The future is shaped by the curious

Curiosity is such a basic component of our cognition that we are nearly oblivious to its pervasiveness in our lives. Consider, though, how much of our time we spend seeking and consuming information and its importance as a motivator for learning, influential in decision-making, and crucial for healthy development.

There are few that would deny the power of curiosity. Just consider how: 

  1. being curious about yourself will help drive self-awareness and growth; 
  2. being curious about others will help drive empathy and collaboration; 
  3. being curious about ideas will help drive learning and understanding; 
  4. and being curious about challenges will help drive problem-solving and innovation. 

The Curiosity Zone is a great framework that describes our tendency to be the most curious when you know “something” about a subject. And the most incurious when we are completely ignorant about it or see ourseves as an expert in it. 

The Curiosity Zone is inspired by George Loewenstein’s 1994 Information-Gap Theory, and expertly distilled in Ian Leslie’s highly recommended book Curious. 

Loewenstein’s Information-Gap Theory argues that initial information acts as a ‘priming dose’ or purchase for increased curiosity. Loewenstein explained: “There are many things that people don’t know and that don’t bother them, but awareness of specific pieces of missing information can prompt an unreasonably strong desire to fill these gaps.” 

 “By the time we are adults we have fewer questions, and more default settings.” — Jean Piaget

The Curiosity Zone is divided into three categories:

  • Curiosity Zone 1: You’re super curious because you have some knowledge of a subject, but not enough to be an expert. This might be because you’ve read some articles on it, watched YouTube videos, or talked with people who have experience with the topic.
  • Curiosity Zone 2: You’re curious because you have enough knowledge to be considered an expert by others, but not necessarily yourself. This might include people who are just starting out in their careers and don’t feel like they know enough yet to consider themselves experts, but are still interested in learning more about the field or topic that they’re working in.
  • Curiosity Zone 3: In this zone, you’re completely ignorant about something and want to learn more about it—or at least understand what others think about it so that you can make up your own mind! This could include topics such as politics or religion where there are many conflicting viewpoints on what’s true or correct.

In Curious, Leslie outlines several strategies to boost your curiosity:

  •  Stay foolish – have the courage to ask the ‘stupid’ questions and be honest about your information gaps.
  • Build the database – understanding the Curiosity Zone, Leslie argues for the power of building knowledge as a purchase to grow further knowledge.
  • Forage like a ‘foxhog’ – similar to the T-Shaped People , Leslie advocates for the combination of deep knowledge with a cross-disciplinary breadth.
  • Ask the big why – considering the big questions and challenging accepted assumptions.
  • Be a ‘thinkerer’ – combining thinker and tinker, this term combines the micro and macro, or the practical and theoretical in playful cycles of experiment and thought.
  • Question your teaspoons – looking at the ordinary and every day but challenging the way that you view and use them. This has much resonance with challenging Functional Fixedness.
  • Turn puzzles into mysteries – Leslie points out that puzzles have a defined answer and can be solved, while mysteries are open-ended and are more enduring as a result. He points to our cultural obsession with puzzles — on getting an answer, particularly in our internet age. However, he advocates for the power of embracing and exploring mysteries.

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