People often say “Curiosity killed the cat”, but that’s the “wrong” kind of curiosity: nosiness, snoopiness, an itch to know about things that are none of our business. That’s a negative type of curiosity, and not the one we mean. (Poor cat!)
Today we’re talking about intellectual curiosity: the desire to invest time and energy into learning more about a person, place, thing or concept in order to add to our store of knowledge and understanding.
And how by doing so, we fuel our own growth, make ourselves happier, improve our health, and even contribute to ensuring our professional success.
The role of curiosity in your personal life
- Curiosity can help us survive. We’re hard-wired to explore and seek new experiences (just like cats!) and this curiosity helps us remain vigilant and gain knowledge about our constantly changing environment. This may be why our brains evolved to release dopamine and other feel-good chemicals when we encounter new things.
- Curious people tend to be happier. Research has shown curiosity to be associated with higher levels of positive emotions, lower levels of anxiety, more satisfaction with life, and greater psychological well-being.
- Curiosity boosts achievement. Studies reveal that curiosity leads to higher academic achievement, as well as greater learning, engagement, and performance at work. It may seem obvious, but the more curious we are about what we’re doing, the easier it is for us to become involved and do well.
- Curiosity can strengthen relationships. Curiosity about people and the world around you can make your social life richer. When we’re curious about others and talk to people outside our usual social circle, we become better at understanding and empathizing with those whose lives, experiences, and worldviews differ from our own.
- Curiosity can help keep your brain “young”. Have you ever heard that crosswords and other puzzles may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease? Craving new experiences may also help. “Keeping your brain mentally stimulated is a lifelong enterprise,” says David Knopman, a professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. A brain fueled with constant curiosity is bound to help keep you mentally alert.
The role of curiosity in your professional life
- Curiosity increases competence. To be curious is to have a knowledge gap between what you currently know and what you need to know to be effective. Duplicate efforts or unmet timelines occur when people lack context; when their curiosity goes unanswered because the communication processes in place are ineffective. Alternatively, sharing information answers people’s questions and fuels their abilities to work. Even when details are lacking, simply providing direction and guidance can offer enough context for people to feel confident making decisions.
- Curiosity requires confidence. To ask powerful questions, you must be humble enough to know you don’t have all the answers and confident enough to admit it. Unfortunately, both humility and curiosity are often seen as weaknesses in leadership. But nothing new happens if the status quo is never shaken up. There is no innovation, no awareness, no problem solving, no value creation and no adaptability without asking the questions that incite further exploration. Approaching each problem with a voracious appetite for learning and the ability to ask questions is one of the marks of a true leader.
- Curiosity fuels growth. Stanford University professor and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck, found that the difference between high and low achievers was what they believed–their mindsets. She discovered two groups of people with two different mindsets, a fixed and a growth mindset. Those with a fixed mindset believe “what will be, will be” – that ability is innate and therefore cannot be developed. Conversely, growth minded people believe that “what will be is up to me” and that one’s skills and competencies can be developed with hard work. The catalyst for growth here is curiosity because fixed mindset people throw their hands up in the air and bury their faces in the sand when they don’t find the answer they’re looking for, whereas growth mindset folks keep searching until they find an answer – and do so by asking questions.
- Curiosity builds adaptability. Questioning facilitates dialogue to explore new possibilities, to eliminate biases and assumptions, flip them on their ugly little heads, and find new angles of perspective. Without curiosity, there’s no “target” to adapt to.
Curiosity serves a strong leadership purpose. Asking “how can we do XYZ better?” is pointless without first asking, “Why are we doing XYZ in the first place?” While being results-driven is important, asking the right questions is what will really ensure you’re on the right track.