Activating the Gift of Curiosity
Alison Gopnik once said “Asking questions is what brains were born to do, at least when we were young children. For young children, quite literally, seeking explanations is as deeply rooted a drive as seeking food or water.”
Curiosity is an innate gift that all people have. A gift that when used wisely can bring forth many other gifts. In my previous article I wrote about how curiosity can supercharge your leadership. However, the never-ending and impatient demands of this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous marketplace can tend to stifle our curiosity.
So let me give you these 5 useful tips and exercises to help you activate your curiosity.
1. Be OK to fail by welcoming uncertainty with open arms.
One of the greatest tragedies in life is to not being able to use and develop your own potential. Oftentimes people miss out the experience of developing their potential and experiencing that eureka moment, because they are afraid of uncertainty and failure. However, to activate your curiosity, you need to overcome your fears, embrace uncertainty and step out of your comfort zone. Doing so will also inspire you to ask more questions.
2. Read more often and read to learn.
Numerous studies reveal that people who read are more interested in their government, neighbourhood events and foreign affairs. Reading broadens your perspective of the world, thus sparking your interest to explore them further, so spend less time on just one world. Take a day off your social media and your TV screen – explore other worlds by reading a good book.
Read about the lives of other successful people. Find out how they became great at what they do and how they continue to stay at the top of their game. See what you can learn from them. The best part of this is that you can accumulate their wisdom without experiencing their failure.
The story of the successful US TV producer and director John Lloyd shows to us how reading can activate your curiosity and how curiosity can help us innovate:
In a certain point of his life, before becoming a success, John Lloyd encountered a series of failures which lead him to depression. He dealt with his depression by taking time off work, going on long walks, and reading voraciously. He read about “Socrates and ancient Athens. He read about light and magnetism. He read about the Renaissance and the French impressionists. He had no method or plan, but simply followed his curiosity, wherever it took him.” All this reading eventually led to his idea for the BBC quiz show QI, which is loved by millions for its “ability to make anything—from quantum physics to Aztec architecture—entertaining.”
B. F. Skinner said “When you run into something interesting, drop everything else and study it.” “The feeling of being interested can act as a kind of neurological signal, directing us to fruitful areas of inquiry.”
3. Always strive to find answers by asking more questions.
Leonardo Da Vinci was as a painter, architect, inventor, and student of all things scientific. He was considered a genius at so many things that he epitomised the term “Renaissance Man.” But behind the success of this great genius, was mind that was full of questions – a mind that was filled with curiosity.
A list found in one of the 13,000 pages of his notebooks provides a window into the mind of a genius:
• [Calculate] the measurement of Milan and Suburbs
• [Find] a book that treats of Milan and its churches, which is to be had at the stationer’s on the way to Cordusio
• [Discover] the measurement of Corte Vecchio (the courtyard in the duke’s palace).
• [Discover] the measurement of the Castello (the Duke’s palace itself)
• Get the master of arithmetic to show you how to square a triangle.
• Get Messer Fazio (a professor of medicine and law in Pavia) to show you about proportion.
• Get the Brera Friar (at the Benedictine Monastery to Milan) to show you De Ponderibus (a medieval text on mechanics)
• [Talk to] Giannino, the Bombardier, re. the means by which the tower of Ferrara is walled without loopholes
• Ask Benedetto Potinari (A Florentine Merchant) by what means they go on ice in Flanders
• Draw Milan
• Ask Maestro Antonio how mortars are positioned on bastions by day or night.
• [Examine] the Crossbow of Mastro Giannetto
•Find a master of hydraulics and get him to tell you how to repair a lock, canal and mill in the Lombard manner
• [Ask about] the measurement of the sun promised me by Maestro Giovanni Francese
• Try to get Vitolone (the medieval author of a text on optics), which is in the Library at Pavia, which deals with the mathematic.
Da Vinci’s list reveals how hungry his mind was for knowledge, whether it was learning about astronomy or how to ice skate. It also reveals that Da Vinci gave himself over to experts in order to educate himself.
So, be unsatisfied by just doing things without knowing the why of it. Always seek to know the bigger picture and strive to have those questions of yours answered.
4. Explore many different fields
Another thing that contributed to Da Vinci’s successfully curious mind was that he never limited himself to just one field. By treating art and science as complementary fields and not separate ones, Da Vinci allowed himself to be a sponge. By soaking himself in all the knowledge around him, Da Vinci was able to express himself through his visionary work.
So if you’re a person who likes watching fictional films, why not experience watching documentaries or historical films for a change? If you like listening to classical music, why not give listening to some pop a go?
Be a sponge when it comes to learning. Never limit yourself to just one field. Be diverse, explore, and experience something new. Most of the successful people I know have had incredibly diverse backgrounds. This is because new experiences will keep your mind active and an active mind will activate your curiosity.
5. Slow down and prioritise time to meditate.
In this fast-paced, demanding marketplace where instant gratification is a common thing, slowing down and making time to meditate on things might sound like a bad idea. But on the contrary, it definitely isn’t. Spending time ‘doing’ nothing but ‘thinking’ is crucial, especially when it comes to creative problem-solving. You want to avoid defaulting to your first idea or immediate reaction all the time when a new problem comes across your desk. Blocking out a time for meditation in your calendar, will activate your curiosity which then enables you to look at those problems from different angles and to carve out multiple potential solutions.
Curiosity should not just be a tool used during your childhood. Instead, it should be a gift that continues to be honed and utilised for the rest of your life.
In the work I do to develop 21st Century Neuroleaders who perform and lead more effectively, CURIOSITY is one of the 4 pillars that sit within the competency framework of Innovation alongside Imagination, Drive and Attitude.
Contact me today to see how I can help you and your team.