary re-creation of his laboratories in Dearborn, Michigan at the Ford Museum.

Of course I obviously wasn’t able to actually meet with and interview either Edison or Leonardo.  But, here, in my kitchen, I had just shared some Volnay with a genius who revolutionized our understanding of the nature of the universe.

Since our initial get together, I’ve hosted Murray at a series of dinners to continue our conversation about the nature of the creative process and to explore how, in the words of Leonardo, we can “quicken the spirit of invention.”  I’ve invited other passionate creative thinkers, such as Pulitzer-prize winning playwright Sam Shepard and archaeologist and head of the Santa Fe Institute, Dr Jerry Sabloff, to join in the festivities.   I’m recording these discussions and will eventually turn them into a book.

Meanwhile, Murray and I have agreed that it would be fruitful, fun, and interesting to share our conversations with others who are interested in a deeper understanding of the nature of creativity and systems thinking.  We’ve developed a simple, powerful program for you to take advantage of and participate in this delightful dialogue.

There are several offerings we can make. One option is that during the day I will take your group through the principles for thinking like a genius, and in the late afternoon and evening you will have the opportunity to drink wine and dine with a living genius and discuss how he brings these principles to life. Another option is that we both deliver perspectives on creative thinking and then invite the group into the larger conversation while wining and dining.

You’ll be inspired by the depth and breadth of Murray’s knowledge, his amazing stories of interactions with many of the great minds of the past 80 years, his delightful sense of humor and unrelenting intellectual curiosity.

To arrange a program with Murray and Michael for your organization, Please contact Michael or call 505-438-1181.

View Gell-Mann’s TED talk.

Leading Innovation: Thinking Creatively for Positive Change


September 13 – 16, 2011


University of Virginia Darden School of Business

100 Darden Boulevard, Charlottesville, VA 22903 USA,  +1-434-924-3900

Register HERE


James G. Clawson
Photo by Michael Mahoney, Hat Head Studios
James G. Clawson
Johnson & Higgins Professor of
Business Administration
Michael J. Gelb
Internationally renowned author,
speaker, and consultant


“All organizations require one core competency: Innovation.”
– Peter Drucker

As Peter Drucker emphasized, innovation is the core competency for dealing with the aggressive pace of change. More than ever, businesses need people who can think creatively and work together to promote a culture that supports innovation. Through dynamic, interactive learning experiences, participants in Leading Innovation: Thinking Creatively for Positive Change will measurably improve their creative thinking skills and leverage those skills for positive change. Executives and managers will learn how to lead innovation, and return to the workplace with an innovation plan for their organizations. The program features Michael Gelb, internationally renowned author, speaker, and consultant. Discover why the Process of Systematic Innovation is considered to be Thomas Edison’s greatest invention, and explore the components of the Five Competencies of Innovation.


Executives, managers, and directors who want to:

  • Strengthen their abilities to think creatively and to implement innovation in their organizations.
  • Use innovative strategies to lead positive change and increase opportunities for growth.
  • Overcome organizational inertia and resistance to innovation.

Participant Profile

  • Direct Marketing Manager
  • Director, Business Analysis and Strategy
  • General Manager
  • Manager, Business Strategy
  • Research Manager, R&Dd
  • Strategy and Innovation Advisor
  • Vice President, Engineer Manager
  • Vice President of Marketing


Participants will identify their critical innovation challenges and discover how to generate solutions. They will learn how to:

  • Think outside of habitual patterns.
  • Understand the common barriers to innovation and how to overcome them.
  • Develop strategies that create more value for all stakeholders.
  • Leverage collaboration to “get out of silos” and create team synergy.
  • Apply the communication skills necessary to overcome resistance to innovation.

This program counts as one week toward earning a Certificate of Specialization.


  • Challenges to Innovation
  • Developing a Solution-Centered Mindset
  • Collaborating for Innovation
  • Creating Super Value
  • Full-Spectrum Engagement
  • Innovation and World-Class Performance
  • Innovative Action Planning

Special Features








  • Participants will receive two books: Innovate Like Edison: The Success System of America’s Greatest Inventor by Michael Gelb and Sarah Miller Caldicott, a descendant of Thomas Edison, and Level Three Leadership by James G. Clawson.
  • Innovation Plan: Applying the learning and thinking from each day to their own work environments, attendees will return to the workplace with an actionable 90-day innovation plan.



The fee covers all program materials, program-related meals, and housing in a private room at Sponsors Executive Residence Center for the specified program dates.

Register HERE