It’s only relatively recently that leaders, (scientists, academics, and others) have focused their curiosity on curiosity. People have dismissed it as mostly a curse (“the origin of all sin” no less) or a childlike indulgence throughout history. Somewhere along the way one of our most defining, valuable characteristics got a bad name, and it’s impacting 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, demonstrate incuriosity about some aspect of their lives. It may be those leaders, colleagues and acquaintances who appear to lack anything resembling a desire to know more, take risks and learn to people afraid to question the status quo or 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 consume 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, the Gender Diversity Almanac or read any reports in a newspaper you believe has a political bias you disagree with (breadth curiosity). Depth curiosity encouraged and rewarded in schools, universities and businesses, without breadth increases the risk of silos and a tendency towards nerdism. Breadth curiosity, wide-ranging, diverse interests, can lead to more effective problem solving and decision-making, but untethered with no depth can appear as ADHD.
More importantly, this viewpoint also suggests that external sources arouse our curiosity but with a catch – only if we’re already interested in it. Unless “it” can spark curiosity in me, it’s invisible to me. We refer to this as feeling curious.
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.
On the other hand, being curious 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 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. At Curiousmind, our focus is on helping people be more curious.
While we have many tools 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 natural desire to understand, learn and grow.