I can’t deny it: it’s fun to have the tables turned.
I was honored and delighted when Andrea Cambron invited me to join her on her current affairs show to talk about the past year through a curiosity lens: fifty fun minutes in which I make the case for intentional curiosity parenting, wish “incurious” were the worst thing we could say about one another, decry the -ims among us, laugh a lot, and promise that we can indeed be both curious and polite, even when we’re insubordinate.
WHY CURIOSITY, NOW?
A neuroscientist, a philosopher and a mathematician walk into a bar. Curiosity ensues.
True story, no joke. And if their plane tickets hadn’t already been purchased, they might still be there, debating the nature and practices of curiosity in everything from brain circuitry to kindergarteners and robots.
Sixteen researchers from almost as many domains and across the globe convened in Philadelphia in early December to share what they were learning about curiosity. It was a fitting close to a year that saw curiosity splashed across welcome banners on college campuses and on the cover of everything from Harvard Business Review to Nature Review Neuroscience. Just last week Encyclopedia Britannica announced a Curiosity Day.
Curiosity is hot – but why, and why now?
Partly it’s a flavor of the day, the latest silver bullet, promising a perfect shot at business success and world domination. With it in our arsenal, our students will thrive, our relationships flourish, our creativity blossom. Guaranteed. You get the idea: curiosity as cure-all.
So at some level it’s hot because something has to be, but it got warm first, for more interesting reasons. As neuroscience progresses and we can see and understand more about what is going on in our brains, curiosity has begun to distinguish itself – we can see its patterns, follow its tracks, begin to describe it in more precise terms. New models have emerged to help illuminate the different ways curiosity takes shape for each of us. We’ve made a serious study of this thing that none of us can yet fully describe.
Curiosity, as Nabokov wrote, is insubordination in its purest form. It can be disruptive and disrespectful of authority and the status quo. To be curious is to believe there is potential in the unknown, that there is more. Which sounds a lot like Silicon Valley and the promises of innovation, exploding technologies and artificial intelligence. We live in an era that understands and appreciates disruptive business models and products.
We live in a time that calls for curiosity.
For much of human history, curiosity was viewed with a good deal more skepticism. Think: Eve, Pandora, Icarus, Galileo. Yet, as Galileo illustrates, we aren’t the only people in history to experience eruptions of exploratory expansionism, intellectual or otherwise. Now, we’ve knowingly built on those historic layers. We perch upon the cumulative shoulders of curious giants like da Vinci, Newton, Jefferson, Darwin, and Feynman. We’re practiced — primed — in a way we’ve not been before.
And there’s just so much more to be curious about! Every day we are exposed to an enormous and hugely complex world. We carry in our pockets access to an amount of information even the wildly imaginative da Vinci could never have seen coming. For the eons before us, it was nearly possible to know the known world. What they didn’t know they didn’t know is glaring to us, but was not to them.
Now we know we don’t know – and we see possibilities.
We also have means to share what we’ve learned and what excites us. The contagion of curiosity is amplified by the machinery of modern communications. Information now travels at a mindboggling speed. It is a perfect curiosity storm. In the swirl of information, access, needs and inspiration, curiosity spins us upward, lifting our sights and hearts alike.
The neuroscientist, the philosopher and the mathematician in each of us has something to hold on to, something more to explore. Curiosity, here we come!