Curiosity

"Why?” is a question that children constantly. The reason that children ask this question is because not because they want to be annoying, rather because they are genuinely interested in the world around them. They want to learn how things work — why things do what they do, and why certain things happen. Most parents do not like it when their children ask that question over and over again because their children are persistent and some of the questions can seem rather trivial, yet asking “why” is a natural part of growing up. Children ask why so they can better understand the world. And yet, as we mature, we act less curious. We no longer ask why on the same cadence as we did when we were children — it appears as if we have lost our inquisitive touch. I would argue that being curious is just as important as an adult as when you are a children. I maintain this stance because, ultimately, there is an infinite amount of knowledge available in the world — why should we stop asking questions when there is more to learn?

Why should we ask more questions and cultivate curiosity? I do indeed intend to answer this question, but first, at risk of being labelled a Socratic questioner, I would like you to consider the question. What are the benefits of asking questions? What is the importance of curiosity when we are young? How do those benefits extend to our adult lives?

The Benefits of Curiosity

Now that you have considered the question, I shall provide my thoughts. The first reason that we should try to be curious is that a curious mind is more likely to retain information and derive more insights from a learning opportunity. Let’s say that we are talking to a co-worker about a new content strategy. If we ask questions, then our mind will feel as if it is more invested in the conversation. After all, we are the one who is commanding the direction of the conversation — we get to choose what the other person tells us.

Therefore, because we have this level of control, we are generally more invested in the discussion. If we don’t understand, then by asking more questions we can reduce the chance that we walk away from the discussion with an incomplete understanding of the concept. In this case, we are still the one asking the question, and so we will be more likely to listen to the outcome — we want to understand the topic being discussed. The reason that we feel compelled to ask more questions if we don’t understand is that curiosity begets curiosity. If we ask a question and don’t get a good answer, our mind will feel incomplete — we want an answer to that question. So we ask a follow-up question to gain the information we were looking for, even though we perhaps didn’t plan to ask that question.

Developing New Relationships

Being more curious also makes it easier to develop new relationships. When we are curious, we feel more invested in our discussions. We will ask follow-up questions, and seek more clarifying information so that we can find out as much as possible. In the context of relationships, then asking more questions will help us learn more about the other person. As we start to learn more about the other person, we will be able to provide them with more detailed advice, and our bond with said person will be strengthened. Further, when we start to learn more about the person, then over time our knowledge will expand, giving us a more complete picture of the person. This will allow us to provide more thoughtful counsel in the long-term and make them feel valued whenever they need assistance — we can draw on past discussions to help inform what we say. I also think that asking follow-up questions is a sign that you truly care about the other person — that you have been listening to their every word and want them to talk more — which also helps us develop closer relationships with others.

Being curious also makes us more outcome-driven rather than goal-driven. If we set a goal, then we will likely break it down into a series of steps which we then need to complete in order to achieve our overarching goal. However, there are problems with being goal-driven. If something goes wrong, we will likely be unprepared — we only set out what we needed to do to achieve the goal, not mitigate potential failures. When we do achieve the goal, we will feel a sense of completion, and have no incentive to keep going. But, if we are curious, then we adopt a mindset focused on learning continuously. We are not setting a goal to learn one specific thing — the outcome is to become a more active learner. By doing this, we are more likely to listen to both sides of the argument, and focus more on learning rather than being right — we are more flexible. In sum, curious people are more interested in learning and processes; people who are not curious are interested in goals and are more inflexible.

How to Cultivate Curiosity

How do we cultivate curiosity? This is another question which I advise you ask yourself, for the reasons aforementioned. If you ask yourself this question, you are more likely to feel invested in the outcome — you have set yourself a task, and you will want to complete it. However, I have a few ideas which may help inform your thinking. The first and perhaps best way to become more curious is to ask more questions. Do not settle for what someone else says is correct. Challenge it, and be willing to ask “why is that?” and “how did you reach that conclusion?” whenever possible. Do not be afraid to ask questions — doing so gives us more comprehension over the material we are trying to learn.

The next best way to cultivate curiosity is to spend more time listening than talking. Benjamin Franklin made silence one of his thirteen virtues because he knew that he should only talk when he had something constructive to add to the discussion. Spend time listening to other people, and take notes on what they are saying. You can also take more time to analyze why people think the way they do, which will help you be a more effective contributor in the discussion. Another way to cultivate curiosity is to spend more time with other people. Ask them questions; find out how their life has been going. Consider every conversation to be an opportunity to get to know someone else in more depth. Do not waste their time — or yours for that matter — and be interested in their life.

Consume Content Relentlessly

I find that the best way to be curious is to consume as much content as possible. You should always be on the lookout for new things to read and watch. I also find that reading outside of the subjects you care about most can be beneficial. Many investors say that the best books about investing are those which are not about how to invest well — they are the ones about markets, how businesses work, how people make decisions, and more. These are the building blocks of their work, and provide them with more insights than books about investing which only focus on one specific idea. Whatever content you decide to consume, it doesn’t matter — just consume as much as you possibly can. There are other ways you can become more curious, of course. You can write down your ideas and explore them in more depth, spend time introspecting and learning more about yourself, or just take a moment to just think about something in-depth. There is no checklist to being curious — all that matters is that you are willing to go above and beyond what is necessary to learn more about something.

In my spare time, I often have moments where I think of a question and immediately start to look for an answer. I have an idea, and I will not stop until I research it in more depth. This practice has allowed me to not only become more curious, but has also led to my making many successful decisions. Many people when they have an idea note it down and then forget to look at it later, like they promised. I do not adopt this stance — I start to research something immediately, which then encourages my curious mind to become more active. As soon as I start reading, I take down more notes, and I feel like I want to learn more. In sum, sometimes my curiosity is derived from being willing to explore something in-depth whenever it comes to mind.

Being curious is also an iterative process. Curiosity is not a skill to be learned and forgotten about. It is something that we need to constantly work toward cultivating — something that needs to be refined and practiced over time. If we stop being curious, then it will become more difficult for us to be curious in the future. Therefore, even if you think something is not worth exploring — assuming it is not inherently immaterial and useless, of course — then you should explore it anyway. Never let your mind tell you that being curious is a bad thing — even if you end up with nothing, it is the journey that counts. Most successful people have reached their level of success by being passionate about one specific thing — spending a lot of their free time researching and thinking about that one thing. It was not that they were special — they were just driven toward finding a solution to a problem they were thinking about.

Ask questions. Go deep. Consume as much as possible; digest the information. Be curious.

Blog, Essayjamesg_ocaComment