Thinking Creatively and Effectively

IdeaConnection Interview with Michael Gelb, Author of Wine Drinking for Inspired Thinking, Discover Your Genius, How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, Innovate like Edison and eight other books.
By Vern Burkhardt
'The overemphasis on the "nose to the grindstone, shoulder to the wheel" attitude that still drives so many lives often results in flatter noses and frozen shoulders.'

"Hard work, diligence, and perseverance are essential elements in long-term success, but they need to be balanced with appreciation of beauty, playfulness, pleasure, and joy to ensure that success includes fulfillment." Wine Drinking for Inspired Thinking, pages 22 and 23

Vern Burkhardt (VB): In Wine Drinking for Inspired Thinking you say, "…moderate, mindful consumption of wine offers many benefits to body, mind, and spirit." The emphasis is on "moderate?"

photo of Michael GelbMichael Gelb: Yes, moderation is an important aspect of full enjoyment and appreciation of all of life's pleasures. As Epicurus, the ancient Greek philosopher, wrote, "Be moderate in order to taste the joys of life in abundance." Unlike many other forms of alcohol wine is conducive to moderation. People rarely get together to "knock back" shots of Chateau Mouton Rothschild!

The complexity and nuances in fine wine invite appreciation through slow savoring. And, because wine pairs so well with food, it's easier to enjoy it in a relaxed and healthy fashion. As Thomas Walker wrote in the 19th century, "The art in using wine is to produce the greatest possible quantity of present gladness without any future depression."

VB: How does one drink wine mindfully?

Michael Gelb: If you are at a cocktail party and wine is being served, the wine isn't usually the focus and the drinking is often rather mechanical. Mindful wine appreciation begins with eliminating distractions – and it helps to have a fine wine served in appropriate glassware. If you serve a fine wine and focus on appreciating it using all your senses you'll discover that mindfulness comes easily because it's so good that you will naturally bring your full attention to it.

VB: Was Socrates' brilliance partially related to his ability to drink moderately compared to others in the symposia he frequented?

Michael Gelb: His colleagues and students believed that Socrates' brilliance was expressed in his masterful use of wine. Socrates and his great student, Plato, believed that sharing wine in moderation helped to liberate the muse – the creative spirit. As Plato noted, "Nothing more excellent or valuable than wine was ever granted by the Gods to man."

VB: You associate wine with creativity. It's not a necessary ingredient for liberating the more imaginative right brain but it helps?

Michael Gelb: It helps. That's why the ancient Greeks, the geniuses of the Renaissance and the Founding Fathers of the United States, all made the sharing of wine an integral part of their gatherings.

VB: You say, "The right dose of fine wine and poetry offers a simple, everyday way to accept [Dr. Jill Bolte] Taylor's invitation to relax our hyperactive left minds and be open to the out-of-the box right mind." How does this work?

Michael Gelb: Moderate wine consumption gently inhibits left-hemisphere functioning thereby inviting the right to emerge.

Also, Daniel Pink indicated in A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future that the era of the left-brain dominance and the Information Age are giving way to a world in which right=brain qualities will predominate. These qualities are empathy, meaning and inventiveness. Wine and poetry are a way to promote creative thinking, emotional intelligence, and collaboration.

Vern's Note: Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is the author of My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey.

VB: "I can't think of anything that money buys that gets me particularly excited, except for wine!" What causes the excitement?

Michael Gelb: It's just so good! I appreciate all the wonderful blessings of the earth, but for me fine wine is the most delicious, magical, and memorable.

VB: You talk about the health benefits of moderate consumption of wine. Is this a key reason for enjoying a glass of red wine from time to time?

Michael Gelb: Wine has been treasured as a health tonic since antiquity – Hippocrates made it part of most of his prescriptions!

There's a growing body of research that supports the traditional notion that moderate wine consumption, as part of a meal, is good for your health. A recent article in Wine Spectator magazine entitled "The Healing Power of Wine" concluded, "So the question is no longer whether moderate wine consumption is healthy, but why and how."

VB: "The simple secret of appreciating wine or any other form of art is to be fully present." What does it mean to be fully present, and how does one go about achieving this?

Michael Gelb: It's not something you achieve; it's something you simply experience. Meditation and yoga classes encourage present moment awareness through, for example, following the flow of breathing. I encourage people to meditate on fine wine and follow the flow of the delicious aromas and taste sensations.

VB: "You can access your vast intuitive power, magnify your appreciation, and liberate your creativity by posing open-ended questions." You make this statement when encouraging readers to not be embarrassed about whether they get the right answer when describing the taste of a particular wine. This advice applies to most situations?

Michael Gelb: There are many questions and situations in life where there is a "right" or "wrong" answer, but that framework isn't always relevant or useful – especially when it comes to deepening enjoyment of sensory pleasure.

The fear of failure and embarrassment is the biggest impediment to adult learning. By posing questions that don't have a "right" or "wrong" answer we can free ourselves from fear and deepen our sense of presence and appreciation. Such as, "How do you experience this wine?" "If the wine was a piece of music who would be the composer?" "What feelings or emotions does the wine evoke?"

VB: "When we compare music, wine, or any other art form with an open mind…we find inspiration." What is an open mind?

cover of Wine Drinking for Inspired ThinkingMichael Gelb: An open mind is curious and focused on exploration. It is free from arrogance, prejudice, and preconception.

VB: "Expect the best from people, without an attitude of entitlement, and you will usually get it." Is this the best advice one could give a newly appointed leader of an organization?

Michael Gelb: That is the advice I give them!

VB: You are an expert on almost all aspects of wines. Has this been a lifetime study?

Michael Gelb: The more I learn about wine the more I realize I don't know. If I'm an expert on any aspect of wine it's in the art of helping people deepen their enjoyment and appreciation of it. I'm also good at helping people find great wine values!

