curious and fractal

Some people seem to be naturally curious. Others work at it. Some just lack interest in learning. You can notice this when traveling. Some people can describe many aspects of their local vicinity while others don’t know anything about why certain features exist. They say that the most interesting people are those who are interested in others.

This is what I wrote about connected curiosity two years ago. Basically, curiosity about ideas can foster creativity, while curiosity about people can develop empathy (not sympathy). We get new ideas from new people, not the same people we see every day. We get new perspectives from people whose lives and experiences are different from ours.Our close-knit social groups do not give us the diversity of knowledge and perspectives we need to navigate the complexities of our networked world. Simple solutions, or worse, those that reflect our peer groups, will fail us. We can learn about other people by engaging with them. With social media, we can actively avoid algorithmic recommendations on who to connect with and make up our own minds. The opportunities to connect with people we do not know are greater now than any time in history. Unfortunately, too many of us prefer our little comfort zones instead.

Several years ago I helped a friend who owns a tree care service. I signed on as a common labourer for a few days. One of the lessons I learned was that manual labour was not a good career option for me. I was sore for a long time after that stint. The other thing I noticed was how differently I was treated. I was introduced as Harold, the assistant. Most of the clients did not talk to me and some did not even look at me. They had no curiosity about me as an individual. I found it an interesting contrast to two weeks earlier where I had been the keynote speaker at an international conference. There, a lot of people wanted to talk to me. I am afraid that many people go through life missing opportunities to learn from others because they lack interest, or curiosity. Their chances for serendipity must be very low indeed.

Today, employers are supposedly requesting more curiosity in the people they recruit. Whether they allow it once you are at work remains a question however. For example, last year, the New York Times reported a number of skills, based on LinkedIn research, to be in high demand.

  • Communication
  • Curiosity
  • Adaptability
  • Teamwork
  • Empathy
  • Time Management
  • Open-Mindedness

You easily can lump Open-Mindedness, Curiosity, and Empathy into the same skill-set. This is basically the meta-skill of being actively open to learning and change. Bruno Marion in Chaos: A User’s Guide describes a ‘fractal being’ as a person who can hold opposing views and multiple valences of understanding. I would also say it’s a person with an acceptance of life in perpetual beta.

“A more fractal being will assimilate and unify all these elements in a better way: curiosity, rebellion, infinite dreams, awareness, responsibility, detachment, and wisdom at each moment of his or her life. The fractal being will preserve the curiosity of the child in adult life, the capacity for rebellion and indignation of youth, and always aspire for the greater wisdom that comes with ripeness.” p. 97

If we want to help people deal with complex problems — those facing most of society today — then they need to learn and practice fractal-being. It starts in school. Subject-based curriculum sucks the complexity out of schooling, as do age-based classes. These promote conformity and teaching to the test.

While the industrial economy was based on finite resources, a creative economy is not. There is no limit to human creativity. We have to make a new social contract, not based on jobs, but enabling a learner’s mindset for life.

Networks are made up of nodes (people) and relationships. Curiosity and learning can create new connections between people and ideas. If we put our efforts into promoting learning (not schooling) for life we just might be able to create better ways of organizing our society. Constantly learning fractal beings can make for more resilient knowledge networks. Finding ways to increase curiosity, make connections, and see coincidences is one aspect of the personal knowledge mastery discipline.

Being curious and open to learning is our part of the network era social contract

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