Is Curiosity the Mother of all Competencies in Today’s World?

Photo by Alex Webb

There are so many articles written on the subject of curiosity. This natural skill with which we have discovered and achieved a lot in the past is back on the radar to save us and help us in this era. Curiosity is the backbone of so many other skills and tools we need these days from self-awareness and finding our why to innovation, creativity and even empathy.

As written in “Three ways to prepare for the future of work”, curiosity is perhaps the most humane characteristic of all. It’s independent of social class, or experience and the more it’s used, the more it increases.

Fast company article on curiosity shares some of the highlights of Ian Leslie’s new book: The Desire to Know And Why Your Future Depends On It.

As written in the book, humans are born with an instinct to be curious. The author cites a study that found children between the ages of three and five ask nearly 40,000 questions. Once children reach school age, their natural curiosity wanes, in part, he theorizes, because learning is hard work. Epistemic curiosity requires focus, persistence, and discipline, Leslie notes.

As he describes there are two types of curiosity: diversive and epistemic. Diversive curiosity is a hunger for new information, Leslie says. It’s impulsive– like scratching an itch–and takes you in new directions. The second type, epistemic curiosity, is a lifelong quest for knowledge, characterized by building one’s knowledge base and exploring questions.

Huffpost article “Why curiosity is the key to breakthrough creativity” takes the discussion to the next level.

The author describes the fact that curiosity has been found to be just as important as intelligence in order to succeed and navigate our increasingly complex world. Referring to Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book “Creative Living Beyond Fear” he confirms that following our curiosity instead of our passion is the real key to an interesting and creative life.

An approach which leads to creativity because it enables us to lean into uncertainty with a positive attitude — relaxing and opening our minds to new ideas, skills, and ways of solving problems.

Developing curiosity is like building any other new skill or habit — it takes repeated practice. As Gilbert says, “If you want to live a curiosity-driven life, you must commit to being vigilant about looking for what’s piquing your curiosity.” Her advice is to follow what is interesting to you, even if that interest is faint at first.

This instinct came naturally to us as children, when we had curiosity coursing through our bodies, excitedly exploring new experiences. However, as we get older, we often lose this sense of novelty and exploration. We tend to favor certainty, security, and a simple way of making sense of the world. Ironically, it is only once we become adults that our brains are developed enough to process new discoveries and turn them into concrete ideas and strategies.

In order to spark new levels creativity as adults, we need to get back in touch with our childlike curiosity. We need to observe, explore, ask questions, and again venture into the unknown.

Opening our minds in this way will help us thrive in our current jobs and secure new opportunities.

In the business world curiosity is one of the top traits employers are looking for when making hiring decisions, because it is a key indicator of other great workplace qualities such as empathy, creativity, innovation, and the ability to learn quickly.

Erika Anderson shares her vision on this topic in a Harvard Business Review article titled: “Learning to learn”. She believes that organizations today are in constant flux. Industries are consolidating, new business models are emerging, new technologies are being developed, and consumer behaviors are evolving. For executives, the ever-increasing pace of change can be especially demanding. It forces them to understand and quickly respond to big shifts in the way companies operate and how work must get done. In the words of Arie de Geus, a business theorist, “The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.”

She clarifies that by learning she means resisting the bias against doing new things, scanning the horizon for growth opportunities, and pushing yourself to acquire radically different capabilities — while still performing your job. That requires a willingness to experiment and become a novice again and again: an extremely discomforting notion for most of us.

As Forbes article describes: At a time when AI and automation are injecting a big dose of ambiguity into the future of human careers, it is critical that our leaders have the curiosity to learn and adapt their workforce for the challenges ahead. Curious leaders will enable their companies to navigate complexity and be future-ready. Uncurious leaders will hold on to tried and true methods and create stagnation.