Is a Passionate Curiosity Better Than a Passion?
Even Casanova said that “Love is three quarters curiosity.” And I completely agree! But not just for the love of another; I also believe that we should be passionately curious about the work we do.
However, if and when that stops, you should realize that you’re on the wrong path; romantically and for your life’s work.
When we first meet someone romantically, we love spending time with them because we love learning all about them, just as much as we love being with them. If and when the desire to learn more about them fades, so too will the desire to just be with them. Curiosity matters.
I find that to be true for the work we do as well. When we first start a new job, it’s the excitement of something new, and all there is to learn about the company, the products and services, colleagues and customers, new opportunities and experiences – that’s what truly fuels most of us. The moment that fades however, and we just have “the work” – it becomes just that; work. Curiosity matters.
We Have The Capacity To Do So Much More!
We have an amazing capacity for creativity, imagination and discovery, that all stem from our natural curiosity and sense of wonder. Our natural curiosity and sense of wonder is one of the most amazing capabilities we have as human beings, and most of us don’t even realize it. While most if not all animals are curios as well, they don’t have the ability to then ponder the possibilities – to “wonder what if” – to sit back and imagine what it would be like “if” we could do this or “if” we could do that – finding new answers, new solutions to problems, new products and services, and ultimately to share their discoveries with the world, and evolve the species as a result. Nope – only human beings are capable of such wonderment. And yet, the vast majority of society is not tapping into the elegant nature of their minds and their sense of wonder.
For more than 10 years now, I’ve been studying curiosity, and sadly, I’ve found that most people can’t identify something that they’d love to spend their life chasing down the answers to. People talk more these days about “following a passion” and “doing something they’d love,” but they can’t easily identity something that they’d passionately pursue with a childlike sense of wonder and abandon – something they’d love to spend their life pursuing the answers to. Which means our internal “desire to learn” for ourselves has diminished over the years, and we spend more time learning about what our organization’s want us to learn about… And I began to wonder if that’s why “engagement” is such a problem in the workforce these days…
I’m not saying people stopped being curious – everyone has curiosities to some degree, but most can’t point to something that they’re “passionately curious” about. I don’t blame anyone, I couldn’t have pointed to a passionate curiosity years ago either. I didn’t know that it was a important, because nobody told me it was. I’ve since realized that it’s incredibly important, for ourselves and for humanity!
Where Is Your Childlike Sense of Wonder?
I’ve discovered that most of us lost our childlike sense of wonder back in grade school, because our education system pushed us to wonder most about the subjects that they believed were most important; instead of helping us figure out what we were most curious about and why. The implication was and still is; that what we naturally wondered about isn’t as important, or important at all. As a result, our natural curiosity and sense of wonder begins to be repressed, as we try to wonder about what our teachers and parents told is most important for our future success; basic reading and writing, math, science and history. That’s not good – our natural curiosity matters.
I don’t want to get into a debate about our education system in this post, but… really? We live in this great big beautiful galaxy of endless possibilities that we could ultimately contribute to, and yet, we’re told that these handful of subjects, along with their narrow scope and perspective, are “the” most important things we can learn, if we “want to get a good job.”
Really? And, what we naturally wonder about isn’t important? None of my teachers told me that my curiosity wasn’t important, but they never asked me what I wondered about, and they weren’t teaching or talking about my curiosities either. So, as a young kid, it meant that it must not be important; especially since everyone is telling me those other subjects are “really important” if I want to be somebody. Then why do we wonder about what we do? Where does our sense of wonder come from? And who set the bar at “a good job” anyway? Why’s the bar so low!?!?
No Wonder We Loose So Many Children While They’re Still In Our Education System!
How can anyone expect every child to be “engaged” in the classroom, if their beautiful mind naturally enjoys wandering off and wondering about something else – anything else? Children really do have minds of their own!
Let’s take a look at a simple example, where a child wonders most about human behavior. More specifically, why some children act a certain way – why some children are happy and why some are sad, why some seem nice to everyone while others seem mean. Is this subject and curiosity less important than STEM? Could we be pushing one of the great minds of our future generation away from ultimately discovering how we could easily minimize conflict and war around the world?
