Can it make a difference?
Curiosity is a word we all like to use and are keen to foster in our daily lives, but there is much more to curiosity than many people think. Curiosity takes us forward into a fertile field of things that we don’t yet know – or don’t yet realize we can know. Curiosity fuels our journey into life and opens our minds to what is not just the best in us, but to the potentially unlimited “more” in us that has been slowly emerging from our very first day.
Seeking and Play
Mostly, people think of curiosity as an eagerness to learn, a desire to know how things work, and to understand more about why. Curiosity is our internal drive for new information about everything and anything, and we have certainly evolved a very big brain that can and wants to work things out. A famous researcher, Jaak Panksepp, described the primal drive behind curiosity as SEEKING (he used capital letters). But we don’t only discover new information through the effort of cognitive thinking. A surprising amount of what we learn and what we discover comes purely by chance, serendipity, and intuition. The driver for this method of discovery is called PLAY – unregulated and unsupervised activity.
Much of our self-awareness and social behavior is discovered through the play we started in our very early years. We learn what hurts us and what hurts others, we learn what is fun, we learn what is difficult, and we learn how problems are created and solved. We learn many of these things without opening a book or being given instructions or waiting for permission or approval. It is curiosity that moves us to look beyond what we know, what is safe, what is predictable, and what is certain.
Meaning and Dynamic Curiosity
But the most important aspect of curiosity is not the gathering of information, whether deliberately with our big brain or serendipitously through play. It is what we DO with that information. Or, more correctly, what that information does within us. Change and growth, invention, a deeper engagement with ourselves and others, and an explosion of creativity suddenly turn on when we realize what all these bits of information MEAN TO US. This is when the light goes on, the penny drops, and our whole brain shifts into a different gear.
So, curiosity is not just investigation for information, or the serendipitous emergence of information, but the transformation of that information into something meaningful and relevant that opens our mind to creativity, growth, and change. But we are so stuck in the idea that curiosity is only about investigating that I have needed to create a new name for this triumvirate of curiosity – DYNAMIC CURIOSITY.
Dynamic curiosity is so natural when we are children. A 3-year-old is much more open to what they don’t yet know. Life is all about learning new things and working out what they mean, what can be created and how that expands their lives.
When Curiosity Is Smothered
Yet, bit by bit, over time, a smothering veil seems to descend on our curiosity. New things become risky. What we don’t know becomes scary for fear of losing what we already have. School teaches us that we get better marks repeating what is already known. So, when people move into the world of business – and life – curiosity is already restricted. The Harvard Business Review has reported on studies that showed many managers would shy away from encouraging curiosity because they feared staff would be more difficult to manage, lose focus on their set work programs, and that disagreements with decisions would break down leadership hierarchies. A survey of employees showed their curiosity levels decreased on average 20% over 6 months because of work pressures and little opportunity to ask question or make suggestions.
Yet almost any program that fosters curiosity and learning produces positive results and often unexpected (serendipitous) changes and growth, both business and personal. The obvious question is what can we do about this?
Being the Cure
There are lots of programs and activities that are available that can be very helpful, and there is a large amount of money being spent to find what might make it better. But maybe it is not about someone else providing solutions through business or school. Curiosity is a natural thing within us all. We need to get back to the source – to us – and ignite our own personal reawakening of curiosity. Rather than waiting for someone else to give us the cure, can we start being the cure?
Although there is a lot more to the story of curiosity (and I will write follow up articles), let’s start with a simple 3 step process and see what we can stir up within.
3 Steps for Igniting Curiosity
The 3 steps are simple, but we have built up a lot of barriers and other interferences, so let’s go back to the basics.
First, we need to shift the brain into a curiosity-oriented mindset. This means to be genuinely interested and really wonder what is not known. Even if it is a difficult situation, there is still something you don’t know. Often that is why it is difficult!
Second, we need to assume that the situation, as we see it, is probably only part of the story and may just be a message or trigger to get our attention to wonder more about what really is behind it all.
Thirdly, when there is some kind of breakthrough, realization, or any new level of understanding or awareness, that is the time to let your creativity go and flow. What is something new or different or better that I can do? What have I Iearned? How can I incorporate this into my daily life? How does this make my life better – and more?
These steps can be summarised in 3 simple questions:
- That’s interesting.
- What is this really all about?
- What can I create out of this?
Mental Health and Success
In my work as a psychotherapist and coach, this is how I approach most things with my clients. We don’t look to just fix the problem, but to listen to what the problems are telling us and for what meanings we are missing and for what we either don’t yet know or we’re not ready to know. Even things like depression and anxiety are telling us something much more than just a bad mood to fix. And the same for business. What is that problem trying to tell you? What creative possibility are you not seeing – yet? What can your dynamic curiosity generate once we get the barriers and fears out of the way?
My work as both psychotherapist and consultant for business is wonder-full. That is what makes the difference.
You can learn more about the work of Richard Hill at www.richardhill.com and www.thescienceofpsychotherapy.com and see more at https://www.youtube.com/@scienceofpsychotherapy