Wait, What?: And Life’s Other Essential Questions by James E. Ryan (2017) is my new favorite curiosity read. In this slim volume built around his 2016 Harvard Graduate School of Education commencement speech, Ryan makes the case for turning to five deceptively simple questions (and a bonus poetic one) as our guide in work and life. My favorite take-away: the title question, “Wait, what?” Allow yourself to be surprised — then stop and pay attention. Game changer.
Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It by Ian Leslie (2015) was my first curiosity read. A journalist, Leslie writes on psychology, social trends and politics for an array of publications mostly in the UK. A literate read, full of current research and evolving theory about how curiosity works and the purpose(s) it might serve. My favorite take-away: the curiosity zone, that midpoint between too little and too much surprise, knowledge or confidence.
A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life by Brain Grazer (2016) is part memoir, part curiosity polemic. Perhaps more famous for his crazy, stand-up hair, moviemaker Grazer credits his professional success to nurturing a voracious curiosity. My favorite take-away: Grazer seeks “curiosity conversations” with people from all walks of life just to learn about their experiences and perspectives. Those conversations inform his films and expand his understanding of human nature.
Why?: What Makes Us Curious by Mario Livio (2017) is the latest book on curiosity. Livio is an Israeli-American astrophysicist and an author of works that popularize science and mathematics. He recaps a considerable body of research, focusing on the profound curiosity of Leonardo daVinci and Richard Feynman. My favorite take-away: his observation, based on research, that “Curiosity is the best remedy for fear.”
Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life by Todd Kashdan (2010) is the earliest book I’ve found to make an explicit call for choosing to be curious. Kashdan, a psychology professor at George Mason University, uses his own and others’ research to make the argument for intentionally cultivating one’s desire to know as a path to life satisfaction. My favorite take-away: a curiosity self-assessment tool. If I were still hiring staff, I’d use it as a threshold test to build an inquisitive and engaged workplace culture. UPDATE: In December 2017, Kashdan published a paper with a new assessment approach built around five dimensions of curiosity. He considers it a major improvement on his first efforts. Keep an eye open for the assessment process!
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert (2016) isn’t, strictly speaking, about curiosity – its focus is creativity – but it offers some useful insights about the power of curiosity to keep doors open for inspiration. An easy, light read. My favorite take-away: the invitation to ask oneself “Is there something that you’re even just a little curious about?” and “Choose curiosity over fear…” – a great #choosetobecurious line if ever there were one!