When you look at how the world's big hitters take their quantum leaps forward one of the driving forces involved is always curiosity. They are always questioning and challenging, not willing to accept how things currently are, wanting to know the why and experimenting with how things could be better. This approach is nicely summed up in a quote about moonshot thinker Elon Musk - "If you brought him a time machine you'd made, plugged it in and offered it to him his first question would be, why does it need a plug?" This is the attitude of curiosity which fuels his amazing work and, thankfully, it is one that we can develop ourselves.
To cultivate curiosity we can:
1. Ask more (and better) questions: Questions are the vehicle through which curiosity is driven. We can be as curious as we wish but unless we ask questions it will never become real. The most important step here is to sideline the ego, never be afraid to ask anything for fear of sounding stupid, if we don't know something or want to find out more, ask!
2. Challenge Assumptions: Just because something has 'always been done this way' doesn't mean that it is the right way. Consider how many assumptions we make day to day, then test these. Is there a better way, how could it be improved or radically changed?
3. Experiment: Imagine that we are walking through life with a white coat and lab specs on. Constantly experiment. If we aren't sure about something, test it. If someone talks to us about a new diet or exercise plan for example, do we shoot it down or do we give it a go and experiment? True curiosity comes ahead of any expertise, even if we think we know something we can't until we have fully experimented with it. Try to see life as a series of small experiments.
4. Allow reflection: If we are constantly at the coal face we will struggle to get a good view of where we are digging, or why. Find opportunities in life to pause and reflect. Space is where answers and ideas pop into your head. That is why the shower is so often where new inventions get born, it is one regular opportunity where people stop 'doing' for a moment. Consider what other spaces we can find in our life for deep reflective thought.
5. Seek expertise: Whilst we are on the journey to expertise we cannot expect to be the experts in everything immediately, thankfully there are plenty of experts out there, seek them out and apply the points above. Surrounding ourselves with great minds only serves to enhance our own. We live in an age where this doesn't rely on physical proximity, we don't have to be in a PHD lab to access experts, they are a few clicks away. If we want to find out more about a topic we can find expertise within a few clicks.
6. Stay humble: Ego is the antithesis to curiosity, it will block the path and prevent more being learnt. As the Stoic phrase goes - "man cannot learn that which he believes he already knows". Cultivate a beginners mindset, this isn't a competition about who knows the most it is one to see who can learn the most. Anytime we find ourselves wanting to share what we know in a conversation it means we have stopped learning and switched to knowing, that is then blocking development.
7. Separate facts from opinions: We are allowed our own opinions but not our own facts. Unfortunately in the modern world of social media the lines between the two have become blurred and where once you needed a hard won platform to share your thoughts, now anyone can have a shout about their opinion. Understanding where fact ends and opinion starts is crucial for curiosity, questioning facts and understanding the why behind them is helpful. Arguing over opinions is less so, we should spend out time wisely.
8. Manage our inputs: Following on from the point above it is important to know what we are surrounding ourselves with. The old adage of you are the sum of the 5 people you surround yourself with most carries weight here. Consider also what other inputs we allow in. The quality of content most people spend their time in front of is not conducive to successful ways of thinking. I've never once heard one of the successful types studied here refer to watching Love Island. Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, poor minds discuss people. We should manage our inputs according to our goals.
9. Question the impossible: The line between possible and impossible is often a false one, created through limiting beliefs about what either we or technology are capable of. We should develop the habit of questioning these assumptions around possiblity and ask better questions about how we could make the impossible possible. If we really want to make a dent in the universe, this is the place to focus.
One of the by products of living with this attitude of curiosity is rapidly becoming an expert in multiple disciplines, otherwise known as polymathy. It turns out that this is one of the biggest competitive advantages we can generate today. If you look at the big CEOs and entrepreneurs they are rarely specialists in one field, they have diversified both in role and in thought. As the famous quote goes: "specialisation is for insects". By becoming an expert in multiple areas we are suddenly able to connect seemingly unrelated ideas in new ways and it is here, in this intersection between fields, that giant leaps can be made.
I hope that this post has fuelled your curiosity, rather than focusing on the narrow path in front of you in your career or your life more generally be willing to explore and experiment, see how many different areas you can become expert in, you'll likely be surprised by the benefits this brings.