I could give you countless examples of where children’s minds naturally like to wander, and we sadly assume, that if it’s not focused on one of the “common core” subjects, they’re wasting their time and they’ll never be successful. The fact is, there is no theoretical limit to what children could be wondering about, and what they could help find answers to one day. And yet, we still push them to wonder about and learn “most about”, a handful of subjects that “our leaders and educators” believe are the most important for our children to “get a good job.” Do you see a problem?
Einstein said, “It’s a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”
And he’s absolutely right! This also helps explain why “engagement” is such a huge problem in the workforce!! Sadly, very few of us are tapping into our childlike sense of wonder while at work. Similar to school, we’re going to work on someone else’s curiosity, and not our own.
Wouldn’t it be much better if we first figured out what children were most naturally curious about, then the primary responsibility for our education system would be to help children learn how to find the answers for themselves? Of course, we’d also want to teach them how to organize and share their discoveries with the world. But, wouldn’t this be a much better approach to creating a society of lifelong learners? There’s plenty of evidence around the world, that children want to learn – we just need to give them the tools and get out of there way! But I digress…
When you have time, take a look at this great TED Talk by Sugata Mitra, where he talks about building a school in the cloud.
Fortunately for all of us, try as many of our educators and employers might, they can’t actually extinguished our internal sense of wonder – they can only minimize it if we let them. Which means, all we need to do is rediscover it, fuel and Ignite it! And I know we can, because it’s the work I do. However, I’ve also learned that we first have to realize the significance of our own, unique natural curiosity.
Everyone knows that curiosity is important, but I’ve also discovered that we’ve sadly overlooked the value of our own natural curiosity, for ourselves and for humanity.
I Believe Curiosity Is Our Greatest Natural Attribute
At it’s core, curiosity simply provides us with “the desire to learn.” But that’s the problem; we’ve written it off to be this “basic function” of the mind, and it’s so much more profound than we realize.
Curiosity is the spark that helps us learn and grow – it’s human nature’s carrot out in front of us, enticing us to move forward a bit more, to discover the world around us – it encourages us to seek out answers and make sense of the world. It’s also what enables is to evolve as individuals. I think everyone realizes that…
However, it’s also what’s enabled us to evolve as a species. Without it, the earliest pioneers would not have wondered about and discovered the knife 2.5 million years ago, fire about 1 million years ago, housing in 500,000 BC, clothing around 250,000 BC, spears in 400,000 BC, pigments/cave paintings around 400,000 BC, the boat in 60,000 BC, musical instruments in 50,000 BC, twisted rope 17,000 BC and the wheel in 5000 BC.
Fortunately, curiosity also drove some to discover new vaccines, cures, and medicines that have minimized human suffering and extended our lifespan. In fact, humankind would not be here today if we did not posses curiosity – if our ancestors from millions of years ago, did not “wonder” what was beyond the horizon. They would have perished by the fire – not caring what was just over the hill. We might not have even gotten that far, if we hadn’t “wondered” why our stomachs were grumbling – we would have starved!
Clearly, curiosity it critical to our survival. It’s also essential to our health, welfare and happiness, and the human condition does not improve – will not improve, unless our curious minds are wandering and wondering, creatively imagining new possibilities. and ultimately discovering better ways to live and thrive as a species! Curiosity matters!
Therefore, each and every one of us must discover, appreciate and realize our own, profoundly unique, natural curiosity, and the value of it to humanity!
Why Your Own, Profoundly Unique, Natural Curiosity Matters
We all know that we’re not all curious about the same things, nor do we want to be. Unfortunately, most don’t seem to realize the the significance of that.
Take a look at the graphic below; it’s a good way to think about where our natural curiosity lies. On one end of the spectrum, there are some things each and everyone one of us are completely disinterested in. Take a minute to think about it for yourself. What kinds of things are you completely disinterested in – what do you never wonder about or care to wonder about?
Looking around my office, among many things, I happen to be completely disinterested in lighting and furniture. Not that I don’t care what I sit on or what furniture is in my office or home, but I don’t have a “desire to learn” about furniture – I just don’t care, other than having it serve it’s basic function. Thankfully, other people are curious about it, otherwise I might always be sitting and sleeping on the floor. Same goes for lighting; I’ve never wondered about light and how it’s displaced or fractured; all I care about is whether or not it appropriately lights the room I’m in. Have I ever wondered about lights and lighting in general? No. Thankfully, other people do though. I kinda feel the same way about cars; they’re just transportation for me. Do I like nice cars? Sure, but I don’t have a desire to learn about them; I’ve never bought a car magazine and I’ve never bought a book about cars. In contrast, one of my brothers loooooves cars! And if a really cool car went flying by he’d flip out and want to tell me all about it. But I could care less.
