“The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day” Albert Einstein
To ease my curiosity as a child, my mom used to tell me two things (in Spanish) la curiosidad mato al gato (curiosity killed the cat). At the time, I only knew that the expression meant that I should stop asking so many questions and be content with the answers available. Today, I know that in reality the expression is meant to kill curiosity.
This age-old saying was intended to prevent people from being curious and asking “unnecessary” questions. The origin of the saying was an article in the Washington Post of March 4, 1916, in which the story of a cat, Blackie, was posted. Blackie used to go to the chimney of the fireplace to hang out. But one day, out of curiosity, Blackie decided to climb up the chimney and, unfortunately, as the story goes, Blackie fell, broke his back and died. Blackie was curious, yet it wasn’t the curiosity that killed him, but rather the lack of preparation for the mysteries that curiosity revealed.
As our society has dramatically changed over the past one hundred years, curiosity and the possibilities derived from it have remained stagnant and even decreased over time. For instance, using the new NGram Viewer tool of Google, that shows the occurrence of words within books, from the 1800s through 2008, the use of the word curiosity has declined, whereas the use of the word innovation and creativity has gone up (see chart below, showing time on X-axis and occurrence of the word in the Y-axis). But what if curiosity, in reality, was more important than innovation and creativity when it comes to unveiling the secrets of the world, the potential within ourselves, and the discoveries and ideas that change the ways things are?
In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s “Creativity,” explains that true innovations that change the status quo in a specific domain of knowledge need three important components. The first component is a domain of knowledge in which the innovation will have an impact, for instance, mathematics, physics, internet, social media, etc. The second component is the “field”, constituted by the experts in that domain of knowledge, such as the Academy of Sciences, Royal Society or others. This field will have to accept the innovation as such in order to incorporate it as a new perspective in the domain in which they participate. The last component is personal creativity. Csikszentmihalyi explains that, despite the fact that the three elements are critical for a process of innovation, the first two are essential, whereas personal creativity might be the one with lesser impact.
Csikszentmihalyi’s research challenges the assumption that innovations only derive from the creative process within some super powerful “innovative” or “creative” individuals. Rather, innovations are the result of a profound capacity of observation, discovery, understanding and questioning of the status quo of a specific domain of knowledge and the expertise of its field (its experts), and not only an individual capacity for creativity.
Steve Jobs said “When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is – everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.” Jobs was saying that there is much more than just those things that we think come from “innovative” or “creative” people. He was a very curious individual himself.
Creativity, thus, as a characteristic or a “something” that makes you innovate is actually less important than the capacity of being curious and asking great questions. For an individual to make an impact in a domain of knowledge it is more important that he or she be curious rather than creative. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, there are some eccentric individuals with an incredible capacity to see the world through lenses that are foreign to many people, and therefore they transform society by their ability to translate their individual creativity into innovations. Although those are rare cases, in reality, it is their curiosity and questioning that truly bring the possibility to see the potentiality of the actual state of things.
Todd Kashdan, Paul Rose and Frank Ficham, in the paper “Curiosity and Exploration: Facilitating Subjective Experience and Personal Growth Opportunities” explain that curiosity “prompts proactive, intentional behavior in response to stimuli and activity with the following properties: novelty, complexity, uncertainty and conflict”. From this perspective, it could be said that curiosity is indeed a personal trait that provides a response to situations that represent a challenge to our knowledge. The power and potentiality for change that those situations represent is unlocked by our own capacity to question.
Curiosity is the key to unlocking the pleasant experiences derived from living fully each present moment, finding enjoyment, and at the same time asking the questions that challenge our preconceived assumptions about our lives and our roles in society.
Research has shown that curiosity, as a means to find enjoyment of the present experience, and also our long term purpose, can be successfully and strongly associated with positive emotions, such as vitality, attentiveness, interest, openness to experience, optimistic goal pursuit and, in general, to well-being. Curiosity has been also associated to a positive evaluation of ourselves, the world and the future. It has also been linked to the belief that dreams in the form of goals are achievable and challenges can be overcome, among others.
Innovations are the result of our capacity to see the potential state of the actual state. To do that, it is necessary to be curious and question what happens around us. The most important creative process occurs when we question what we see; in doing so, we are letting ideas and doubts simmer in the ocean of ideas and experiences that we have in our conscious and subconscious. It is a slow cooking process in which the ideas and doubts are the ingredients, ignited by the fire of curiosity. Curiosity is a fascinating act of insubordination against the tyranny of the status quo. By being curious we are challenging the ways things are, and that is already a way to unlock our limitless potential.
About the Author: Enrique Rubio is an HR Professional at the Inter-American Development Bank. He is an Electronic Engineer and a Fulbright scholar with an Executive Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Syracuse University. Enrique researches and writes about leadership and HR and seeks to explore the overlaps of productivity and leadership in the business and non-profit world. Enrique is also a competitive ultrarunner.
Article taken from: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/curiosity-more-important-than-innovation-enrique-rubio
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