Albert Einstein once said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence.”
In a sense, curiosity defines us as a species. It is this spirit of questioning the status quo (i.e., a belief that existing knowledge is sufficient) that has led to countless and ongoing revolutions not only in technology and science but in everything from politics to social justice and human rights.
By embracing a spirit of curiosity and openness to new ideas, we can follow the examples set by trailblazers such as Galileo Galilei, Charles Darwin, Emmeline Pankhurst, Marie Curie, Richard Branson and Steve Jobs and bring about transformative changes within our own lives, communities, organisations and the world at large. And yet, despite everything, my sense is that we have only started scratching the surface on what it truly means to be curious.
The Current State of Curiosity
Curiosity often tends to be something we are happy to leave to innovators and pioneering researchers. Indeed, of greatest concern is the feeling that the perceived value of curiosity may be declining in some quarters as people take more polarised views on a whole range of issues.
Knowing seems to trump questioning.
Even businesses seem to be increasingly focused on answers, on metrics, on data than they are on truly questioning.
For example, how many people do you know who were hired because of what they question as opposed to what they know? And yet the world in which we created and learnt this knowledge is fading away. The world the data describes is receding.
Without realising it, our bias is therefore to optimise for the past even though we are all aware that we live in incredibly fast-changing times.
What Else Can We Do?
Well, let’s start asking more questions and see what happens. Let’s challenge our assumptions by first acknowledging that we are continually making assumptions about all aspects of the world around us. We see this in the public and private sectors.
Anyone with kids in education is constantly face-to-face with a whole series of assumptions about how best to educate them based on ideas of the purpose of an education system. Many of these are clearly questionable and yet are not being questioned by those in power.
In the private sector, we have seen relatively little innovation in terms of organisational structure and much time is still spent managing up and across organisations. Does it need to be this way?
It is thus about cultivating a mindset of curiosity, of realising that everything we interact with every day is an answer to a whole series of questions that might have been answered differently. So why not question them:
- Do we really need to do things this way?
- How might we see this differently?
Companies as diverse as the Virgin Group, Ryanair and Google have shown how being curious can drive success and create value.
The invitation is to start with yourself and how you see the world. For example:
- How did you come to read this manifesto?
- How did you decide to do what you did today?
- How will you decide what to do next?
This builds out from what you do and how you see the world to truly observing and questioning everything you see around you.
Curiosity is not just about asking questions but also simply being open to different ideas and being willing both to take risks and embrace possible failure. But even there, why not question what risk means? What failure means?
Surely that also depends on what questions you ask and how you frame the story. If you decide that success is asking questions and experimenting, then failure is simply not asking questions regardless of the outcome of the experiment.
- So let’s celebrate curiosity and unleash it.
- Let’s foster a culture of open-minded inquiry.
- Let’s incentivise people to ask questions.
- Let’s create spaces where curiosity can thrive.
Above all, let’s have fun embracing curiosity and give ourselves permission to ask the questions our inner 10-year-old wants to ask.