Regardless of the field in which you operate, established and aspiring thought leaders need to know their stuff. That’s a given.
They need to be disciplined, friendly, persistent, empathetic, humble, proactive, and motivated – among other things! These are all excellent attributes to have and will help us progress through our life-long professional journey.
But there’s one attribute that rarely gets mentioned as a ‘must-have’ for business leaders and professional subject matter experts.
In my eyes this ‘something’ is more than an attribute but rather, it’s a special asset – a somewhat rare gift that I certainly look out for in people and will often be the difference between a really good operator and an absolute ‘gun’.
The special asset I’m talking about is CURIOSITY.
“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney
Curiosity affects us in different ways but far from ‘killing the cat’ in a professional sense, it can play a key role in one’s creative output, and as we know, there’s a dearth of genuine creativity in the business world.
Are some people born more curious than others, or is curiosity something we can ‘learn’?
I’m not a curiosity expert by any stretch of the imagination but I’m willing to put myself out there and suggest that we are, for all intents and purposes, innately curious creatures — it’s just that some people nurture it better than others.
Think about it for a moment. As kids, our curiosity is insatiable! We’re always exploring, asking questions, seeking answers, checking things out — it helps us learn! But unfortunately as we grow older, somehow the curiosity is knocked out of us and with it, the desire to learn starts to dissipate.
I love working and collaborating with genuinely curious people because they are, by and large, excellent problem solvers; they ‘see’ things others don’t and they’re relentless in their pursuit of answers. More often than not those answers might come from left-field but that’s okay because we need cookie-cutter solutions like a hole in the head! Give me some left-field thinking any time!
Curious people will keep you fresh and open-minded. I’m sure you know someone like this:
They’re always suggesting you try a particular new restaurant, or they’re sending you links to articles or videos they think you might be interested in; they are first with the latest new app, they take an unusual deep-seated interest in some obscure writer, musician, filmmaker or philosopher; they regularly participate in online or offline short courses or webinars, and they don’t mind getting deep into conversation about the various challenges and issues we face as a society.
More than anything, they explore the urban landscape, always on the lookout for tidbits of information which they collect like a bower bird, squirrelling away notes, photos, videos and voice messages for later use. They don’t just watch TV, they check out the film credits, they use SoundHound to discover the song that appears on the soundtrack of a particular show, and they’re constantly Googling interesting people who appear on talk shows to see if they can discover more about them.
These are the types of people I love working with. They see the world differently, and I think it makes the collaborative experience all the more richer for it.
Tips for nurturing your curiosity
Again, I’m not an expert in this space but as someone who absolutely treasures their professional curiosity, here are some things I do on a regular basis that I find help me to feed my imagination and by default bring out my curious nature.
- Read, read, read (and listen, listen, listen): I’ve found reading widely and deeply to be incredibly beneficial in helping me ‘join the dots’ and make sense of issues and problems that on the surface seem pretty challenging. Subscribe to blogs using an RSS reader (such as ‘The Old Reader’); regularly check out content aggregators such as Flipboard or LinkedIn’s ‘Pulse’; take a deep dive into Amazon and buy a heap of Kindle books so you’ve always got something to delve into when you have a spare moment. And don’t forget podcasts — subscribe to a range of different podcasts and listen to them on a regular basis.
- Give yourself permission to chase down internet ‘rabbit holes’: How many times do we admonish ourselves for surfing the net, casually dismissing the practice as a waste of time? Yes, I can see how you can burn the hours but if you limit this activity (while at the same time doing it regularly), the benefits can be amazing! Don’t have an agenda necessarily, just surf the web — read articles by interesting people (and if you like them, check them out in more detail and share with your online networks); go deep into the bowels of YouTube or SoundCloud and see what you can find; check out what some of the world’s visionary companies and nonprofits are doing — follow their founders or senior executives if they’re on social media; check out the programs of industry conferences and dig deeper into the speaker line-up; and don’t forget to delve into the latest TED talks every now and then!
- Try shiny new things (i.e. technology apps): Again, like the point above, this is counter-intuitive because we are constantly told to focus, focus, focus – that’s all fine, I get it, but you also need to break the shackles sometimes and experiment with new technologies as a way of keeping up-to-date with what’s happening. Oh, and don’t forget to tweet about your findings!
- Go walkabout: Don’t be too purposeful about it, just wander around and allow your mind to meander — take in your surroundings and note things that seem unusual or out of place. I regularly visit newsagents and bookshops to take in what’s new and hot; I also love being in a city early in the morning as people trudge into work — I allow myself to wonder what sort of jobs they do and challenges they face.
- Jot down thoughts and ideas: This is one of my best habits; I’ve usually got several notepads on the go as well as an ever-bulging Evernote portfolio. Sometimes I can be too random and not systematic enough with my tagging and categorisation — if you can be clever about how you file this stuff away, the benefits will be enormous over the long run.
- Follow new people on Twitter: If you’re an aspiring thought leader, you need to be active on Twitter… well, that’s my opinion and I’m happy to debate it with you! But it’s one thing to have a Twitter account, it’s another to actively seek out and connect with new and interesting people; don’t just stay within your professional sphere but proactively interact with ‘tweeps’ from different fields, who are of a different age to you, maybe they hail from different countries as well. If you find people who interest you, check them out further — read their blog if they have one, maybe connect with them on LinkedIn; try and discover more about the company or organisation they work for.
- Create content: Along with reading, for me this is the curiosity coup de grâce as it forces me to think, to ask questions, to seek answers; the sheer act of committing pen to paper or voice to virtual tape, of recording a video or shooting an Instagram photo and sharing it with my network — I find the content creation process fantastic for keeping the mind actively curious.
- Hang out with other interesting and curious people: Personal development guru Jim Rohn has been quoted as saying: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”. This being the case — and I believe it is! — then why wouldn’t you want to hang around with people who are curious beasts, who revel in new ideas, and will challenge you to think differently about the world?
Curiosity keeps you young!
If you think nurturing your curiosity for professional means is all too hard and that it won’t add any value to your business or career, then maybe you might want to do it for vanity purposes!
Mega-selling singer and record producing czar, Pharrell Williams, once spoke to a packed auditorium at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Williams was being interviewed by the American TV presenter Ryan Seacrest, who asked him why he “always looks 27”, to which the singer, who is 42, replied:
“I would say my mom and my dad, but also my curiosity.”