Ever wonder how to live and work better? Maybe the question needs to be: “Am I wondering enough?”
Curiosity plays a crucial role in more than scientific breakthroughs and great storytelling, but in everything from relationships and personal growth to organizational success. Here’s a closer look at this “wonder drug” and how to nurture it in your everyday life.
“Curiosity has its own reason for existing. The important thing is to never stop questioning.” —Albert Einstein, physicist
Easy peasy? Maybe not.
We’re all born with a “sacred curiosity,” as Einstein called it. Many of us work in settings that require it. Health care, for instance, relies on curiosity to diagnose, treat and foster better outcomes. Effective marketers routinely return to the well of inquiry for researching and listening, creating and collaborating, testing and assessing.
But in an age of instant informational gratification, it can be easier to prioritize quick answers without always questioning and considering alternatives. As organizations seek efficiency protocols, the laudable goal of moving things along can come at the expense of exploration—the kind that rewards lasting growth, says researcher Francesca Gino in The Business Case for Curiosity. She also found that social conventions can stymie creative collaborative potential in workplaces when there’s more value placed on “having the answers” than, say:
- considering other perspectives
- listening without judgement
- using strategic inquiry to arrive at a better destination
Clearly there’s a time and place for decisive answers and fast turn-around. But in order to do it well—that is, be ready with the necessary experience and insights to “deliver”—there’s got to be a yin to that yang.
To be at your peak, as an individual or organization, takes a willingness to follow curiosity. It makes your work better. But most crucially, it makes life and relationships better. There’s plenty of data to back up that premise.
Consider learning and brain health: research has shown that intrinsic curiosity improves learning and memory for things we aren’t even interested in. Other studies have shown that being open to new experiences keeps your brain active and alert, which can be immensely helpful as we age.
“Research is formalized curiosity. It’s poking and prying with a purpose.” —Zora Neale Hurston
Get better results
Scientists say there are two kinds of curiosity. “Diversive curiosity,” a wide-ranging interest in anything and everything new. “Epistemic curiosity,” on the other hand, is focused and discerning.
Combining these two kinds of curiosity can be powerful and productive, says Ian Leslie, author of the book, “Curious.” Leslie says the key to making curiosity more fruitful and productive is to take that non-discriminating approach and then dive in with a sustained attitude.
Think of an entrepreneur who questions why a service isn’t offered, then digs in to assess what can be done to deliver it. It’s a classic problem-solution model that anyone can use—particularly in business and design, says author Warren Berger in Three Ways Curiosity Can Change Your Life. “I found many of the most successful innovators to be people of wide-ranging curiosity who also knew when and how to narrow their focus,” Berger says.
While we’re all born with these traits, we don’t all nurture a sense of exploration and discovery as we grow older—even though our futures depend on it. But there are many practical ways we all can go about it.
Here are 6 tips to nurture curiosity:
- Read. Different kinds of things, with varying perspectives.
- Talk with people. Different kinds of people, with varying perspectives.
- Brainstorm without judgement to consider angles, approaches and possibilities.
- Ask questions: “who, what, when, where, why and how” are the standard journalistic ones. Befriend them.
- Don’t let fear hinder curiosity. What’s the potential positive in a situation? The unknown may offer surprising rewards.
- Listen. Sometimes it’s the silence, the experience, that teaches you best.
For more in-depth advice, check out these links:
- 8 Habits of Curious People
- 5 ways to cultivate curiosity and tap creativity
- 5 Ways to bolster curiosity (in your organization)
Create more room to grow
As hard as we try, sometimes curiosity ebbs and flows. I can tell when I’m feeling worn out and need a refresher, because my desire to wonder, dig deeper or re-examine feels dull. Which is often code for: time to take a break, breathe, work out, laugh or jam to some crazy good music.
At Hailey Sault, we’ve long valued curiosity as an integral part of our creative craft. It informs what we do, how we do it, and even why we do it. It’s a healthy practice for any organization. Because fostering a culture that values the pursuit of questions, openly and honestly, will strengthen your ability to make real and lasting improvements—in work and life alike.
How do you nurture curiosity? For yourself, and for those in your sphere?
What are you doing to pursue your next big idea or make life, work and health care better? We’d love to hear about it.