Getting curious about curiosity
“Curiouser and curiouser!” Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).” – Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
In the modern workplace, the definition of what good leadership looks like is changing as the world at large changes at an exponential pace. In the past we have looked to follow leaders who are confident they have the answers, especially in times of uncertainty. With ever-dynamic business environments, it’s becoming more valuable for leaders to be constant questioners who are willing to change their direction when the solutions or strategies they have put into place no longer achieve the best outcomes… The ‘curiouser’ the leader the better, to quote Alice.
Accordingly, a year or so ago I got quite curious about curiosity, especially what makes some people more curious than others. I’d highly suggest the following books if you’d like to explore the topic as well:
Why are we more distracted by a cell phone conversation, where we can hear only one side of the dialogue, than by an overheard argument between two people? Are children more curious than adults? What evolutionary purpose does curiosity serve? How does our mind choose what to be curious about? … Curiosity is essential to creativity; it is a necessary ingredient in art forms from literature to the visual arts to music. It is the principal driver of science, and yet there is no scientific consensus on why we humans are so curious or about the precise mechanisms in our brain that are responsible for curiosity. In Why?, insatiably curious and bestselling author, Mario Livio, investigates this very human phenomenon in an irresistible and entertaining book that will captivate anyone who is curious about curiosity.
Curious shows how the practice of “deep curiosity” — persistent, self-reflective seeking of knowledge and insight — is key to the success of our careers, the happiness of our children, the strength of our relationships, and the progress of societies. But it also argues that it is a fragile quality, which wanes and waxes over time, and that we take it for granted at our peril. Ian Leslie proposes that the Internet is opening up a “curiosity gap,” by exacerbating the divide between those with a large cognitive appetite, and those happy knowing no more than they have to know; between the curious and the incurious… Rich, textured, and exciting, Curious is a new take on the most absorbing human trait of all.
Journalist and innovation expert, Warren Berger, shows that one of the most powerful forces for igniting change in business and in our daily lives is a simple, under-appreciated tool—one that has been available to us since childhood. Questioning – deeply, imaginatively, “beautifully”- can help us identify and solve problems, come up with game-changing ideas, and pursue fresh opportunities. So why are we often reluctant to ask “Why?”
I’d like to share some of my learnings from studying this topic when I realised how essential curiosity is in the realm of professional development whilst developing and delivering Acre Frameworks. In a six month consultation process with approximately 90 senior Health & Safety leaders that make up the Acre Frameworks Advisory Panel, I was validated in thinking this, as curiosity emerged from my qualitative research as one of the key traits these leaders feel an H&S professional needs to be effective. In fact, curiosity is now one of our core values in our development methodology.
THE FOUR TYPES OF CURIOSITY
- Diversive – This type of curiosity is “the restless desire to explore and the seeking of novel stimulation to avoid boredom” (Livio, 2017), which we see a lot of in children who are learning how to navigate the wild and wonderful world around them. The average 4-year-old girl asks 490 questions per day! In developmental psychology, we see how peek-a-boo is an endlessly entertaining avenue for children to understand object permanence. The annoyance a caretaker experiences when a child throws a toy on the ground time and time again is servicing that child understanding the universal law of gravity. Diversive curiosity is about the breadth of learning.
- Perceptual – Curiosity in this instance stems from “novel, ambiguous, or puzzling stimuli, and it motivates visual inspection” (Livio, 2017). The more and more someone is exposed to the stimuli, curiosity generally diminishes. Solving a Rubik’s Cube is a good example.
- Specific – This form of curiosity comes when someone seeks a specific piece of information (ie. solving a crossword puzzle). It is often solution-focused or related to obtaining technical knowledge in the workplace.
- Epistemic – This is the gold standard of curiosity if you will, or a “veritable desire for knowledge” (Livio, 2017). Different people are curious about different things, but this is about the intensity of their curiosity to achieve both breadth and depth of knowledge which is intrinsically motivated.
- Human brains contain approximately 86 billion neurons, which are the computational building blocks that create brain activity… To put it into context, a rat only has 189 million! When a neuron is activated, neurotransmitters, chemicals that allow the transmission of signals from one neuron to the next, are secreted, enabling other neurons to fire up in a chain reaction. With thousands and thousands of neurons interconnected, our brain has a serious capacity for learning!
- Neuroimaging studies have allowed researchers to locate the main regions of the brain that actively participate in the cognitive process of arousal and satisfaction linked to curiosity. The cerebral cortex is involved, which is the headquarters of memory, thought, consciousness, and motor/sensory functions. Functional MRI studies also show the striatum is involved, which is a part of the forebrain pivotal for the reward system.
- The satisfaction of any type of curiosity is closely linked to the neural reward circuit and enhances memory and learning. Past rewards can trigger a higher level of curiosity, even without reminders or boosting.
HOW CAN YOU INVITE MORE CURIOSITY INTO YOUR WORKDAY?
- We all have busy work lives, but I encourage you to ferociously protect time and headspace in your diary for getting curious and reflection. Google’s 20% Rule invites its employees to spend 20% of their workweek on relevant passion projects that aren’t dictated in their job roles. What if you invited this concept into your weekly routine?
- Struggling with getting interested in a piece of work you have been given? Find a way to link it to something you are curious about! When I transitioned from clinical psychology to the world of sales, I think I experienced a bit of imposter syndrome not feeling like I was a ‘real salesperson’. I picked up a copy of Drive by Dan Pink, which explores the psychology behind sales and it absolutely sparked my curiosity regarding how I could apply concepts from a field I was comfortable with and passionate about to my new role.
- Practice the art of creating powerful questioning. In Berger’s book I suggested above, he outlines The Why, What if, and How? of Innovative Questioning. Work towards balancing out the amount of time you spend problem finding and problem-solving… You should absolutely question whether you are trying to answer the right question!
Curious about curiosity yet?