38 ways to lead a more curious life.
I believe we lead better lives, run better businesses and have more fulfilling work experiences when we are more curious. Being curious is a licence to explore and experiment. It allows you to try your hand at new things and follow opportunities that you might ordinarily be closed to. It enables you to meet interesting people in unusual places and opens the door to serendipity. It enriches and enlivens what could otherwise be a straight and unimaginative trudge through the day-to-day.
My career has been a real adventure driven by my sense of curiosity. In my 17 years working for myself curiosity has been my compass, letting me carve out a work life with no limits. I recommend living a more curious life, and here are some tips to get you started:
- Don’t have a big plan. No-one knows what’s around the corner, so why are you trying to guess the future? I believe in having goals but instead of setting out a fixed linear path as to how you’ll get there, stay open minded. Go where the water flows, embrace serendipity. It’ll allow for more interesting and exciting opportunities along the way.
- Get comfortable not knowing the answer. Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh, founder of Sugru, stumbled upon her invention whilst a student at the Royal College of Art. She wasn’t sure what she’d created, but she knew she needed to explore further. Jane told me that curiosity is about being comfortable in the dark and not worrying that you don’t have the answer yet (watch the video).
- Scratch an entrepreneurial itch. In 2011 Tina Roth Eisenberg’s daughter came home from a party wearing a temporary tattoo. Tina was disappointed by its poor quality. Rather than complain, she wondered whether she could do better herself. She found she could and today her company Tattly employs 12 people, a business that Tina acknowledges only started just by being curious.
- Experiment. Curiosity is about trying things out. And learning from the experiences, rather than obsessing over success vs failure. Whether it’s trying a new route to the office, starting a new hobby or launching a side business, dive in and see what happens.
- Follow your passions wherever they take you. Photographer and creative director Dan Rubin told me that if he sees something he wants to know more about, he goes after it. Dan was asked to be a beta tester in the early days of Instagram. He says it was his curiosity in new things that led to him becoming an early adopter (watch the video).
- Get out of the office at lunchtime. Whether you work for a tech firm with its own in-house cafeteria, or just a small business where you eat at your desk, please — get out of the office at lunchtime. Walk around the block, try that new food stall. I bet you’ll find some clarity in the fresh air and who knows what opportunities you might bump into?
- Be multi-dimensional. Your career doesn’t need to revolve around a single talent or skill. Rather than be limited by a job title, try carving out a working life that reflects your multi-dimensional talents. Whether you work in an organisation or you’re self-employed, juggle multiple disciplines, add new strings to your bow and broaden your horizons.
- Be an ideas collector. New ideas tend to be a fusion of old ones, so if you’re looking to be more innovative or creative, try collecting ideas. Make a note of themes and stories that fire you up, copy quotes that inspire you, cut things out, snap photos on your phone. Keep a notebook with you!
- Allow your mind to wander. We fill our schedules with meetings and tasks. We fill our commute to work with social media and podcasts. So make sure you get unplugged from time to time. Give yourself permission to daydream, to gaze out of the train window or to just sit in the coffee shop with no agenda.
- Feed your passions. If you suddenly get interested in home baking or 35mm photography, feed it! Tim Ferriss told me how as a kid his parents had exposed him to a lot of different things. If he latched on to one thing or became fascinated by it, then his parents would support him and buy him books to feed that curiosity. Do the same for yourself.
- Reach out to people you admire. Is there an author who really inspires you, a designer whose work you love? Reach out to them. In 2010 I saw the musician Dave Stewart walking down down a street in Soho. I tweeted him, triggering a chain of events that led to us meeting and a whole load of unanticipated opportunities.
- Talk to a stranger. A blind woman. An airline pilot. A cleaner. I’ve had some fascinating — eye-opening — conversations chatting with strangers. Walking around at lunchtime recently I got talking to a cleaning supervisor called Sonny. My conversation with him really fired up my afternoon. It also turned my perception of his job on its head.
- Explore the unfamiliar. When you’re traveling on business and arrive in a city you don’t know, try and avoid heading to the usual suspects such as Starbucks. Go somewhere unfamiliar instead. On my recent travels, I’ve sought out side street cafes and independent record shops. I find interesting things happen in interesting places.
- Look up. We spend so much time rushing about looking down at our phones. If you do that you miss so much! Being curious is about noticing what’s around you. So remove your headphones, pay attention and tune into what’s happening around you — you might spot something new in a street you walk down every day (and if you’re interested in exploring how you can use the urban landscape to help you solve problems and make decisions, check out Street Wisdom).
- Carry a camera with you. I love walking around cities taking photographs, whether with my vintage 35mm camera or my iPhone. Not just because I like taking pictures but I find it sharpens my curiosity — I’m always observing and noticing details. People. Signs. Shop fronts.
- Ask “What if?” Being curious is often about shifting your mindset to ask a simple question. What if we ran the project this way instead of the usual way? What if, instead of continuing down the straight road, we took this random left turn? Asking What if can unlock opportunities by exploring questions that we never thought to ask before.
- Listen to music you wouldn’t usually listen to. I find venturing out of my comfort zone to listen to new — and different — music is really stimulating. If you don’t know where to start, check out BBC 6 Music, download an edition of BBC Radio 3’s highly eclectic show Late Junction, subscribe to Rough Trade’s Album of the Month club.
- Go off-piste on your business trips. When you’re traveling for work, make time around the edges to explore. Earlier this year I visited Belfast for the first time. So I didn’t want to just fly in and out without seeing the real city. I allowed extra time in my schedule, and was lucky enough to have one of my workshop delegates give me a tour of the city. It was a 40 year history lesson in one hour. That was worth hanging around for.
