It just makes sense that the more curious a student is, the better he or she is likely to perform in school. However, the benefits of curiosity are not limited to school; our world is ever changing, as are the skills workers need to have to perform those changing jobs. In his 1970 seminal book “Future Shock,” Alvin Toffler stated that “The illiterate of the 21st Century will be those who cannot learn, unlearn, and re-learn.” Employees can maintain this cycle of learning by cultivating intellectual curiosity. After completing their formal education, it is unlikely anyone else will prod the graduates to keep learning; they will need to have the intellectual curiosity to continue to grow.
What does the term “intellectual curiosity” mean? Wikipedia defines it as “curiosity that leads to an acquisition of general knowledge. It can include curiosity about such things as what objects are composed of, the underlying mechanisms of systems, mathematical relationships, languages, social norms, and history.” Practicing intellectual curiosity stimulates our brain, sharpens our skills and allows us to become smarter, more interesting and more useful. Over time, it allows us to structure our beliefs and world view and perhaps even aids in our quest for meaning in this life. Intellectually curious people are often:
- Open-minded, objective, and optimistic;
- Persistent and resilient/less stressed;
- Interested in people and therefore ask genuine questions, listen sincerely, and develop strong relationships;
- Inquisitive, engaged, and adept at questioning;
- Excellent learners who are more likely to exercise critical and even creative thinking skills.
How can we cultivate this vital personal characteristic?
- Keep an open mind—Be open to learn new information or be willing to relearn familiar topics, be open to explore new places, and be ready to let new ideas take you to fresh ways of thinking and seeing the world. It’s all too easy to close our minds to new possibilities and get stuck looking at familiar ideas in the same way.
- Don’t label anything as boring—Boredom is a choice; if we simply label something as “boring”, we are making the choice to close the door on the possibility of learning something new. We live in a vast world, but are familiar with a very small portion of it. Though we may not have an interest now, it is possible it will appeal to us later. By not labeling something as “boring” we leave the possibility open to come back to it later.
- Don’t take things for granted—Look at each day and each job with new eyes. Dig deeper into what is around you and what you think you know. Practice mindfulness. Being mindful forces us to pay attention to the world around us and then we can become curious.
- Ask questions.Who, what, where, when, why and how worked in school and they still work in life. Henry Ford told his experienced engineers that he wanted them to create a windshield that didn’t cut people when their heads went through it; they told him it couldn’t be done. He then hired new engineers (some who had never worked before) and gave them the same assignment. They created safety glass, because they didn’t know it was impossible. (They asked questions that the previous engineers assumed had already been answered.)
- View learning as fun. If we choose to see learning as a burden, as painful, as not worth the investment, then we never develop our thinking skills, expand our knowledge, or cultivate our curiosity. It is not someone’s job to entertain us. We need to look for the fun and excitement in the learning process so that we develop a joy in learning and relearning.
- Read, read, read, read!—Read many different kinds of things. Read a magazine on a new subject. Choose a book from a genre you’re not familiar with. Read fiction and nonfiction. By reading many different texts from many different sources, we will find worlds that may spark our interests in other directions.
Like developing any study skill or habit, cultivating curiosity takes practice, discipline and patience, but it’s worth it. As Neil deGrasse Tyson put it, “There is always a place I can take someone’s curiosity and land where they end up enlightened when we’re done. That’s my challenge as an educator. No one is dumb who is curious. The people who don’t ask questions remain clueless throughout their lives.”
Reference: Kashdan, Todd, Phd. Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. Harper: New York, 2009.