Want To Innovate? Science Says, Be Curious!

Want To Innovate? Science Says, Be Curious!

Psychology July 14, 2017 / By Dr. KH Kim
Want To Innovate? Science Says, Be Curious!

At first glance, curiosity seems annoying because it can make a task take longer. A closer look can reveal how the extra time curiosity takes can make the task more rewarding and the outcome more unique.

Curiosity is a fundamental building block of creativity. It is the driving force that fuels periods of difficult skill acquisition and inspires the deep thinking required to come up with unique ideas. People are most curious when they feel safe and are playfully engaged with a topic they find moving or intensely interesting. Yet, workplaces are often stripped of fun and curiosity. They are ready to punish any and all failures. Work is often seen as something that must be endured in order to support a person's "real life." That's why people value workers who speedily move from point A to point B in a straight line. Efficiency minimizes the amount of time people spend at work. That seems to be the only reason poeple think it's bet to keep adults on deadlines so tight they never daydream at their desks or let coffee conversations run long when they suddenly get interesting. It's why people rarely complain about trading away fun or fulfillment during the workday for a paycheck.

On the other hand, curious people ask annoying and meandering questions. They can make even the simplest tasks take longer. Yet, there was a time the United States nurtured this attitude in schools because people recognized the dividends it paid to make school exciting and new. The workplace can be an environment full of innovation, just as American schools once were, if the rule of efficiency ends. 

Any study of the lives of notable innovators shows curiosity more than makes up for the extra effort and time it requires. Innovators approach work with an open and childlike mind unconfined by rigidity or preconceived notions. For innovators work is a fun and engaging task they savor. Because they don't want to stop, they seem to possess superhuman persistence and spend longer hours on projects than others do. All the extra time is what allows to their deep expertise to develop. After they've asked and answered all the questions most others have they begin to ask "crazy" questions and grow their expertise in unexpected ways. Their curiosity impulse builds upon their prior knowledge, constantly drawing them to undiscovered gaps and new details, which fuels even more questioning. In short, curiosity is a cycle that perpetuates itself.

Remember, innovators achieve great persistence and don’t burn out because they want to be persistent, not because they force themselves to be. Curiosity’s sense of purpose and meaning guide them past dead ends that would typically stop an uncurious worker in his tracks, not otherworldly will power. As innovators' curiosity is rewarded and renewed, it becomes a lifelong passion. One that lends innovators deep meaning. You, too, no matter how busy you are, can foster curiosity in your own life. It might be difficult at first, but once the engine of curiosity has caught, it will power itself!

Try These 8 Steps to Cultivate Curiosity In Your Life:

First, find and remove what gets in the way of your curious mind by:

  • Being humble enough to continuously learn from others and the world, and putting humility and learning before your ego
  • Being confident enough to be vulnerable, to be wrong, and to admit your ignorance or where your skills aren’t good enough
  • Examining your own assumptions, opinions, beliefs, or convictions
  • Recognizing what you don’t know and what you could do better
  • Understanding that what you already know about the topic is not nearly enough, and drawing on the knowledge and insights of others to close the information gap
  • Choosing to be inquisitive and compelled to ask rather than insecurely pretending to already know
  • Choosing novelty and new horizons over certainty, and the hope and excitement of exploration over a fear of unknown, failure, or looking silly
  • Choosing nonconformity and defiance over conformity and compliance
  • Putting collaboration before competition, and autonomous motivation before rewards
  • Writing down three new things you’ve learned before going to bed every night
  • Being aware of your thoughts and emotions by reflecting and journaling on your experiences for five minutes daily
  • Controlling your response to life events by being aware of how your attention is focused (e.g., in thoughts, beliefs, emotions, the senses, or the body).

