When I was a young student, my college had a towering library with nine floors. It opened late on Thursday evenings, and I remember going in on one particularly dark and stormy winter’s evening. It was almost empty.
I took the elevator to the fifth floor. It was filled with thousands upon thousands of books but no other humans. I remember walking up and down the aisles, thinking “How many of these books will I ever read?”
I realized in that moment that no matter how many books I read, no matter how much I knew, it would be a drop in the ocean.
It offered me a moment of real humility that crystalized my preference for questions over answers.
It is a numbers game.
What we don’t know has to dramatically outweigh what we do know.
It also offers lessons in terms of the endless possibility (choices, opportunities…) offered to us each and every day. No matter how many possibilities we imagine there are infinitely more just waiting for us. This isn’t about endlessly questioning but building a practice of better recognizing possibility and opportunity and then focusing on what is truly important right now.
Exercise: What Opportunities Might Be Waiting for Me?
Picture the largest library you have ever visited. Feel its vastness. You can’t read every book, but among them are one or two gems perfect for you right now.
- What section of the ‘library’ would you go to first? For example, if you’re looking to improve your leadership skills, imagine walking to the ‘Leadership’ section.
- If you could pull one book off the shelf that holds an answer or opportunity you need, what would the title be?
- What is it saying to you?
- How can you ‘read’ this book in real life?
- Who might have a conversation with you about this?
- What actions might you take based on what you’ve ‘learned’?
Questions in the Image:
- What opportunities might be waiting for me?
- Where might I look?
- Who might help?
Want to Read More Around This Topic?
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown (link to Amazon.co.uk). This book emphasizes the importance of focusing on what truly matters in order to achieve meaningful results across your world. It provides actionable advice on how to eliminate distractions and prioritise tasks that align with your long-term vision.
Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day. What is important now? is in my ears just now. And I instantly got an answer. So: What is the next step? Who might be able to help?
About Tom O’Leary
My mission is to help others think differently – meaning more broadly and deeply – and thereby make better decisions. The key to thinking differently lies in our curiosity.
The more we question, the more possible answers we uncover, and the more we expand what we thought possible. Life has taught me that possibility lies not so much in seeking answers but in learning to ask better questions – the ones that help prioritise what is truly essential.
And yet, in a culture obsessed with efficiency and productivity, the paradox is that much energy and resources are wasted by a bias towards action over contemplation. If you are answering the wrong question, it doesn’t matter how ‘hard’ you work, you are still answering the wrong question.
That is why I am a big advocate of nurturing curiosity and innovative thinking at all ages, particularly amongst leaders because of the impact they have on us all. In my vision, leaders aren’t boxed in by traditional thinking or established playbooks. They are curious, open to fresh ideas and diverse perspectives, fostering a culture of exploration and learning.
What Thoughts Would You Like to Share?
I welcome your thoughts, feedback, or personal experiences related to these questions or any insights they may have sparked.