August 22, 2017

Lesson #11: Curiosity — Do You Love To Explore?

The dictionary defines curiosity as

the desire to learn or know about anything; inquisitiveness.

As a leader, your curiosity will allow you to explore strange new worlds, too seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before. Wait. I’m channeling Star Trek Again.

But seriously, science fiction does give us a good introduction into curiosity.

The Grand What If

Science fiction often turns into science fact. What was once fantasy is now things we can’t live without. Mobile phones, air travel, space travel, computers, virtual reality and artificial intelligence all owe their existence to the curiosity of science fiction writers pushing the envelope of understanding.

Curiosity fuels the grand what if. The same curiosity that made Ray Bradbury develop Star Trek also drove President Obama’s successful use of New Media to win the presidential election of 2008. Remember that Obama was a 1st term US Senator with hardly any Washington experience yet he mobilized millions by making them curious about a new way of moving the US forward by his slogan “Change we can believe in.”

It’s Not If, But When

A good friend of mine, Jimi, would always tell me — it’s not a matter of if but when.

Curiosity assures the if and fuels the when.

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By being curious, we are open to new ideas, challenges and ways of doing things. This constant seeking of knowledge and better ways to achieve our goals makes innovation happen.

Remember that leadership is all about organizing others to achieve a common goal. The curious leader uncovers innovative ways to motivate people, use technology, endure through struggle and learn from others.

The Arab Spring owes it’s success to the curiosity (not to mention the courage) of people and leaders who wondered, hoped, dreamed and demonstrated a new way of thinking and governing. Without such curiosity, the Arab Spring would have run dry.

Intellectual Curiosity And Leadership

Being intellectually curious means you seek knowledge of a person, thing or situation at a deeper level. By being intellectually curious, you read, experience and interact more with your subject.

The hallmark of the intellectually curious person is the self-motivation to explore a subject for the pure pleasure of learning and discovery. You can build intellectually curiosity just like any other skill. All it takes is following a couple of these simple methods:

  • Read: Read as many different sources of information as you can. You would be surprised by the amount of cross over from different industries and disciplines.

  • Write: Putting your thoughts and ideas on paper (or computer file) will generate a lot of lines of inquiry and curiosity. Keep a list of these ideas and thoughts for future research.

  • Explore: Sometimes just exploring a topic or place is all it takes. By exploring, you are being curious about your surroundings.

  • Be tolerant Curiosity can sometimes lead to encountering situations that disagree with your beliefs. Be open minded enough to listen, observe and analyze why those beliefs or traditions are held.

  • Inquire: Dig a little deeper into the details. Ask questions. Explore alternatives. Don’t just accept an answer on face value. Convince yourself that it’s right.

  • Enjoy the journey: Curiosity has many dead ends. By enjoying the journey, you can motivate yourself to continue on even when the tangible results are few.

  • Admit when your are wrong: The curious person has no problem when confronted with facts that show they were in the wrong. It’s extremely liberating to allow yourself to be wrong — it frees up a lot more energy to better yourself.

  • Teach others: When we teach, we become immersed in a subject or technique. This immersion drives us just a little harder to know more, practice more and seek out better ways to teach.

  • Become an expert in something: You don’t have to be a recognized expert or anything like that (although, that would be pretty cool). What you should do is push your knowledge about a subject forward constantly. This will create that inner drive to be curious about what others think and be current on developments in the field.

Curiosity and intellectual curiosity go hand in hand. One cannot be intellectual without the curiosity of a subject that ignites a passion for learning. Leaders need both in order to dig beneath the surface of issues, ideas, people and situations so that their decisions are informed.

Great accomplishments came about because people were curious as to how things worked. This inner curiosity drove them and their colleagues to experiment with new ideas, hypothesize and then test them to see if what they discovered was actually something real or an anomaly.

Encouraging Curiosity

In our fast paced world, most people want instant results and gratification. Most companies discourage exploring, tinkering and basic learning because it produces no results. That’s the downside of being curious — sometimes there are no tangible results for your efforts. Sure your gain knowledge, feel the joy of learning and have self-satisfaction but as for concrete deliverables, they can sometimes be few and far between.

Curiosity’s reward is not always apparent but dramatic when discovered. It’s the ah ha moment when all the pieces fit together and the path forward becomes clear.

Curiosity is an investment that needs to be made in order to be ready for change. Encourage curiosity, within yourself and others, by accepting and following some of these ideas and techniques:

  • Accept failure: Failure has an awful stigma yet everyone fails. There is no human on this planet that has not failed at something. Accept that failure happens and will happen the more curious you are.

  • Learn to learn and do: People and organizations that don’t learn and grow will soon wither away. The world just changes to fast to be stuck in our old, stale ways. Encourage in yourself and others a learning/doing attitude and curiosity will flourish.

  • Deconstruct items and ideas: Children are always curious. They ask a million questions and are always pulling things apart. Embrace deconstruction as a way to better understand the world around you.

  • Take classes: Classes are wonderful ways to sustain your curiosity for a subject. Couple this with teaching a class and you get a wonderful mix of discovery and curiosity.

  • Celebrate oddity: The fringe is always curious. In the old days, every carnival had an oddity show that would display some of the weirdest things the plant had to offer. Learn to celebrate the weird and wonderful by learning more about how they came about.

  • Attend random events: Nothing spurs curiosity like spontaneity. Drop into an art show, attend a new age concert, scrapbook or make pottery. All of these things will teach you something and potentially make you more curious.

Curiosity Still Means Getting Things Done

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the love of learning and being curious is an end in itself. Curiosity is the spark that ignites action. Without action, your curiosity is squandered within you.

The best part about learning and being curious is involving others in your fascination. Doing this allows others to benefit from your seeking of knowledge. You do this by doing and sharing.

It’s important to foster curiosity, exploration, thought experiments, new ways of doing things, crazy ideas and learning to learn but don’t let that be your only pursuit. The most curious among us use that inner fascination accomplish wonderful things. Give it a shot.

Take-a-way: Explore, ponder, do and learn. The more you do these things, the more curious you will become

Things to Ponder

  1. Write down a list of things that you are curious about but don’t pursue. Rank them from most curious to least. Take the top one and spend 30 minutes a day learning, research or doing it.

  2. Take a class that you would normally not take but are interested in.

  3. The next time you read something in the paper that fascinates you, do some more research on it. Prepare a 2-3 paragraph summary of your findings.

  4. Attempt something you will fail at. Write down what it felt like to fail and why you failed. Explore how you can succeed by deliberately being curious about the task.

  5. Go to a garage sale or junkyard and buy something that you are curious about. Take it apart and figure out how it works. What new things did you learn about the object?

  6. Find a book about a subject you know little about but want to learn. Spend 10 minutes a day reading the book and writing one sentence about what you learned.

  7. From the list complied in #1, go find a blog or Internet site that talks about the topic. Subscribe to their feed or mailing list. After a couple of months, write a paragraph or two about what you learned.

Exploring Further


This post is part of a series called Leading from Within, a FREE course on how to lead your most important supporter — you. If you landed here via other means (like Google, Twitter or a friend), you can learn more about the course and sign up here.