Ever heard someone say, “Curiosity killed the cat?” The original form of this saying was actually, “Care killed the cat,” attributed to William Shakespeare in the 1500s (Much Ado About Nothing circa 1958). It was meant as a warning against excessive worry and sorrow for others. Since its original use, it has come to be understood as a warning against “unnecessary investigation” or trying something new.
This change in social understanding of the well-known aphorism is unfortunate. The inquisitive minds are often the ones that make great discoveries and find innovative ways to make the world around us better. Sadly, we tend to foster a negative mindset regarding experimentation and seek efficiency at the expense of exploration and innovation.
Here are some tips to help create a more hospitable environment for curiosity in our lives:
- Model Inquisitiveness. Encourage others to curiosity by asking questions—and not just the simple or obvious ones. Ask questions like: What was your favorite part of that [movie/book/meeting]? Why? What part wasn’t what you expected? What ideas do you have to make it better?
- Practice Brainstorming. Especially in a group, create space for everyone’s ideas to be heard without judgment. It takes a lot of trust to think out loud, and the main barrier to doing it is fear of ridicule.
- Emphasize Learning Goals. It is an unfortunate fact that humans learn best through failure. As such, we tend to favor the safe and known ways of doing things with a focus on the results. As the old saying goes, “The journey is more important than the destination.” Help others set goals without a clear journey, even if the destination is outlined well. We need space to try new things and a soft place to land.
- Normalize Expanding Interests. Here’s one: Subject Matter Expert. We like having go-to people for specific skillsets, and we tend to ask the same people for the same types of help, because we know they do it. But, what else are our SME’s interested in? Typecasting those around us leads to under-stimulation and can actually fuel burnout.
- Be Attentive to the World Around You. Sometimes, it helps to stand back and look at the big picture and just take it in. Wonder at the ways things move, the chain reactions of causes and their effects, the simple things you may have missed before. Let all those pieces flow in mists of billowing chaos in your mind until something new takes shape.
Curiosity is important not only because of its ties to innovation but because it is the foundation of competence. A penchant for seeking new experiences, trying new things, and being open to change increases the depth and breadth of what we learn from what we do.
We are good at being curious on vacation. We stroll through the unfamiliar halls of museums. We browse through little shops off the beaten path. We play dinner roulette on road trips and eat at whatever fun place we are near when we get hungry. But what about in our everyday lives? When was the last time you took a different route to work? How many times a week do you have the same thing for lunch? Above all else, seek out novelty and new challenges to extend and exercise your capacity to explore, to learn, and to live a fuller life.