The important thing is not to stop questioning… Never lose a holy curiosity. – Albert Einstein
During World War II when I was a young boy, we lived with my mother’s parents while my father worked about 100 miles away in an oil refinery and commuted back to our small town on weekends. I think that I must have been a real question box back then, asking my grandmother more questions than she wanted to answer. I don’t remember what I asked, or her answers. What I do remember is that when she tired of my questions she always responded with the old parable “Curiosity killed the cat.”
Leadership consultant Keith Webb suggests that curiosity leads us to new thoughts and perspectives. He notes that being curious helps us break away from the status quo by asking why things are the way they are and not some other way. Curiosity leads us to inquire about what is not known rather than for confirmation of what we already know. For those wanting to cultivate their curiosity, he suggests four approaches:
Cultivate your whole brain. Curiosity is more a function of the artistic right side of the brain than the logical left side. For most of us, this requires that we move beyond the logical cause-and-effect thinking to listening with our imagination, in pictures and colors. There’s more “what if” and “why” in our questions than just “what.” What questions did Columbus ask to enable him to sail as he did? Begin to ask questions that take you beyond mere evolution of the current state to a “quantum” leap to the future. Look for the possibilities.
Expand your interests. Webb says that breadth and diversity are key foundations of curiosity. Take your reading beyond the old favorites. Move beyond your favorite TV shows. Go to the museum or a sports activity. Don’t think about just making it better; think of how you might take it far beyond “better.” Think like Steve Jobs did when he began the process of changing the music industry with the iPod.
Be childlike. Children don’t know and so they ask. (That’s what I overdid with my grandmother.) Their questions often focus on basic assumptions and unspoken or unseen details. With each answer their world expands. Somewhere along the way to adulthood, most of us, unfortunately, stop asking. We may feel that we know everything important. Or, we don’t ask for fear that not knowing will demonstrate our ignorance to those around us, our friends, colleagues, or bosses. Or, because others not knowing that we don’t know will be embarrassing. We need to get beyond that. This requires courage and confidence that asking is OK, as well as persistence.
Ask, even if you think you know the answer. When you have a sense you know the answer, ask to expand your knowledge. Look for elements in the responses you receive that are different in some way from what you expect. Learn more by building on that difference.
My grandmother’s retort usually turned off my stream of questions for that moment. Today, I’m still asking questions. Sometimes I ask to expand my knowledge. Sometimes in a conversation, I’ll ask questions that I know the answer to, to stimulate the thinking of my conversational partner; and also to extend the thinking of my partner.
Right now, I’m trying to ask questions that will extend our thinking about IT in our educational institutions. Too often we only look at how we can make a solution just a bit better. But, today, given the pace of technology and the speed at which industry is introducing new approaches and new kinds of solutions, that is not good enough. It’s encouraging to see that some CIOs are leading their organizations to take quantum leaps. This is the theme of the 2016 MOR Leaders Conference scheduled for June 14. There we hope to engage participants in the subject Reimagining IT as University Needs and Technology Evolve. I hope that you will be joining us in this virtual conference next week.
And, whether you’ll be joining us or not, Be Curious.
Make yours a great week. . . jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates, and Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus, and CIO, Emeritus, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.
Donald Latumahina, 4 Reasons Why Curiosity is Important and How to Develop It.
Keith Web, Leading with Curiosity.