connecting the curious

Why do students often ask — will this be on the test? It’s because they have figured out the game called education. They are told what to study, what is important, and for how long. Each school year they play the game anew.

Why are some — a significant percentage — employees not motivated to work? They too have figured out the game. Venkatesh Rao, in The Gervais Principle describes this large base of most companies — the losers.

“The Losers are not social losers (as in the opposite of ‘cool’), but people who have struck bad bargains economically – giving up capitalist striving for steady paychecks. I am not making this connection up … The Losers like to feel good about their lives. They are the happiness seekers, rather than will-to-power players, and enter and exit reactively, in response to the meta-Darwinian trends in the economy. But they have no more loyalty to the firm than the Sociopaths. They do have a loyalty to individual people, and a commitment to finding fulfillment through work when they can, and coasting when they cannot.”

Standardized curriculum dulls curiosity. Subject-based curriculum sucks the complexity out of schooling, as do age-based classes. These promote conformity and teaching to the test.

Standardized work reduces creativity. Standardized communities have little empathy for those who are different. Lacking curiosity, students and workers can become susceptible to simple solutions and disinformation.

Simplicity is the appeal of demagogues. But one way to counter populism is by being curious about others. “It’s about learning to be genuinely curious; to understand why someone is holding firm to their stance; to seek common ground”, says Trish Hennessy.

Curiosity about ideas can foster creativity, while curiosity about people can develop empathy. 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.

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.

Social networks are made up of 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, then we just might be able to create better ways of organizing our society. Constantly learning fractal beings can make for more resilient knowledge networks.

“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.” —Chaos: A User’s Guide

If we want to change the world, be curious. If we want to make the world a better place, promote curiosity in all aspects of learning and work. There are still a good number of curious people of all ages working in creative spaces or building communities around common interests. We need to connect them. Finding ways to increase curiosity and make connections are part of the discipline of  personal knowledge mastery.

4 Responses to “connecting the curious”

  1. Markus Endler

    You are absolutely right: curiosity and a learner’s mindset create new connections between people and ideas. IMHO, the main problem why our current society is so closed to other ideas and people is that the majority of humankind is either stuck in inherited cultural-religious practices, have not been educated to grow an open/curious mindset, or are overloaded with useless and manipulative information. Hence, they prefer to stick to their established way of life and mindset, instead of showing the “courage” and curiosity to seek the different. On the other hand, business processes and traditions (the structure) also have their merits in that they help to organize work in companies and structure the interactions in a society. So, i think that while curiosity and openness are indeed very important, no company or society can survive without a set of well established and proven business processes, laws, cultural traditions and rituals.

  2. Sunil Malhotra

    I love the way you bring out the difference between Creativity and Empathy, both of which combine to create meaningful value. They are the keys to innovation and customer editors.

  3. amanda keogh

    Heartily agree Harold – thank you for insightful and inspiring words. Organisations need to foster a growth mindset, and find their humanity. Curiosity and ideas and people is an effective framing for both.


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