Developing curiosity

Fred Hoyle, a UK astronomer, in 1957 published a science fiction novel called The Black Cloud (which is still available). One of the strands in it is about knowledge exchange and how difficult it is to imbibe new knowledge if it contradicts an existing paradigm that someone holds.

This can be a real issue for organizations trying to be innovative. It's not an easy task to think outside what is known because education, experience, and the current organizational form all conspire against us when it comes to predicting the future potential of a new idea. As someone said "Each acts as a funnel narrowing our field of vision so tightly that eventually we only see what is already behind us".

So how can organizations – or rather the people in them – overcome the heritage of what they have previously learned, what they already know, what the organization is set up to do? One thought is to help people develop the capacity of curiosity and 'conscious un-knowing'. (Dr Martin Seligman in a co-authored book Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification discusses 24 character strengths, one of which is curiosity). While Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi suggests that people only become curious about something when they direct their attention towards it.

To develop curiosity try this exercise from the Authentic Happiness newsletter

During those times when you are feeling bored or unstimulated (e.g., while waiting in line at the grocery store), focus your attention on something that ordinarily might not engage your interest. For example, if you are at the grocery store, really notice how various customers interact with the checkout clerk. Are they making eye contact or averting their gaze? Do they make small talk? Do they offer to bag their own groceries? Notice how much effort you need to expend to focus your attention. Is it worth it? Is there a trade off between being bored (but with no demands placed on your psychic energy) and being interested?