I don’t know why he’s incredibly curious about cars and I’m not, I just know that our curiosities are on completely different ends of the curiosity spectrum. At a very young age, I realized that I naturally wondered about very different things than my siblings, and all of us naturally wondered about very different things than our parents. Of course there are some things we all wonder about and can talk about, but we don’t wonder about it to the same degree or for the same reasons. I’m sure you can relate.
Just as there are things I am completely disinterested in, there are some things I’m mildly interested in, like quantum mechanics. As an example, I read the recent news about the new evidence that supports the theory of the big bang. I thought that was really cool! However, I didn’t continue to try and learn any more about it – I’m just not that curious about it. I only have one book on my shelf about the universe, and it happens to be a book on quantum mechanics and string theory. I just wasn’t that curious about it though, otherwise I would have bought more.
I’m honestly more curious about great food and wine, than I am the universe. I’m not at all curious about how their made though; I’m mildly curious about how we’ve always used them to bring people together for shared experiences. But again, I don’t research it, even though I find it interesting. I finally realized that there are some things that I am far more naturally curious about, like curiosity itself. Clearly I’m curious about curiosity, and it’s why I’ve studied it for the last 10 years. I realized that I was far more curious about it than others, and I’ve always been curious about it, but nobody seemed to be answering the questions I had. I couldn’t find many good books or articles on curiosity, or any TED Talks that were specific to curiosity as an attribute – as a significant part of our humanity, so I decided to chase down the answers myself. And it’s become one of the few things I want to spend my life chasing down the answers to. I believe there is a profound reason for it. And I’m happy that I get to spend my life on a quest in search of answers to my own most burning questions.
Imagine if we were all curious about the same things. That would be one boring world! Even the great explorers were incredibly curious about different expeditions for different reasons; from Magellan and Marco Polo, Cortez and Christopher Columbus, Lewis and Clark, to Sir Edmund Hillary, Jacque Cousteau and Neil Armstrong – they all had an amazing sense of wonder, but they all set out to discover very different things for different reasons.
Curiosity and our sense of wonder is why we’ve discovered so much about the world and the universe from those before us, like Archimedes, Galileo Galilei, Newton, Einstein, Heisenberg, Feynman and Hawking. These are but a few of the many people who chased their own wildest imaginations, which stemmed from their most profound and passionate curiosities.
NASA even called the Mars rover “Curiosity” because they know that discovery does not happen without a curiosity and sense of wonder!
All the great works and discoveries in the world have been produced and found because of the kind of people you’ll find at NASA – people who have a childlike sense of wonder. It’s their eagerness to understand what continues to elude them – they yearn to chase down answers to their own most burning questions. They ponder the possibilities of their own imagination, asking questions that only they would ask, from their unique combination of knowledge, experience, resulting perspective and wisdom.
From Da Vinci and van Gogh, Bell and Edison, to Mozart and Michael Angelo, Plato and Pasteur, all “the Greats” let their minds wander and wonder about their own most profound and passionate curiosities. Their natural curiosities and questions opened their creative and imaginative minds, unleashing their potential down unique paths of wonderment and discovery.
I emphasize this, because I see lots of people talk about following your passion these days, and they use the great artists, musicians, scientists, explorers, speakers and leaders as examples of people who followed their passion, so you should too. I believe that’s a mistake. While you should absolutely love what you do, and all the Greats certainly did, “doing what they love” is not what drove them – that’s not why they chose their professions and that’s not what kept them going. They chose their professions because they believed as Thomas Hobbes did, that “Curiosity is the lust of the mind,” and their lust for answers to their curiosities never ceased. They were the epitome of passionate lifelong learners – they were passionate “students” of their pursuits! As Einstein said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead —his eyes are closed.”
None of their pursuits and none of their resulting discoveries would have happened without their natural and passionate curiosity! And their thirst for answers to the unknown was never satisfied by any one discovery; they were simply part of their lifelong journey of discovery. As Einstein said, “Curiosity is more important than knowledge,” and “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has it’s own reason for existing.” Yes, I believe it does. Curiosity matters.
