In his book The Human Edge, Greg Orme gives a simple but extremely powerful example of curiosity.
We are related to a single woman who lived in East Africa around two hundred thousand years ago. About seventy thousand years ago, a descendent of this woman gazed across the Red Sea and thought ‘I wonder what is on the other side?’ These early pioneers were so curious that they decided to find out. The rest is, as they say, history.
Since that time curiosity has been part of human nature and it has supposedly even managed to kill a cat or two!
In rich countries, the life expectancy of young people could soon be 100+ years. How can we work in the same industry, have the same interests for a working life of perhaps 60 years?
We should follow the example of a famously poor student, Albert Einstein. He himself stated that he had no special talents apart from being insanely curious.
We all learn better when we are interested in a subject but it seems that curiosity helps you to learn even when you do not find a subject either interesting or important. A final point in favour of curiosity is that without it creativity is impossible.
Let us be clear, curiosity is not the same as lifelong learning. Lifelong learning is a painfully long process that can only be assessed accurately in the final moments before your death. Imagine that just before you die, someone says ‘well then what have you learned whilst you have been alive?’. Curiosity is a condition that you carry around, an itch that you need to scratch. It makes you wonder about something so that you have to do something about it right now. So, at the end of a day you have learned something (or not). No need to wait until you die.
Learning by being curious is the main reason for the success of many well known names such as Walt Disney, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Oprah Winfrey. In many cases reading books was the key.
Can we learn from possibly the most curious person in history – Leonardo Da Vinci? His curiosity was recorded in his many notebooks. There are sketches, drawings, and lists that reveal how he thought. He knew when to wander and daydream and when to focus on one particular thing, to master it and try to make it become real.
In order to properly develop our curiosity, we need to roam widely, to get a basic knowledge of a few areas. Have you ever noticed that once you have a rudimentary knowledge of a topic, you want to find out more or perhaps even master it completely?
One of the best tips that I have come across is ‘Ask Google’.
Don’t just ask Google when you need to know the opening times of your nearest burger bar or cinema. If you daydream, Google it. Google questions as well as answers. If you turn up surprising things then Google those as well.
Curiosity is apparently contagious. Unfortunately, incuriosity is also contagious. Curiosity levels will rise and fall depending on your surroundings and the people whose company you keep. This is why Leonardo made lists of people that he wished to interview (or more likely interrogate). Many others have done the same.
So, it seems that there could also be a short cut to learning. Create the right environment, surround yourself with the right people and have a list of questions that you wish to have answered. Basically, you need to get ready to have curious conversations and avoid incurious people!