- Follow people on Twitter who are outside of your world. Do you only follow people on Twitter from your industry, community or those that share your own political views? Get outside your bubble, follow some people and organisations who’d you’d never usually engage with.
- Walk around a city without a map. I love to explore cities without a map. On a recent trip to Glasgow I stumbled upon a fantastic restaurant Ox & Finch, one of the best I’ve ever been to. I find that sense of random discovery really rewarding. It actually gives me goosebumps. The best experiences are stumbled upon, not planned.
- Walk in other people’s shoes. In order to understand the world around us we need to get our shoes dirty and go and experience things first hand. So embrace your inner anthropologist: spend time walking in your employees’ or customers’ shoes and “get stuck in” to find the answers.
- Read wildly. Expand your literary tastes! I love the London bookstore Libreria. The layout is designed to maximise discovery of new ideas, so you stumble across books and topics you wouldn’t usually choose. I discovered some great books that way. And, if you’re interested in magazines, subscribe to Stack: each month they send a different title through your letterbox.
- Get your news from multiple sources. One of the reasons I like Twitter is that it introduces me to articles and news clips that I’d never normally see. That way it opens my eyes to different political view points and opinions from varied communities and backgrounds. Stay open-minded.
- Extend your network. I think we get blinkered if we only hang out with the same people the whole time. That’s why I aim to meet a new person every week. I don’t always manage that, but it’s good to keep the Rolodex fresh.
- Think like a kid. I’ve got two kids and I love their appetite for learning. We tend to lose that when we get older. So try and retain that sponge-like curiosity, that lack of inhibition when it comes to finding out or immersing ourselves in a new subject.
- Go to independent-owned shops and restaurants. I’ve got nothing against big retailers, but I find you’re much more likely to start chatting with the person behind the counter in an independent. This year I’ve had some great conversations with record store staff, baristas and waiters that have really stimulated me.
- Go to a meet-up. Are you aware of the creative and entrepreneurial communities on your doorstep? If not, search what’s going on via Meetup.com. A few years ago I co-founded a meet-up for local creatives, freelancers and entrepreneurs. It was a great way of building a community and making new contacts.
- Stay in an Airbnb. When you choose an Airbnb instead of a hotel, you’re staying with a local, or in a local’s apartment. So it feels like you’re part of the city not just a visitor. I like that difference, it gives you a fast-track into the life and soul of a place, you get to the heart of it quicker.
- Take a journey. A change in location can change your state of mind, so if you need to alter your mindset, alter your scenery. I love long train journeys: they are perfect for thinking, scribbling, day-dreaming and who knows who you might talk to or what you might see out of the window?
- Hang out in hotel lobbies. If you love to people-watch and want to shake up your work life with a different backdrop for meetings or remote working, try a hotel lobby. You don’t even have to be a guest. Hotels such as Citizen M, The Hoxton and The Ace encourage people to use their lobbies to hang out.
- Visit museums and galleries. Recently I had an hour to kill between meetings. I headed to Tate Modern. It was a real joy to just walk around on a quiet Monday afternoon. I chanced upon Marwan Rechmaoui’s giant map of Beirut. Embossed into rubber, a symbol of the city’s resilience, you can even walk over it.
- Push the boundaries of your tastes. Expand your taste buds with subscriptions to services that send you their particular choice of food and drink products. Sign up to BeerBods and receive a different beer every week. Take a look at Rave — they send you a different freshly roasted coffee every month. There are many more out there…
- Start a side project. If you’re looking to test a business idea, why not do it in your spare time on the side? Digital tools mean we can rapidly test, launch and crowd-fund ideas at very low risk. If you need some tips, check out the Do Lectures Side Projects report.
- Learn as you go. Some of my favourite career moments happened when I worked on things with no prior experience. That’s how I got started in local radio when I was a teenager and how I started writing for the Financial Times in 2012. I had no ‘qualifications’, I certainly wasn’t a journalist! But I didn’t see this as an obstacle. I just learned by doing. I was curious to see if I could pull it off!
- Get up close to an artist. Last weekend I went on The Leigh Art Trail, an annual event where my local town hosts exhibitions and artists open their studios. It gave me and my family the opportunity to get up close to artists at work: we tried our hand at graffiti, we saw a sculptor at work on a block of marble.
- Go to the Do Lectures. “Stay curious,” it says on the wall of David and Clare Hieatt’s farm in West Wales. This is the venue for the wonderful Do Lectures, an annual ideas festival. As well as the great talks on stage, I love how the event throws you together with people from different worlds. When I went to the Do Lectures in 2012 I shared the dinner table with an English baker and a Brooklyn knife-maker.
- Volunteer or do some work pro-bono. A friend of mine who worked in brand marketing made a really brave step: he took a break from his job to volunteer in the slums of Cebu City, Philippines. But you don’t need to take such big steps to get out of your bubble — do some work for your local community, organise a fundraiser for a charity.
- (If you’re single) try internet dating. Yes, being curious can even lead you to your life partner. Back in 2003 we didn’t have apps such as Tinder but we did have dating websites. One day I took out a trial membership of Time Out Dating. “I’m just curious,” I explained to my friends. I only went on one date, with “Zoe from Streatham.” Reader, I married her. How’s that for an ROI on curiosity?!
I’m a creative consultant, storyteller and coach who gets organisations, teams and individuals fired-up about their work.
Curiosity comes into play on every project I touch, whether that’s helping brands and businesses tell their story; running workshops on creativity, curiosity and storytelling to help teams think outside the bubble; taking executives and business leaders on walk-and-talks to navigate change in their work lives. Email me firstname.lastname@example.org, find me online at iansanders.com, follow me on Twitter @iansanders