In my opinion, the most the most important word in human history is ‘why’.
But for many of us, as we get older, we lose our appetite for curiosity. In today’s technological society, the competitive load of information is enormous. It’s so overwhelming it often intimidates many perfectly capable people forcing them to conform to the lowest common social denominator.
This is not a new problem…philosophers Leibniz and Diderot complained of information overload in the 17th and 18th centuries respectively. The “Renaissance Man,” or person with a working knowledge of every area of human endeavor, becomes increasingly less knowledgeable of the total sum of human knowledge. Instead of inspiring lifelong curiosity and learning, this vast body of knowledge tends to discourage many people from pursuing their natural curiosity about the world around them. This tendency to ask questions can be reinforced or stifled during the ages of two to four when children start asking questions.
Curiosity: Killer of Cats Among Other Things
As kids, we’re insatiably inquisitive. Hundreds of questions often receive answers such as “because I said so” or “Curiosity killed the cat.” Parents rarely want to discuss the big questions such as life, death, and sex. Instead, they give fantasy answers or put off answering the questions until their children are older. The same holds true in crowded classrooms. Stressed-out teachers struggle to prepare kids to meet mandated educational levels, which limits the time for answering questions that don’t directly relate to the subject being taught.
Successful parents, mentors and teachers learn how to manage complexity so they don’t stifle curiosity, a powerful force in education. In fact, kids hit their peak curiosity level before most even enter a classroom, between the ages of four to six. Edward Land’s three-year-old daughter triggered the invention of the historic Polaroid technology with one simple question: why she couldn’t see a picture immediately?
Complex situations are simply misunderstood situations. Healthy curiosity rips down barriers and fosters a better understanding of even the most complicated instructions, scientific formulas, chemical reactions and engineering concepts. Inspiring curiosity is the quickest way to teach even the most challenging subjects because an engaged mind is more receptive to ideas.
Curiosity often plays second-fiddle to intelligent quotient, or IQ, when great ideas turn into practical benefits, but it’s usually intellectual curiosity that drives most business innovations. We’re all naturally curious–like cats–but we tend to dampen our feelings of curiosity due to years of social conditioning. Curiosity is the natural instinct that drives people to learn and explore. When rewarded, curiosity leads to better mental development, creativity and greater interest in widely ranging subjects.
The Power of Why
Asking questions and exploring new subjects drive business innovation, social discourse, and lifelong learning. Robert Kennedy’s most famous quote reads, “Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.” Regardless of whether you ask, why, why not or what if, curiosity ignites innovation, creativity, new products, expanded personal relationships and other social and work benefits.
The hungrier the mind, the more it can digest. Complex work procedures and advanced technologies are quickly absorbed by curious minds because they learn to follow the logic. Fostering curiosity also ignites competitive pressure as people strive to learn more than their peers or just to keep up to distinguish themselves or conform to the group’s standards. Savvy leaders use these tendencies to foster a culture where curiosity thrives and indifference is viewed as antisocial and a possible cause of dismissal or failure to advance.
Albert Einstein, considered by many to be the smartest man in history, commented on his own intellect, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” Curiosity keeps people open to new experiences, ongoing education and creative approaches to problem-solving. Difficult tasks become routine when supported by innate or developed curiosity. Neurochemistry offers insights into how curiosity helps us learn increasingly complex and technical information.
The Science of Why
Muscles grow from increased usage. The amygdala arguably builds mental muscle. It’s located in an area of the brain that controls the limbic system, regulates memory, emotion, and the immune system. Studies confirm when this area of the brain gets used more often, the person exhibits greater emotional and intellectual balance when responding to new stimuli instead of retreating in fear.
Curiosity engages the brain–specifically in the areas of the hippocampus that control memory, learning and emotional responses. Curious people’s brains trigger greater levels of hormone production–specifically increasing levels of dopamine, which heightens the pleasure of learning experiences and increases memory retention. What that means in practical terms is that the more curious you are about a subject, the greater the emotion will be.
This emotional response reinforces long-term memories so that you can retain the knowledge or skill longer. Knowledge that triggers logical questions converts learning the answers to those questions into knowledge that a person never forgets. Scientific studies confirm that there is greater brain activity in the hippocampus among curious students than indifferent or bored learners.