Second, never be too shy to ask questions, and ask questions even when you think you know everything you need to know. Carefully and intentionally frame questions that:

  • Solicit rich information instead of simple answers
  • Lead to more unanswered questions instead of definitive answers
  • Expand the constructive conversation instead of placing blame or spawning defensiveness (e.g., "Why did you do this?" or "Didn’t you consider that?")
  • Display your true desire to be open to other views
  • Mine resources (e.g., books, articles, documentaries, etc.) for simple, straightforward factual answers (i.e., low-level inbox-thinking answers); ask experts for the details and depth; and ask others for their perspectives
  • Ask out-of-the-box-thinking answers (i.e., outbox-thinking answers) to:
    • Stimulate imaginative or inventive thoughts, soliciting a wide range of alternative answers (e.g., How else can we do this?) rather than:
      • Questions eliciting yes/no or simple answers
      • Questions that squelch others’ opinions or question others’ motives
      • Leading questions intended to manipulate others
  • Ask questions that lead to critical thinking answers (i.e., high-level inbox-thinking answers) to:
    • Stimulate analyses of levels or processes and of cause and effect relationships for cognitive or emotional judgment answers
  • Ask newbox-thinking answers (i.e., combining both inbox and outbox thinking answers) to:
    • Stimulate combinations or connections for synthesis answers
  • Be a good listener while asking questions by:
    • Taking the time to listen and pay attention to the speaker
    • Asking about the speaker more than talking about yourself or your own ideas, stories, or advice
    • Listening to the speaker’s point of view even in a dispute, instead of being defensive
  • For your own questions, turn off everything but your brain and:
    • Read constantly to expand and deepen your expertise
    • Read deeply, ditch distractions, and increase your concentration and mental health, instead of perusing magazines, blogs, or tweets
    • Read widely, and consume content outside your comfort zone; expose yourself to:
      • Concepts, ideas, information, stories, instructions, and inspiration
      • Different times (e.g., past, present, and future) and places interpreted by authors and filtered through your imagination
      • The life of another person
      • The world of your imagination where anything is possible.

Third, become a more interesting person and live a more interesting life by reconnecting with your inner child, sense of wonder, and catechumen’s mindset such as:

  • Think about and explain things from a child’s perspective
  • Eschew a bored, humdrum, or jaded adults’ mindset (e.g., been there, done that, or seen it all, done it all)
  • Sit on the floor and physically shift your perspective from adult to child
  • Allow yourself to play, and re-learn how to play from children
  • See the world afresh and anew everyday, and get excited by the simplest wonders
  • Look at each day as a gift and every person you meet as fascinating
  • Consider the world is a wonderful mystery full of things you don't yet know
  • Approach all places, events, things, people, and ideas with a sense of discovery, and look at them with tourists' eyes
  • Appreciate the magical, unexplained phenomena in the world
  • Think of everything as an incomplete, unsolved puzzle
  • Take nothing for granted and challenge everything you know
  • Create a stimulating natural environment with flowers, trees, butterflies, stones, water, and living things
  • Avoid categorizing situations into boring or interesting; search for the positive (e.g., what's interesting?) in all times, places, and activities
  • Make even the most painful and boring things fun and interesting by adding something fun (e.g., listen to an audio book rather than complain in a traffic jam)
  • Be enthusiastic by associating fun and joy with the tasks you have to perform or making them into a challenging game
  • Don’t get caught up in the here and now. In difficult or confusing scenarios, step back and ask yourself and others questions such as:
    • What else?
    • What's missing?
    • Why?
    • Why not?
    • What now?
    • What if?
    • What might we?
    • Where's the gap?
    • What is not yet happening?
  • Then explore further and deeper, and then find connections between people or ideas 

Fourth, turn away from the familiar, and open your mind to new ideas, interests, experiences, and adventures by:

  • Getting out of your routine and adding variety to your life
  • Exploring, saying "Yes" to new opportunities, stretching yourself, and expanding your experience, even when you feel uncomfortable
  • Having many hobbies, joining debate groups, or spending time in a library researching
  • Daydreaming, visualizing, or doodling with your non-dominant hand
  • Changing your environment, and exposing yourself to new things
  • Avoiding fixed ideas of things and situations surrounding you
  • Actively being aware and attentive to changes, new events, and anything unusual or unfamiliar
  • Welcoming the unexpected and the unpredictable, and looking for mysteries
  • Becoming a newcomer or outsider by seeking information from outside of your disciplines, not staying in one discipline for too long
  • Reaching beyond a narrow topic through experimentations, books, arts, and the outdoors
  • Becoming a keen observer and learner; emailing or meeting the lecturer after a lecture or a seminar
  • Learning from geeks, nerds, entrepreneurs, business leaders, celebrities, athletes, and world changers.

