How And Why To Be Curious

The greatest comment I’ve ever had on this blog was in response to the post 10 New Labors For Hercules. In that post, I mentioned 10 things in modern day that I wished someone could take care of or create. Conor added this:

Remove the phrase ‘curiosity killed the cat’ from our language and memory. What a terrible lesson for kids.

I couldn’t agree more. What could be worse than learning that asking questions could get us in trouble? We’re born curious and I believe we’re supposed to stay curious. In fact, I think curiosity is what makes me happy. If I’m not curious, I’m not thinking as much as I want to. I become a mere spectator.

How to be curious

Simple: ask questions. Explore everything. Become, as Leonardo Da Vinci often referred to himself, a “disciple of experience.”

I take a notebook with me everywhere I go. I write in it when I’m reading books. I write it in while I’m on the desk at work. I jot down questions I have, words I learn, observations and lame jokes. Anything and everything and I never filter any of it. I just write it down and come back to it when I have time to answer the questions.

Some questions, thoughts, and observations from last week:

  • Is Kim Jong Il shorter than Lady Gaga?
  • What did Hipparchus have against Eratosthenes?
  • 300-1300 was a bad time to be a map-maker
  • Do men ever wear those stretchy stirrup pants all the women at the library are wearing?
  • What does bifurcate mean? (this is accompanied by a sketch of a stick man being split in two by the word BIF!)
  • Did people in the middle ages really believe that everything worth knowing was already known?

There are many more and it all jumps all over the place, which is kind of the point.

Why to be curious

Curiosity leads to greater curiosity. The more questions we ask, the more associations we are able to make. I can’t explain how, but wondering about Kim Jong Il’s height eventually led me to ask myself what I think the most difficult position in soccer would be. And that led me to a memory about a goal I scored in Dick Norse’s Cancer Kick tournament in third grade.

And that led me to think about whether I want Max to go to a public school in Utah, because our schools rank so poorly, particularly in my area.

But none of that is the point. The point is that “Think outside the box” is a trite phrase that we say without thinking about it. To me, thinking inside the box means thinking linearly. Linear thinking is a valuable asset, but it doesn’t provide as many opportunities for free association. If it’s the only thinking we can do, we’ll never reach our creative potential.

The most creative people I know are all children, or they’re adults who can still think like children when they need to.

I’ve been doing this with my notebooks for a long, long time. If you’ve never tried it, I would love for you to give it a shot this week and see if you like it. I find that once I start asking questions, it’s hard to stop.


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