Curiosity: a super power?

I’m so excited I might just burst! I think I may have today figured out my super power!!

Ok, so the title is a bit of a give away. And you might think curiosity is not much of a super power. But hear me out. I’ll keep this one brief (am too excited to write too long anyway).

I’ve previously written about my love of questions and finding out new things. I’ve had discussions over many wines with colleagues who say they find admitting to not knowing uncomfortable. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convince them that it doesn’t matter if one doesn’t know something – it’s fun to learn the new stuff! Indeed, if you ask my Mum, she’ll tell you I was born with a relentlessly long list of unanswerable questions.

All my life I’ve thought it was just me (and a small handful of selected colleagues) who loved curiosity. I thought of it as a positive but somewhat useless characteristic. A hobby and a quality-of-life-enhancer more than something I’d mention as a strength for my job. Harmless but probably slightly odd. Minority sport, and best kept under check (for often viewed frivolous and at times highly unwelcome).

But today I realised. Curiosity is powerful.

Think about it like this. Change is hard. Hard on our minds, our hearts and our resources. It’s definitely easier not to change than to change. Human psychology is such that we try to construct any new information around what we already know, and reject what does not seem to fit. The familiar, the things we know, might have many flaws and problems, but we still stick with them. Because to our minds change feels tacitly too costly. A lot of the time we don’t change until we really have no choice. And sometimes not even then.

Curiosity is a super power because it allows me (and others who have it) to engage with controversial, challenging, troublesome, hard-work ideas and activities early and smoothly. It allows us to work in spaces that others find too hard, too much of an effort. Because when curiosity is what motivates and drives us, those things don’t feel hard. It’s no bother to learn a new language, or new terminology. It feels no effort at all to learn a new social culture of a different discipline. It pushes us to learn things that initially feel very alien and far beyond our capabilities.

In this context, curiosity is like a delicious chocolate coating that my mind automatically applies on change. It’s like a smell of a coffee or a good meal, that I follow viscerally. I start from a position A (the familiar), smell the delicious call of curiosity, follow it, and end up in a changed position B (a new perception, knowledge, skill).

The funny thing is, in my experience curioisty doesn’t often get a warm welcome. In fact, I might have never realised what a super power curiosity is had I not seen others applying it. It’s only when I entered a space where, over an extended period, I have seen others engaging in ideas and activities that are alien to them, and creating something exciting in that space, that I have now come to realise the power of curiosity.

I wonder if curiosity is embraced in sciences and arts in a way that it’s often not in health. In health there’s such a very strong focus on immediate benefit to the patient, and in my experience curiosity is often perceived to associate with innovation that leads to nothing. But surely that is a false dicotomy? For if we only innovate within what we know and can already imagine, we’ll never truly move things forward.

Am so pleased to have this major penny drop today. I can now proudly apply my curiosity, and own it! (/Under careful regulatory control from meta-cognition, of course…)

Chocolate coatings and coffee smells, yippee!

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