Fifth, dig deeper and understand the context, origin, and history of things by:

  • Putting everything into new perspectives, and playing with ideas
  • Exploring and experimenting with analogies
  • Learning to see ahead, beyond, behind, beneath, from above, sideways, from within, and through (e.g., best-case, realistic-case, and worst-case scenarios)
  • Renaming agendas for a meeting as questions and problems as puzzles to change your mindset for exploration
  • Keeping a dictionary around for researching words, and using the words in conversation so theybecome embedded in your vocabulary and memory
  • Seeing and doing differently by playing around with questions like Sherlock Holmes or Spiderman do
  • Imagining more possibilities by copycatting or piggybacking on others’ ideas
  • Identifying underlying questions behind apparent questions, and learning to manage complex situations by:
    • Exploring problems from multiple angles to view all possibilities
    • Looking closer to examine details by placing the problems under a microscope
    • Stepping back to see the big picture by zooming out on, and placing the parts all together
    • Keeping your view of the world as unbiased as possible by looking through an unfiltered lens.

Sixth, forge deep and quality relationships by showing your sincere and genuine interests in people around you, across all levels, such as:

  • Build multicultural rapport, empathy, and compassion exploring many different life insights and perspectives
  • Be open to other points of view, valuing differences of opinion and listening even when you disagree
  • Resist the adult tendency of labeling to put things in a box; avoid preconceptions, biases, stereotypes, and judgments
  • Challenge yourself to real conversations with acquaintances and strangers you see daily to connect with them on a deeper level
  • Observe others’ behaviors and expressions in different situations, and imagine what it might be like to be them
  • Understand others through their background story and circumstances and asking them questions
  • Keep the focus on others (not yourself) to better understand their perspectives, and find:
    • What their world looks like
    • What’s important to them
    • What drives them.

Seventh, build your own lab full of experimental tools as your sandbox to tinker or try out new things; enjoy mistakes and failures while:

  • Fooling around, pulling pranks, experimenting, and conducting your own research
  • Drawing, painting, or sketching out random ideas
  • Making your own music, videos, photos, or inventions
  • Taking things apart to figure out how they work, and putting them back together even if they might not work.

Finally, work with people with inquisitive minds, rather than just qualified and experienced people, by:

  • Asking them something only they can know about when you meet new people, and asking yourself
    • How and why are we different or alike?
    • How can we efficiently work together, knowing our differences and similarities?
    • What can I learn from them?
  • Looking beyond their qualifications and credentials for a curious mind
  • Empowering others by giving them the space, time, and tools needed to satisfy their insatiable curiosity to seek answers, share ideas, and solve problems
  • Not falling into groupthink; bringing different teams and outsiders together to gain fresh perspectives and different strengths
  • Asking questions of other entrepreneurs for ideas, and reaching out to them when you go through difficult times in business.

Find more research findings about how to innovate in The Creativity Challenge: How We Can Recapture American Innovation (Kim, 2016), and follow Dr. Kim @Kreativity_Kim.

By Dr. KH Kim and Alex Riccio

Dr. Kim is Professor of Educational Psychology at The College of William & Mary. She has trained groups of individuals around the world, helping foster their own and others' creativity. She has dedicated her career to the research on creativity and innovators in hopes of helping individuals, especially those who feel different or misfits, use the power of creativity to achieve their dreams. As a culmination of her research for almost 30 years, she published her new book, “The Creativity Challenge: How We Can Recapture American Innovation, to change the world!

Alex has been involved with public education since he was an undergraduate at Fordham University where he spent weekends mentoring local students. Since then, he has studied secondary education at the City College of New York and then the New Science of Creativity (from Dr. Kim) at The College of William & Mary. He taught middle school English/Language Arts and Social Studies in the Bronx for 6 years before teaching students throughout New York City how to code with Vision Education and Media. He’s a frequent reader, writer, and hiker who is passionate about building educational curriculums that use cutting edge and exciting ideas from the world of academia to enrich the lives of students in schools everywhere.

comments powered by Disqus