Strategic Curiosity

David Kadavy
Feb 26 · 3 min read

Curiosity is powerful fuel. You can work harder on something you’re curious about. Yet curiosity is such powerful fuel, it can get you off track.

You can get curious about something totally unrelated to your goal, and now you’re distracted.


The remedy is to be strategic with your curiosity. Strategic curiosity uses the power of curiosity to fuel motivation while achieving strategic goals.

There are two ways to be strategic with curiosity:

  • Surround-and-conquer curiosity

Use surround-and-conquer curiosity when you have a strategic goal, but you aren’t curious about the area of interest that would lead you to that goal. See if you can find curiosity in a neighboring topic that will soften the resistance around the target area of interest.

Redirect curiosity to stop your curiosity from taking you off track. See if you can satisfy that curiosity in a way that will move you toward some strategic goal.


I was strategic with my curiosity when I wanted to learn about writing fiction. I didn’t feel I could make progress because I don’t get excited about reading fiction.

I wasn’t curious about reading fiction writing, so I used the surround-and-conquer curiosity strategy to strategically make myself curious about reading fiction. I found neighboring concepts that I was curious about, and pursued those areas in a way that would make me curious about reading fiction.

I realized that while I don’t read fiction, I do watch movies. So, I started reading screenplays of my favorite movies (surround). The next thing I knew, I was reading novels (conquer). I wanted to read the novels upon which my favorite movies were based.

Notice that I didn’t go straight to reading novels about movies. Novels felt like a slog to me. Reading screenplays felt more cinematic. It was like watching the movie in my head, but now I was at least reading. I combined the movie-watching experience with the activity of reading. The next natural step was to read novels.


My foray into learning about fiction writing was also an exercise in redirecting curiosity. I found myself curious about learning about fiction writing, but I couldn’t justify my curiosity for learning about fiction writing. I was already struggling to make it as a nonfiction writer, so I was a long ways off—especially as someone who reads very little fiction—from success as a fiction writer.

I needed a way to harness my curiosity about fiction writing so that it would be useful in some way. I redirected my curiosity so that, while learning about fiction writing, I would also be learning about storytelling. Even though I wasn’t going to write a novel anytime soon, I knew I could use better storytelling to make my nonfiction writing better.

As I was reading the screenplays of my favorite movies to get myself interested in fiction writing, I used that curiosity to get myself interested in reading screenplay analysis books. The screenplay analysis books taught me a lot about great storytelling. I then used those storytelling devices in my nonfiction writing.

So far, it’s working. The Audible version of my latest nonfiction book gets a high rating for “story.”


The next time you have a goal that you can’t get curious about, ask yourself: Is there a neighboring concept that I am curious about? Can I use that fuel to cultivate curiosity in my target concept?

The next time you find yourself curious about something that has no practical basis, ask yourself: Can I use this curiosity in a way that will move me toward some other goal I have?

You’ll work harder than ever, but you’ll enjoy it more than ever—and you’ll get more done.

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The public exploration of David Kadavy’s upcoming book, working title “Getting Art Done.” Get updates about the book by signing up at http://gettingartdone.com

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"'The Heart to Start' is solid advice from David Kadavy. It's not too late." -Seth Godin. 4x your creative productivity: http://kadavy.net/tools

Getting Art Done

The public exploration of David Kadavy’s upcoming book, working title “Getting Art Done.” Get updates about the book by signing up at http://gettingartdone.com