The Death of Curiosity

I facilitate action-learning sessions for various companies. During these sessions, project owners arrive with a problem or challenge. Over the course of the day, teams unpack their challenges, identify assumptions and possible solutions, then design experiments to test their assumptions before placing bigger bets with their resources.


After one such session, an executive pulled me aside and asked “how can I make my team more curious?” This question still nags at me.


Over the past three years, I have noticed a disturbing trend: declining curiosity among students and corporate citizens in the U.S.


Where has our curiosity gone?


I have a number of hypotheses about this. Here are three…

The availability of answers at our fingertips (Quora, Google, etc.) means that we no longer feel troubled by not knowing. Honestly, how many of us remember more than a handful of phone numbers by heart anymore? It takes seconds to find most of what we need on our smart phones.


Second, the fear of being wrong holds us back. It’s easier to stay abstract and correct than putting a stake in the ground, claiming a point of view and risking failure.


Finally, the rise of multitasking has led to narrowcasting. As we IM, email, share on Facebook or Twitter, we tend to communicate with people who tend to share our point of view. We read fewer newspapers and more news algorithmically tailored to our activities online. If you haven’t seen it, check out Eli Pariser’s TED talk entitled “Beware online ‘filter bubbles’” recorded in March 2011.


If we value innovation and entrepreneurship, we need to be curious. We need to go beyond our own point of view and explore dissimilar perspectives to ideate the “adjacent possible” – what could be.