IQ, EQ and CQ
Some people and organisations thrive in today’s complex work and social environments. Today’s complex environments are so different from past generations they would have appeared as confusing as dealing with aliens from another planet. Other people deal with change by withdrawing, putting up barriers or losing their sense of wonder and curiosity.
Three key qualities are essential for managing complex tasks and challenging work skills: intellectual capacity, emotional balance, and curiosity. IQ stands for intelligence quotient; EQ refers to emotional quotient and CQ stands for curiosity quotient. Coaching or nurturing IQs can be difficult if even possible. But, EQ and CQ can both be increased by managing complexity in the home, classroom, and office.
Intelligence Quotient: The IQ refers to mental ability. But, having a high IQ doesn’t mean that a person will apply the ability effectively. Many critics consider IQ alone as a poor gauge of success.
Emotional Quotient: Emotion colors how we view different things. Our perceived place in the social register or workplace hierarchy can affect how we perform and respond to pressure. Developing your emotional quotient can enhance leadership skills because having enough empathy to consider other people’s views strengthens our abilities to manage others. It takes genuine curiosity to develop enough empathy to put yourself in someone else’s position and consider his or her viewpoint.
Curiosity Quotient: Curiosity drives the will to learn, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that curiosity makes cats and people smarter instead of killing them. Curiosity puts people in a receptive learning state and this state can be developed through rewards, recognition and fostering a culture where curiosity isn’t stifled.
The greatest leaders know how to motivate others. Leadership requires intellect, emotion and the ability to foster other people’s natural curiosity. Most leadership qualities are based at least partially on curiosity. For example, empathising with other people’s viewpoints is considered a strong leadership quality. It takes curiosity to understand how other people really feel about a given subject.
Curiosity Combined with Empathy
Genuine curiosity fosters empathy, a vital management tool in today’s multi-ethnic workplaces. Empathy facilitates compliance with anti-discrimination legal mandates. Empathy likewise facilitates multicultural rapport among global and telecommuting business associates in trans-global workplaces.
Rapid change is the only constant in today’s business environment. So, empathy and curiosity take on ever-increasing roles in those successful companies that manage complexities skillfully. Leadership qualities – while often inherent – can be developed by strengthening the qualities of empathy and curiosity. Creative and practical people envision new techniques and ideas by asking “why,” “why not,” and “what if.” Finding answers to these questions generates new solutions because old technology limitations often become irrelevant due to industry advances.
Of course, people tend to resist changes, so that’s where developing empathy can smooth the process of evolving to meet new business objectives. Empathy helps leaders and managers identify with diverse workers with different points-of-view. When people feel that their opinions matter, they’re more receptive to change, suggestions and acceptance of other viewpoints.
Curiosity fosters lifelong learning when nurtured. Developing empathy and curiosity are both educable processes. Unlike IQ, which tends to favor highly organised cognitive processes, curiosity works regardless of intellectual limitations.
Understanding neuroscience and how the mind works can be cultivated. Successful savvy marketers thrive on their cultivated understanding of neuroscience. And, intellectually curious and empathetic people tend to produce more innovations than those who are gifted with the highest native intelligence. Neuroscience doesn’t limit or predict progress, but it provides the tools for working smarter in all endeavors.
Developing and integrating neuroscience into commercial industry generates more successful companies by using these insights to manage how people work together. As a thought leader, any organisation derives benefits by focusing on ways to undo the damage that social conformity generates in the workplace. Creating a new paradigm is essential in today’s markets that evolve at light-speed. Business problems don’t just involve technology or one-dimensional solutions–they often require new ways of thinking, agile approaches to problem-solving and unlearning bad habits. Rethinking basic management techniques and social processes can ignite business progress.
Understanding how IQ, EQ, and CQ affect progress in the workplace is the first step forward in agile adaptations to uncertain, unpredictable, complex and confusing work environments. Workers in these environments are routinely expected to engineer practical results from creative ideas or business opportunities. Using empathetic management skills to ignite a workplace culture that fosters and rewards curiosity offers many benefits. Einstein summed up the benefits of curiosity as elegantly as his theory of relativity:
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
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