One time I was talking to a leadership development specialist about the skills leaders needed to do well. His response was that the single thing they needed more than anything else was curiosity and it's a very difficult thing to develop in people. His remarks stuck in my mind so when someone emailed me the article The Power of Curiosity (adapted from a book Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life by Todd Kashdan) I was interested to see what it said. (Sidebar: the article was printed in a magazine, Experience Life, that I'd not come across so I looked at the website – it has tabs for healthy eating, fit body, health and wellness, worthy goods. I see it is available in print version too so I'll look out for it.)
Unlike the leadership development colleague who thinks curiosity is difficult to develop Kashdan, thinks it can be developed with practice (maybe that's the same as being difficult to develop?). He says:
Curiosity is something that can be nurtured and developed. With practice, we can harness the power of curiosity to transform everyday tasks into interesting and enjoyable experiences. We can also use curiosity to intentionally create wonder, intrigue and play out of almost any situation or interaction we encounter.
It all starts with wanting to know more.
Of course, that supposes that people want to know more and see the benefit in asking open questions, being alert to other ways of looking at things, and being willing to have assumptions challenged. To help on this Kashdan 'sells the benefits' of curiosity. He discusses five of them:
1 Health: he cites some studies showing that curious people age more healthily than incurious.
2 Intelligence: apparently 'some studies' (not cited) show that 'high levels of curiosity in adults are connected to greater analytic ability, problem-solving skills and overall intelligence. All of which suggests that cultivating more curiosity in your daily life is likely to make you smarter.
3 Social relationships: curious people say they have more satisfying social relationships than others who appear less curious. (I don't know if that extends into social media. My curiosity about many of the Tweets and Facebook comments is why anyone should want to post them and then why anyone would be the remotest bit interested).
4 Happiness: A Gallup Poll identified two factors that had the strongest influence on how much enjoyment a person experienced in a given day: "being able to count on someone for help" and "learned something yesterday." Both of which the author attributes to curiosity. He also mentions the book Stumbling on Happiness, and the 24 basic human strengths identified by Martin Seligman and Chris Petersen both of which tie happiness to curiosity.
5 Meaning: the observation on this is that curiosity is the entry point to many of life's greatest sources of meaning and satisfaction: our interests, hobbies and passions.
To develop curiosity there are several suggestions:
When waking: Look with "fresh eyes." Choose to see some things in your home, partner or family that you may have overlooked before.
When talking: Strive to remain open to whatever transpires – without assuming, categorizing, judging or reacting. Ask more questions and listen with care.
When driving: Instead of zoning out on a daily commute, make a point of actively anticipating what the drivers around you are likely to do next. Stay aware of what's ahead and on the horizon.
When working: Look for opportunities to challenge and apply yourself in ways that spark your interest and produce great results. Ask questions like: What's interesting here? How can I make this more fun?
When exercising: Instead of going through the motions, put your attention on the intricacies and sensations of your own movement and on whatever sights, sounds and smells are within range.
And then another section on 'Develop Your Inner Sherlock' which has some fun ideas.
The one I've found very helpful (which I found in a life-coaching book, but don't remember which one) was to start the day with "I wonder what today will bring? Who will I speak to? What will I say? What will I do?" . Like the leadership development colleague I feel that curiosity is a skill managers need, and like Kashdan think it is one that they can and should cultivate.