Imagine a world without contributions from people like Galileo, Columbus, DaVinci, Shakespeare or Newton? People whose insights and innovations literally changed the world. What was it that distinguished them from their peers? Newton certainly wasn’t the first to observe an apple fall, but he was to ask why and then have the skill, tenacity and courage to find the answer. What enabled him to ask why where so many others hadn’t?
Without curiosity, we would all still be living in the trees. We wouldn’t have learnt how to tame fire, irrigate, cure diseases or create anything useful, beautiful or entertaining. Curiosity is the spark that ignites inquiry, the fuel that powers exploration and the engine that drives the questions that engage and connect us with the world. It’s a catalyst for wonder, discovery and learning. It drives creativity, problem solving, self-awareness and intimacy.
A quick look at any child will confirm that a strong sense of curiosity is innate to us all. Wonder-filled, we embrace the world with enthusiasm and optimism, thirsty for knowledge and understanding, hungry to learn. Unfortunately, by the time many of us reach adulthood we appear to have lost much of our inheritance. What happened? Where did our curiosity go and why? How do we facilitate its re-elevation as one of our defining, most useful attributes?
Many leaders overwhelmed with information and complexity have inadvertently suffocated curiosity by discouraging questions or challenges. Fearing the unknown, needing to appear certain or in control they frequently suppress questions they either can’t or don’t want to answer. Even our education system, with its emphasis on rewarding the right answers, may have had a role to play in curiosity’s demise. In our haste to find the “right” answers, we frequently censure questions, reward quick solutions at the expense of deep understanding and praise decisiveness over thoroughness.
Let’s face it, if you want well behaved, compliant workers (children, congregations or voters) curiosity can appear downright threatening.
“I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.” - Richard Feynman