It’s only relatively recently that leaders, (scientists, academics, therapists and lay people) have focused their curiosity on curiosity. For eons, it’s been regarded as mostly a curse (“the origin of all sin” no less) or as a childlike indulgence to be managed until they grow up. Somewhere along the way one of our most defining, valuable characteristics got a bad name, and it’s impacting on our parenting, teaching, leading, problem solving (let alone problem making) and our personal lives.
“Curiosity, therefore, rightly claims first place among the degrees of pride, and is rightly seen as the beginning of all sin.” ~ St Bernard, 1090-1153
Interestingly, however, most people we speak to tend to see themselves as curious, and then, in the next breath, complain about the incurious amongst us. Those leaders, colleagues and acquaintances who appear to lack anything that resembles a desire to know more, to question the status quo or who simply bore everyone as they dominate conversations with what they already know.
Curiosity comes in various forms, each with many nuances. For example, let’s say you take pride in your career and the work you do. You seek out and voraciously read anything to do with your speciality (depth curiosity) but would never dream of picking up an article on The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind or the Gender Diversity Alamac (breadth curiosity). Depth curiosity increases the risk of silos, breadth with no depth can also fail to realise potential. More importantly, however, this viewpoint also suggests that curiosity is mainly aroused by external sources but with a catch – only if we’re already interested in it. Unless “it” can spark curiosity in me, it’s invisible to me. This is frequently referred to as State curiosity.
The problem with this assumption and ones that suggest motivation and engagement are also things that leaders/educators/parents need to do to energise their people is that it doesn’t account for the much more sustainable, more productive, intrinsic desire to explore, understand and learn.
Trait curiosity, on the other hand, comes from inside, it’s a way of engaging with life and the world around us. It’s the curiosity a child draws on to ask the questions that launch them out on explorations of discovery and learning. It’s the curiosity that drives engagement and energises people to question the status quo, disrupt complacency, innovate, sit longer in ambiguity and uncertainty (resilience) and adapt with agility.
While we have many tools, we use to cultivate curiosity in our clients and their cultures, we have also found some parental, educational and managerial assumptions that actively suffocate our innate gift. Recognising and then unveiling these assumptions (or the ones most prevalent in your culture) has proven to fast track people re-acquainting themselves with their desire to understand, learn and grow.