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The Curious Thing About Curiosity

It’s only relatively recently that leaders in business, science and academia, have focused their curiosity on curiosity. Throughout history people have dismissed curiosity as mostly a curse (“the origin of all sin” no less) or a childlike indulgence. Somewhere along the way one of our most defining, valuable characteristics got a bad name, and it’s impacting all aspects of our 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. But then, in the next breath, demonstrate extraordinary levels of incuriosity about some part of their lives (taking our partners for granted, for example, is one of the major causes of relationship breakdowns). We may also see this in those leaders, colleagues or acquaintances who are mostly interested in what they already know, rarely ask questions or demonstrate interest in other points of view. Or it may be those who crave certainty, fear the unknown or challenging the status quo.

Curiosity is a catalyst for many, if not most of the truly useful things in life including: exploration, discovery, innovation, problem solving, learning and intimacy.

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 hungrily 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 single mindedness. Breadth curiosity, wide-ranging, diverse interests, can lead to more effective problem solving and decision-making, but untethered, with no depth, can appear unfocused.

This viewpoint also suggests that external sources arouse our curiosity but with a catch – only if we’re already interested in them. Unless “it” can spark curiosity in me, it’s invisible to me. We refer to this externally initiated curiosity as feeling curious.

The problem with this assumption and others 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 develop.

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 several parental, educational, and managerial assumptions that actively veil or suffocate our innate gift. Recognising and then unveiling these assumptions has proven to fast-track people re-acquainting themselves with their natural desire to understand and grow.

If you’re curious about your own curiosity, check out this curiosity diagnostic from acclaimed curiosity researcher Todd Kashdan.


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