VB: Despite it being an ancient craft I gather there are still limitless opportunities for innovations in the wine industry?

Michael Gelb: Wine-making technology has improved around the world.

There is more fine wine available today than ever before, but there's also more generic, soulless wine on the shelves as well. A lot of innovation has gone into marketing wine instead of making it better.

Perhaps in 20 years you will be able to place some electrodes on your body and get the full experience of a 1961 Chateau Latour? In the meantime, look for wine that is well made and evocative of the spirit of the earth where it was born.

VB: "On your deathbed the pleasure you experienced by sharing fine wine will outweigh your sense of satisfaction at having economized." This principle applies to almost all aspects of life; would you agree?

Michael Gelb: Yes!

VB: You say the love of wine is one thing the ancient Greeks, the Renaissance, and the founding fathers of the U.S – all examples of the extraordinary flowering of genius – had in common. Was wine in any way a cause of this flowering, or are you pointing out that creative people over the centuries have enjoyed a glass of wine?

Michael Gelb: It's a chicken and egg type question. Are people creative because they drink wine, or do they drink wine because they are creative? Either way, I recommend making the creative appreciation of wine part of your life.

VB: Your wife, Deborah Domanski, is a performing mezzo-soprano. Has her creative approach helped you develop your thinking about creativity and innovation?

Michael Gelb: On our first date I served Deborah a 1997 Ciacci Piccolomini Brunello di Montalcino. At the time she was still part of a young artists program so she was basically living on frozen burritos and Coronas. Nevertheless, she described the wine in such an effortless, insightful and elegant way that she enriched my appreciation of the wine, and of her artistic soul. We've been together ever since. And, Deborah is the coauthor of our wine blog entitled Wine Musings.

VB: You describe an exercise, involving wine and poetry, which you lead to help business clients with team building. Have you received feedback about whether or not this exercise has resulted in long-term benefits for people working in teams?

Michael Gelb: The exercise is part of a series of programs and processes that I facilitate for my clients. The long-term benefits are the result of the whole effort and the "Wine-Tasting for Team-Building" program serves as a delightful catalyst for those benefits.

VB: You say, "The combination of wine and poetry seems to enhance the EQ [emotional intelligence] of those with high IQ." Do you recommend it as a method for promoting the highest levels of performance in an organization?

Michael Gelb: If high performance is the goal then there's no substitute for "esprit de corps" – a feeling of rapport, good will, and genuine appreciation of one's colleagues. This exercise is one simple, very effective means to promote that feeling.

VB: You observe that in your experience the more conservative the group that engages in this exercise, the more sensual and sexy the poetry they write. Does this surprise you when it happens?

Michael Gelb: It surprised me the first time, but not now.

VB: Are you planning your next book?

Michael Gelb: My next book will focus on improving mental ability as we get older. There will be a chapter on wine!

VB: Any final comments about uncorking one's creative juices?

Michael Gelb: Ben Franklin said, "Wine is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." I wrote this book so that folks can deepen their appreciation for wine and life, and experience the happiness that Franklin describes.

VB: Thank you for sharing your vast knowledge of wines, and for encouraging us to not feel intimidated by what we don't know.

Wine Drinking for Inspired Thinking provides a unique, original and very enjoyable approach to team building. Author Michael Gelb describes his wine and poetry writing exercise as one of the ways to encourage teams to work more collaboratively and effectively. He advises that it is based on a different approach than putting the team members through a stressful experience – outward bound weekends or putting people into potentially embarrassing situations come to mind! The author's approach is, "Create a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere and then gently guide participants to get a glimpse of the creative spark in their colleagues and themselves."

In addition, Michael Gelb provides useful tips about wine – how to taste wine, ordering wine with confidence in a restaurant, matching food with wine, suggestions for excellent wines at reasonable cost, and much more.

Bio of Michael Gelb:
Michael Gelb is an authority on the application of genius thinking to personal and organizational development. He specializes in creative thinking, accelerated learning, and innovative leadership. For over 30 years he has been a professional speaker, seminar leader and organizational consultant to a diverse, international clientele.

Michael Gelb is a former professional juggler, and performed with the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. He introduced the idea of teaching juggling as a means to promote accelerated learning and team building. Gelb is a fourth degree black belt in the Japanese martial art of Aikido.

In 1999 Gelb shared the Brain Trust Charity's Brain of the Year award with former USA Senator John Glenn. In 2003 he was awarded a Batten Fellowship by the Darden Business School, University of Virginia.

Michael Gelb co-directs with Professor James Clawson the Leading Innovation Seminar at Darden. He also serves as the Director of Creativity and Innovation Leadership for the Conscious Capitalism Institute.

Michael Gelb has written extensively about the application of genius thinking to personal and organizational development. He is the author of Wine Drinking for Inspired Thinking: Uncork Your Creative Juices (2010), Innovate Like Edison: The Success System of America's Greatest Inventor (2008), Da Vinci Decoded: Discovering the Spiritual Secrets of Leonardo's Seven Principals (2005), Discover Your Genius: How to Think Like History's Ten Most Revolutionary Minds (2003), How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day (2000), The How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci Workbook: Your Personal Companion to How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci (1999), Body Learning: An Introduction to the Alexander Technique (1981), Samurai Chess: Mastering Art of the Mind (1998), Present Yourself! Capture Your Audience with Great Presentation Skills (1988), and The Five Keys to High Performance: Juggle Your Way to Success (2009).

He has also produced a number of audio programs including Mind Mapping: How to Liberate Your Natural Genius, Work Like Da Vinci: Gaining the Creative Advantage in Your Business and Career, and The Spirit of Leonardo.

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