Today, we are pleased to introduce Tara Broyhill who has kindly written us a guest post about the importance of curiosity. Tara is a Seattle-based creativity coach. Learn more about Tara at BoundlessCreativityCoach.com.
Do you ever wonder why kids ask so many questions?
Or why they are always getting into things and making messes and/or breaking things?
Short answer – kids are naturally curious, and this is a good thing! It’s something we, as parents and educators, should be encouraging and fostering in ourselves as well as kids. Why? Because curiosity is at the root of a lifelong love of learning. Curiosity is a life skill we need to be creative and innovative, to solve problems, and to be happy in life.
Often times though, we tire of all those questions our young kids are always asking. Why is the sky blue? Why is the dog slobbering? What happens if I put my fork in the outlet? Why is that person different (said with no judgment)? Where is my ball? Why? On and on as if the questions will never end! Likewise, our education system is, for the most part, set up to be one in which the teacher is the expert and imparts knowledge down to the students. It is not always set up to be a place for curiosity and exploration, even though kids are naturally curious and this curiosity is the best mechanism for learning. Now that’s curious, isn’t it?! Maybe we should investigate….
What is curiosity?
First though, what exactly is curiosity? Merriam Webster dictionary defines curiosity as “Desire to know.” To take that definition further, I would say curiosity is a natural instinct to learn and find answers and to understand what we observe. It’s finding pleasure in the novel and having tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty. Curiosity is what leads us to explore.
Why is curiosity important?
Some of the benefits of a curious mind, as shown in a 2014 study at UC Davis are that, as we delve in and follow our curiosity, our brains are releasing more dopamine which allows us to learn more easily and more deeply with a stronger memory because the dopamine reinforces the connections between the areas of the brain related to memory and learning. The dopamine also touches the pleasure centers in our brains that have to do with anticipatory desire and motivation, which makes us feel happy. Who doesn’t want to learn more easily and more deeply while feeling happier?
Another reason to encourage curiosity is to strengthen our relationships. People who are more curious report having deeper and more satisfying relationships which again leads to more feelings of happiness and fulfillment. Knowing what we know about curiosity, this makes sense. That desire to learn more and investigate is exactly what keeps a relationship alive and healthy because there is always something new to learn about the other person. In their book, The Power of Curiosity, Kathy Taberner and Kirsten Taberner Siggins show how being present to actively listen and ask curious questions with the intent to understand others is the key to having real conversations that create collaboration, innovation, and understanding.
Curiosity is also at the root of creativity and innovation because it is what allows us to be more tolerant of dealing with uncertainty. This is what successful artists, scientists, and innovators have that allows them to keep asking more and better questions until their curiosity is satiated. They are able to grapple with complex problems, deal with uncertainty, and come up with more creative solutions based on deeper understanding. It’s this curiosity that is going to help us, as a society, find creative solutions to problems. Curiosity is what will allow our children to thrive in careers we can’t even comprehend today but that will exist when they enter the workforce.
How can we become more curious?
So how do we encourage curiosity? The good news is that, in most cases, we don’t have to do much. Our brains are naturally wired for curiosity. If we aren’t feeling very curious though, we can start by asking more questions. Convert more statements to questions that start with “I don’t know…” and “I wonder…” When we switch from being the “knower” to the “learner” and get curious about the world around us, we not only model that for our kids, but we also get the added bonuses of having more fun, learning more, and reducing the stress that comes from “needing” to have all the answers. Try it! The next time someone asks you a question, you can reply with a question like “That’s a good question! How could you find the answer?” or “What are your thoughts on that?” Then – and this is key – listen with a curious mind that wants to learn and know more. Then ask more questions. You’ll end up learning not only about the topic at hand, but also about the other person(s) in the conversation. What’s more, they will most likely feel listened to, understood, and empowered to learn more themselves.
Another skill to develop curiosity is to get more curious about the objects and people all around you. Look at common objects from a new perspective and see what you can learn from them. For example, look and listen to people with the intent to learn something new about and from them. Ask open-ended questions. Or look at common things all around you and wonder about them. How were they made? What else could they be used for? How could they be improved on? What can they tell you about the person or place associated with them?
This switch from being the teacher disseminating knowledge to a curious lifelong learner is a mindset change. It celebrates delving in and investigating. It recognizes that “failing” can be the path to achievement. It allows for what they call “agile thinking” and “tolerance of ambiguity,” which means, when we try new things, we sometimes get unanticipated results which leads us to learn more about the world around us. In this framework there are no “failures” or “stupid” questions, only more to learn and explore. I believe that once we as adults rekindle our curiosity, the kids around us will celebrate their own curiosity. I wonder where it will take us!
Where can you learn more?
This is a purposefully incomplete list of resources for you to delve further into curiosity. In truth, you can find more information everywhere and anywhere. Just follow your nose.
The Power of Curiosity: How to Have Real Conversations that create Collaboration, Innovation and Understanding by Kathy Taberner and Kirsten Taberner Siggins
The Origins of Creativity by Edward Wilson
Why?: What Makes Us Curious by Mario Livio
TED Talks (There are many on curiosity and lots of other interesting things to explore)
Your backyard, your kitchen…
About the Author
Tara Broyhill is a Seattle-based creativity coach who helps people realize their boundless power to use their curiosity and imagination to create and innovate. Curiosity, connection, and creativity are her tools for understanding herself, others and the world we inhabit together. You can learn more about Tara at BoundlessCreativityCoach.com