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Leadership is about navigating the safest route to success, being willing to explore the unknown and moving forward until the desired destination is reached. Convincing others takes more than turning up with a road map; it requires an understanding of the available facts, an awareness of the diversity of thought and opinions of others, and self-awareness. More than anything, extending your circle of influence begins with curiosity.

One of my favourite children’s books was the Just-So Stories by Rudyard Kipling, especially the story of ‘The Elephant’s Child’. The mental imagery of a young inquisitive elephant who was spanked by all his aunts and uncles for his “‘satiable curiosity”¬†has always remained. Not because I condone corporal punishment for asking questions (which I don’t), but for the idea that curiosity sparks our desire to explore and make better sense of our world.

Living at a time of massive change, developing the thinking skill sets to meet the needs of our increasingly globalised, super connected and complex world starts by harnessing our innate sense of curiosity.

Curiosity boosts memory and learning

Staying curious helps maintain good cognitive health and brain function. Apart from remaining focused and engaged, curiosity drives us to learn and acquire knowledge.

In his book Curious, Ian Leslie explains we are driven by two different types of curiosity. Diversive curiosity as the name suggests is all about novelty and the excitement of wanting to discover “what’s in it for me?”. It’s the type of curiosity that drives us to open up our email box yet again, to continuously check our newsfeed for updates or to quickly rip off the paper off our presents.

This is different from what he terms epistemic curiosity, which is a deeper, more passionate need to know. We pursue this type of curiosity to seek greater understanding, to ask better questions and use our existing knowledge base to solve problems and make better decisions. We seek not just to see what might be in the box but how that discovery can lead to a different or better outcome.

Research by Matthias Gruber and others has revealed how a higher level of curiosity results in better learning and retention of the relevant material. In other words, it primes the brain’s ‘thinking to learn’ skills.

This is because it activates the brain’s reward circuitry and release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the caudate nucleus and hippocampus, both vital to learning and the formation of new memories.

As a kid, I spent countless hours in my Dad’s study poring over his anatomy books, copying the anatomical drawings of different structures; nephrons in the kidney, and the valves of the heart, setting up a life long fascinating for human biology.

Curiosity can be used to overcome a fear of change

Of course, some things we are curious about can turn out to be a bit on the scary side. Exploring a cave might expose you to creatures such as cockroaches, bats or big hairy spiders, which on the first encounter might make us squeal or run away. What makes the difference is choosing to move beyond our fear or disgust to allow the excitement to discovery to translate into curious enthusiasm.

At work, this can help unleash greater adaptability and other talents that otherwise might be overlooked or untapped.

Curiosity begins with asking questions

It’s all about why. As Simon Sinek reminds us in his Ted Talk ‘Start With Why’, asking why taps into the emotional component of our decision-making and is a far more powerful motivator than understanding the what and how.

The why question enables us to seek clarification of the available information. It allows us to challenge our beliefs and cognitive biases that may be clouding our judgement.

Asking why starts to satisfy our need to know and promotes more questions. ‘Knowing’ an answer based on previous experience and knowledge base can be problematic if we are unwilling to consider the uniqueness of any given situation. Which explains why it is only when we delve more deeply into the subject, the more we come to realise there is always so much more to know.

In the digital age where fear, overwhelm and fatigue is diminishing performance, our curiosity allows us to seek better solutions in a way that machines are unable.

Is diversive curiosity stopping you from challenging your world-view and keeping you in the superficial slipstream of thinking?

Are you choosing to use questions to further your epistemic curiosity?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

21 Comments

  • Junaid says:

    The document is well written so well connected.

  • Sankalp says:

    Sometimes being too curious in lecture may close gates for friendship in a new class where everyone is a stranger.
    Being over curious about existence of god may end us calling atheist by the society. I think being curious and showing curiosity are two different things. Though I am not certain about this, these are my empirical conclusions.
    Any way I was just being curious ! ūüėÄ

    • Keagan says:

      I understand where you’re coming from. It’s something I struggled with a lot. I want to know something, but I’m too scared to ask for fear of what people think of me. I’ve always been curious, but afraid to show it and I think I have been negatively impacted. Being curious and showing curiosity might be two different things, but they are connected and need to be exercised if we are to learn and progress in our lives. Thanks for the comment, you’ve really piqued my curiosity.

