The Art of Curiosity

Although curiosity is one of my core values, I often find myself instantly going to “what I know to be true” in business and personal situations. The older we get, the more experience we get, the more sure we are that we “know” what the right answer or direction is. In fact, as helpful as the hard-won experience is, curiosity is more powerful for two reasons. The first is that often we are not listening to the whole situation or problem and therefore answering or solving the wrong problem. The second is that true innovation only comes from curiosity about a different or better way to do something.

The saying goes that, “perception is reality.” What we should say is that my perception is my reality. It’s not reality for everyone so to generalize is to make a whole boatload of assumptions that only fit our own narrative. Just take today’s toxic political environment. Everyone is stuck in their own vastly different reality and yet these different points-of-view can’t all be “the truth.”

The first reason we are not curious is inadequate listening. It causes us to immediately check our own internal information bank and click on the first solution that pops up based on our experience. Our brain is like Google and picks the thought that matches the best – albeit without the influence of paid advertising. So, what if we learned to just pause, and hold “that perfect right answer” or solution just half a beat to consider whether we are actually solving the right problem? It doesn’t take a lot of time to hold back offering an opinion and getting all the information. This is what smart leaders do. They ask lots of questions like, “tell me more,” “what makes you say that,” “what have you considered,” “which direction are you heading,” “can you frame the question as a ‘how do I or how to’ question?” You’ll be surprised at what you find out. Curiosity, in this case, does not kill the cat. It will likely solve the right problem.

The second reason to become more curious is that true innovation only happens through “not knowing.” In this state, we are able to look at the situation or problem from multiple angles and play “what if.” Some of these solutions will be non-starters but somewhere in there is a gold nugget that if we recognize and work with it, can turn into a gold mine. What if we did it a different way? What if the current barrier were not there? Often, we look at the challenges with all the barriers we have today – lack of money, time, people, expertise, etc. Try assuming those problems are solved and be curious about what can be created – not what already has been created and works – but what can be created for tomorrow. Being curious is the only way to tease out the possibilities.

Next time you are faced with a problem or situation that you think you have the answer to, just pretend that you don’t “know.” Ask questions and be curious about what if’s and what could be. You just might be on your way to something great.