All The Greats Were Driven By Their Curiosity – Not Their Passion
Just as Samuel Johnson did, when he wrote, “Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect.” He also said that “Curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last.”
I’m purposely using all of these quotes because you can find more quotes on curiosity from the Greats than you can about “loving what you do.” The Greats never talked about simply “loving what they did,” because that’s not what truly drove them – it was their desire to better understand the world they knew and loved, and they yearned to discover what they didn’t already know; whether it was art, music, literature, science and nature, sociology, human nature or politics – they never stopped chasing their natural curiosity.
Curiosity Naturally Generates Creativity & Imagination
It’s also important to realize that our depth of creativity & imagination are in direct correlation to our depth of curiosity and sense of wonder. Meaning, If we’re not curious about something, we’re not going to be very creative or imaginative when it comes to solving problems or developing new products or solutions.
Where We’re Least Curious, We’re Least Creative and Imaginative.
In all of his TED Talks, Sir Ken Robinson talks about how formal education kills creativity, and he’s absolutely right! But creativity dies because we lose our childlike sense of wonder! It’s why he also says, “Curiosity is the engine of achievement” – it all starts with curiosity – we’re not going to be creative or imaginative without a true desire to learn about something. Take a look at this more recent TED Talk from Sir Ken, about “How to escape education’s death valley,” where he talks about both creativity and curiosity – this is someone who’s clearly sharing his discoveries with the world, as a result of his own curiosity. Curiosity matters!
While you can certainly ask me or push me to wonder about something, and encourage me to be creative, how creative do you think I’m going to be if I don’t “really” want to learn about it…?
Let’s use the car example again; since I have absolutely no natural desire to learn about cars, how creative and imaginative do you think I’m going to be, designing a new car that anyone would want to buy? The people you want designing cars are people that loved studying cars their whole life – people that do buy all of the car magazines – people that have book cases filled with books on cars because that’s what they naturally love learning about, more than anything else.
Where We’re Most Curious, We’re Going to be Far More Creative & Imaginative!
It’s simple – the more we have a desire to learn about something, the more we ponder the possibilities and “wonder” about the what ifs.”
I never thought I was very creative or imaginative. But it’s because my natural curiosity was repressed for so many years. Sure, I was “somewhat” creative and imaginative in my work over the years, but not with the work I did, and not nearly as much as I am today! I finally realized that I was incredibly creative – I’m just more creative and imaginative in this area, as apposed to art or music or even general business – I am far more curious about how to improve the human condition and experience! And now, I can’t stop thinking about creative ways to solve this problem, but my mind doesn’t stop – I keep learning and I keep thinking of better ways to help solve this problem. And I Imagine a very different world for ourselves, our schools and our children of the future. And I absolutely love what I do!
Of course you should love what you do, I do and all of the Greats did too! Sir Ken also loves the work he does, but that’s not why he chose it – he first chased his curiosity about the industrial education system, and now he’s sharing his discoveries with the world, and impacting the world around him as a result. That’s why he loves what he does; he didn’t pursue this path because he thought he’d love it – he just couldn’t leave it alone and now he also loves it because of the impact he is making! But the great news for us and our children is, he’s not stopping – he’s still searching for answers. Curiosity matters.
If you stop and think about it, every TED Talk is about someone that chased their curiosity, and they’re now sharing their discoveries with the world, and impacting the world as a result. And you might too someday…
I truly believe that everyone has something to contribute to humanity, other than simply loving what they do. I believe that everyone was blessed with a natural curiosity and sense of wonder for a reason. As a result, everyone has the ability to be incredibly creative and imaginative, and wonder about possibilities that could ultimately become discoveries that change the world!
Ever wonder if you could help change the world? Imagine if you could go on a lifelong quest and expedition, in search of answers to your own most burning questions? What would you pursue?
What have you always wondered about? Are there questions that you have always asked yourself and others, but have yet to find the answers to? Have you ever wondered if that’s why you’re here – that you’re the one who is supposed to help us find the answers? You keep asking, but nobody else seems to be working on the answers… Maybe it’s time for you to actually chase down the answers, instead of simply wondering about it from time to time… What if you did stumble upon some amazing discoveries..? I bet you’d love what you do!
The world needs your head and your heart, and that’s why I believe that a passionate curiosity is much better than just a passion. Here’s to you realizing your most passionate curiosity, and helping to change the world!