Power-up your curiosity to explore and learn

Curiosity is particularly important in our exponentially changing world which requires high speed innovation, accelerated learning, rapid relationship building and an open and resilient mind to stay ahead, survive and thrive, writes Internationally-recognised people strategist, Debbie Craig.

Curiosity is actually a secret super-power

Can you think of any famous inventor, innovator or high achiever that was not curious? No matter who comes to mind when you think of curiosity, maybe Elon Musk, Jack Ma or Jeff Bizos, they all have some common characteristics. They have an underlying curiosity about how things work, what is possible, how to solve a problem or just a drive and desire to try something out of pure inquisitiveness and a sense of adventure. They also have an ability to engage and collaborate with a wide variety of people and ideas to stimulate ideas and options. They apply critical thinking to ask the right questions, as well as a bucket load of courage and creativity. Curiosity is one of those foundation mindsets for many of the other critical capabilities necessary for succeeding in this crazy world of ours.

What are you curious about? Where are your potential blind spots? How can you learn from curious inventors, artists and entrepreneurs that have shown us what is possible? In which circumstances, or in with which topics are you less curious, or less willing to learn new things?

Did you know that our curiosity declines the longer we’re in a job (or relationship) as we start to run on automatic pilot and assumptions more and more often.

Curiosity requires going beyond the obvious and actively seeking new information and ideas – not just about the world or things but about people, relationships and our own potential. It is about questioning, experimenting and taking risks for accelerated learning and innovation.

How curious are we?

Curiosity is primarily a mindset and an identity driven by underlying beliefs and views about ourselves and the world. We can build skills to enhance our curiosity, and practise these with effort and planning, however the more efficient route to a natural effortless curiosity is to shake up and shift some of the programs we learnt through our role models, experiences or personality styles, as we grew up.  

We are seldom either curious or not curious, but rather move up and down a continuum depending on our personal attitudes and life circumstances. We have created some interesting characters to illustrate the two opposites of curiosity so that you can explore which character you can identify with, and where you tend to spend most of your time, or are you somewhere in the middle. You can choose some characteristics you would like to adopt to help you navigate the future.

Curious explorers believe that curiosity helps them grow, and that trying, and failing fast is better than not trying at all and that learning is critical to adapt to change. They generally feel excited, enthusiastic and open to new ideas, topics, people and opportunities. They use language like, “I wonder if …”, “I am curious about ….”, or “Let’s try ….” They have daily habits like reading or viewing, reflecting, questioning, trying something new, practicing and connecting with different people, and to create (new) meaning through those habits. 

Safe spectators tend to sit on the side-lines, in the stands or in their easy chairs, taking no risks and commenting about the game from their place of safety.  They believe that curiosity is risky, requires too much effort and is unnecessary. After all it’s all been tried before. They generally feel cautious, all knowing or detached. They use language like “I know what I know”, “Curiosity killed the cat”, “Why rock the boat”, or “Why fix it if it isn’t broken”.  They have daily habits like being critical, procrastinating and staying safe from the side-lines.

Where are you on this continuum. What are your strengths? Where do you spend more of your time? How would you like to show up more often? 

Daily hacks and habits for curiosity

There are many hacks and habits to build your curiosity muscle. We will focus on just a few here. There are many more ideas and resources in the book PowerUp8 if you wish to explore more.

Habit #1: Quick questions

Build your repertoire of quick questions to ask before taking action:

  • How else could we do this?
  • Who else could add a perspective or input?
  • What can we learn from past projects or people?
  • What assumptions or biases do I need to challenge?

Habit #2: Fail fast

Get used to small experiments, getting it only half right or terribly wrong.  Use every opportunity to get feedback and input and see it as progress and try it again differently next time. You could learn to do public speaking, or practice speaking a new language. Speak up at a meeting, write a blog. Make a decision and take a step in uncertainty or ambiguity. Engage your audience in your experiment. Learn to laugh at yourself and see all outcome as learning opportunities.

Habit #3: Listen beyond the obvious

Engage in conversation with diverse people. Strike up conversations in the lift, at a coffee bar, over lunch, in waiting areas, and with people in service roles. When travelling, stay with local people. Get yourself invited to ideation or feedback meetings of another team or department. Check assumptions and biases of your natural filters. Get into dialogue with young people. Avoid the temptation to pre-judge a situation or imagine being rejected or being perceived as over-friendly. Give others the opportunity to say no thanks, instead of wondering if!

This article first appeared on on 30 October 2020.