  • SUSAN MEYER says:

    I do not understand the term, “satiable curiosity”. If one’s curiosity were satisfied one would no longer be curious. Insatiable curiosity, on the other hand, makes the answer to one question the basis for a whole new level of questioning.

    • Miranda says:

      I think by the term “satiable curiosity” the concept of time is taken into consideration. Just as there are two types of curiosities she describes, the diversive curiosity seems to be of “satiable curiosity” that fits the superficial need or desire at that exact moment. “Satiable curiosity” also seems appropriate for specific inquiries into a singular idea. Insatiable curiosity, to me, is more likely to describe the overall curiosity as a human trait, not a thing. I also wonder if the level of satiability can be taken into account in your questionability of the term “satiable curiosity?” Maybe its like some people who major in spanish, become spanish teachers or work somewhere where they continue to expand their knowledge of the language, versus someone who minored in the subject and is content with the extent of the vernacular that they know.

  • elizabeth lemor says:

    curiosity always makes you eager to know or learn and in certain setting it always put you om edge and in trouble with other how do you solve this problem, in community where certain things are a taboo

  • Ignis says:

    “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing”
    -Socrates

    This quote came to mind when you warned about the danger of being limited by a priori insight. It unfortunately inspires people to jump to conclusions which cause needless misunderstandings.

  • RESHOKETJOE says:

    Is diversive curiosity stopping you from challenging your world-view and keeping you in the superficial slipstream of thinking? Yes, and now I am relearning ways to challenge my views and feed my epistemic curiosity. The biggest challenge though is not having formal training or mentoring, but navigating the course on my own.

    Are you choosing to use questions to further your epistemic curiosity? I am learning everyday and tring to ask the right questions for deeper learning.

  • victor shunnom says:

    I have most times operated on what I’ll call the first level of curiosity (diversive curiosity). I get excited about innovations or newness and want to find out more but it quickly fizzles away once a general idea has been experienced without necessarily digging deeper to have an all-round robust knowledge. This keeps me afloat as an ‘averager’

    • Ankur Khare says:

      I can relate to it to a great extent. This is the case with me too, that too from a very long time. Have you found a way to overcome it?

  • Mister-Dixon says:

    Knowing that diversive curiosity keeps my mind active and open to new ideas, I’m beginning to see things in a better ways. Thinking of new ways of asking better questions, which then brings me to epistemic curiosity. It’s really interests me to apply these things since I’m now “curious” to gather more outcomes.

  • Shahad says:

    Excellent write. I considered curiosity to be under a single category, never thought about the two different types of curiosity. When you put it that way, it shows how important curiosity actually is. Thanks for this valuable insight.

  • aanchal sharma says:

    Yes,why is curiosity word and I use it in my learning and without it learning is nothing.

  • SKruger says:

    I continue to be extremely curious about life and death. I can find much subject matter and philosophies. All are extremely fascinating. We must keep an open mind. There is so much we can’t even comprehend yet at this time. Curiosity makes life worth living.

  • Laura Beem says:

    Inspiring article on how to enjoy being a curious critical thinker!

  • Olesia says:

    I think this is something to digest and take slowly. I’ve been always superficially curious, thinking about myself as a very curious person, questioning everything. However, now I realized that curiosity also needs rules and rigor. Otherwise, this will lead to nowhere. It needs time, it requires thinking without distractions. In this very strange situation we are all now we became overwhelmed with the information, and our curiosity is drawing in questions and answers. By creating the right framework, we can help our curiosity to blossom. This was my thought after reading your article. Thank you for sharing it. It was very inspiring!

  • Ashish Parashar says:

    The document is well written so well connected.

  • Barbara says:

    I always considered myself a curious person. However I now realized that I have limited my curiosity because of fear. Fear that my questions may offend someone, fear that my persistence of getting a deeper answer may come across as intrusive. For that reason I have relied on google and other similar platforms for answers. This is very eye opening and going forward I will not curtail my ‚Äúcurious enthusiasm‚ÄĚ.

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