Children are born with an innate sense of wonder. Babies are often mesmerized by the movement of their own tiny fingers. Toddlers and preschoolers delight in asking “why?”
During the elementary school years, there is a noticeable shift in focus that intensifies into adulthood. Our attention becomes goal-oriented. While there is a place and time for efficiency, our culture’s emphasis on finding the quickest or “right” approach often comes at a cost: We’re conditioned to suppress our curiosity as we get older. Yet nurturing our curiosity is essential in order to become wiser.
What Does “Curious” Really Mean?
Curiosity involves finding the unfamiliar in the familiar. Curiosity isn’t defined by if you’re paying attention, but rather by how you’re paying attention. Curiosity is the recognition and strong desire to explore — even the things you think you already know.
If you already know, why expend the mental energy? In the push to find ‘the right answer,’ you can rob yourself of the opportunity to discover the world of possibilities.
7 Reasons to Embrace intellectual Curiosity
Our coaches find that clients often express frustration over “wasting time” if their thinking isn’t outcome-oriented. However, as we remind them, pausing to invite curiosity is actually very powerful. Whether in your professional or personal life, curiosity can:
1. Encourage meaningful dialogue — When you listen with an inquisitive mind, you suspend judgment. “Why did you do it that way?” has an accusatory ring to it — and carries the potential to put the other person on the defense or to shut down altogether. By contrast, “I’m curious; how did you come up with that idea?” can be a springboard for a productive conversation.
2. Promote mindfulness — Curiosity and mindfulness complement and inspire each other. In the words of Elisha Goldstein, author of The Now Effect, “Curiosity leads the mindful person to get back in touch with the wonders and possibilities of life.” Mindfulness allows you to observe, while curiosity helps you explore.
3. Make you a stronger leader — Whether you’re coaching a softball team or running a Fortune 500 company, approaching situations with intellectual curiosity promotes your ability to become a more flexible leader. An inquisitive mindset helps you understand others’ points of view, which encourages increased participation and engagement.
4. Foster appreciation — When you observe with a curious frame of mind, you often find beauty in unexpected places. Taking a moment to stop and look at — or consider — seemingly ordinary things helps you notice and absorb them on a deeper level, and with greater appreciation.
5. Open the door to unlimited options — Our coaches find that many career coaching clients initially hyper-focus on the result rather than the process. However, when they allow themselves the patience and bandwidth to fully engage in the process, curiosity can lead to fabulous discoveries. Many clients find that their best career fit is one they hadn’t even previously considered. Taking an inquisitive approach can also prompt them to reconsider options in a new way: ‘How can I make this happen now when I thought I couldn’t before?’
6. Increase collaboration — A sense of curiosity allows you to consider a situation from another person’s perspective, and to collectively inspire innovation. The classic “yes, and …” exercise often taught in improv classes requires participants to build on their partner’s responses illustrates this concept. Even though both are conjunctions, ‘but’ conveys disagreement. ‘Yes, and …’ is a far more open response, implying acceptance and prompting further exploration.
7. Beget curiosity — Like the infinity symbol, curiosity has a circular effect. The more you examine, the more you notice, which inspires further discovery. When you ask open-ended questions, you are less invested in the outcome, which creates space for exploration. And in that space, creativity and innovation have room to flourish.