Posted by Alan Nazarelli ● Tue, Mar 05, 2024 @ 11:22 AM

Innovation research insights from Leonardo Da Vinci



In this week's post, we review best practices in the customer insights field against the four principles that Leonardo Da Vinci postulated as most important to the cultivation of superior human intelligence.

Da Vinci who lived in Florence, Italy from 1452 to 1519 is arguably one of the most intelligent humans who ever lived. Besides painting the Mona Lisa, he was a great thinker and "invented" the helicopter at least as a drawing in his notebook several hundred years before it actually became a reality.

Here are Da Vinci's four main principles for cultivating a superior human intelligence and how they apply to the field of innovation research:

  1. Develop all the senses. Referring here of course to our five physical senses, Leonardo Da Vinci believed that developing these fully is key to being able to absorb knowledge from our surroundings and around harnessing it. In our research space, the core skill is the systematic listening process. With the deluge of data we now collect on customer's website visits, interactions with products, telemetry, NPS surveys and others, it is increasingly difficult to filter real insights through all the noise. We are downing in data but starving for wisdom as I have heard articulated many times. To translate this Da Vinci principle into "market research speak", a combination of ongoing data collection through the venues cited above needs to be augmented with the ability to collect qualitative in-depth insights. Which is why I continue to shamelessly promote my eBook "The Qualitative Edge".             
  1. Learn to appreciate the science in art. Da Vinci was first and foremost a renowned artist. However, came from a combination of left brained and right brained skills. To wit, the Mona Lisa took up x number of years to complete and the process itself consisted of a lot of precision involving the creation of x sketches before the finished product was created. Millions of people today get to enjoy the art, but we fail to appreciate the science and planning that went into creating this masterpiece. Leonardo did, of course, hence the genius in his artistry. This too applies to the market research field. I am referring here to the layering of customer insights that help UX designers create superior customer experiences. And also the lean start up methodologies whereby several rounds of customer input help transform rough-cut MVPs into winning products. And with the availability of tools such as Figma and Canva today, early concept testing with target users has become easier than ever.             
  1. Learn to appreciate the art in science. The above principle in reverse here. Leonardo's artistry and drawing skills enabled him to conceptualize inventions and solutions to the problems long before the science and technology existed to make these a reality. Besides the helicopter example above he also created blueprints for the parachute, the armored fighting vehicle, the use of concentrated solar power, the car, a gun, a rudimentary theory of plate tectonics and the double hull. In market research, the availability of artistic tools such as Canva and Figma along with 3D modelers and printers enable us to conceive of and concept test innovations quickly prior to commercialization. Digital Twins are another conceptual too enabling this. These tools are the modern equivalent of Da Vinci's notebooks (reportedly purchased by Bill Gates for just over $30m in 1994 from Christie's auction house.       
  2.  Realize that everything is connected to everything else. The "mother" of all Da Vinci principles, Leonardo credits this principle most of all for his highly evolved intelligence and his ability to be the quintessential renaissance man. In gather customer insights for innovation development, research practitioners zero on how users interact with their products. However, the context in which users interact with your products is much broader than the field of vision most researchers define as the scope of their investigation. We strongly advocate for broadening this field of vision, at times getting pushback from clients who merely wish to zone in on behaviors around their offerings. This is why our Customer Anthropology lab studies are conducted as in-office or in-home ethnographies. The “lab” in fact needs to go where they live, work and shop. Because, if as Da Vici stated. Everything is connected to everything else, then we are missing a lot of essential and sometimes even vital data from the edges of our defined field of vision.

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Alans high res picture 12.19.22   Alan Nazarelli is Founder & CEO of Silicon Valley Research Group. Based in San Jose, CA with offices in Seattle and New York, the company works with the world’s most innovative brands to provide timely and actionable market intelligence and strategic guidance to enable them to make well-informed decisions to positively impact revenues and profits and to achieve their growth targets. Connect with Al on Linked in


Topics: Market Research Best Practice