Let’s be honest: curiosity has had a bad rap with all this ‘killed the cat’ nonsense. I have a feeling that the people who perpetuated the phrase didn’t want any annoying curious person to question their authority or challenge ‘the way things are’. That’s because curiosity is a forward-moving energy that does not leave any stone unturned. It’s also a key ingredient if you want to become more creative. In my creativity talks, we often look at curiosity as a life skill. In this post I’m going to show you why curiosity is important, share examples of it in action (like in the collage project above), and at the end I’ll give you three tips on how you can be more curious yourself.
The phrase ‘Curiosity for life’ can be read a few different ways. If you read it one way, it means curiosity will (or can) last you your whole life. However the other way of reading the phrase is also true. It can also be read to mean that curiosity will inspire you and give you life. Let’s aim for both! But first, I want to explain why you should even bother…
“Much of what I stumbled into
by following my curiosity and intuition
turned out to be priceless later on.”
– Steve Jobs
• Why is curiosity important?
Curiosity for life is important because it stimulates an active and creative mindset. It gives you energy to move from where you are toward new horizons. It helps you explore ways to improve the status quo. It’s a driving force behind understanding new things. Curiosity also helps you see old things from new perspectives. When you do that, it helps you spot old habits you have that may be getting you nowhere. And what I think is most important: curiosity helps you feel alive! If any of that sounds worth your time, keep reading!
• Curiosity for Life: A Case Study
Part of my work is to consult on magic and illusions for special projects in theatre or other types of performance or advertising. I worked on an unusual project this past summer with a theatre company called Single Shoe Productions. Their project’s goal was to use random household items to recreate eight places or experiences that they missed during lockdown. Here’s some footage from their 2019 holidays that we tried to recreate …
Or was it? Actually… I lied (sorry, that’s another requirement of my job). Those clips above are in fact the recreations of their holidays that we made in their garden! How did we do it? All is revealed here. Each project was totally different; whether it was to evoke a day at the ocean, recreate a sunrise by the mountains or create a collage recreation of a theatre they missed.
Regardless of the final outcome, curiosity was an essential part of the journey for each episode. Our first step was to ask questions to get clear about what exactly it was about those places or experiences that they missed. For instance, in Episode 2: what is it that inspires them when at the sea? Is it the light, the sound, the feeling of the sand at the shore? And what about in Episode 4: why did they crave those mountain trips? Maybe it was that feeling of peace they have when sitting on the ground watching the sun rise over the mountains in the middle of nowhere? These types of questions gave us clear objectives when creating each episode. This is all what I’d call the ‘questioning phase’ of the curiosity journey.
Then we moved on to the ‘active phase’ of curiosity. After we used the feeling of the desired experience to chart the map of the journey, we had to explore what we could use practically to recreate that feeling in a video. How could we make an illusion of the place or experience that evokes those feelings? That was the sweaty part; we experimented, failed, retried and crossed our fingers and toes for good results. Curiosity can lead to messy, uncomfortable and challenging situations. But it always pushed us forward and eventually got us to a creative result, as evidenced by Episode 3 (the tomato family’s trip to the restaurant in this delightful stop-motion video.)
• How do I regain curiosity?
You were born curious. That natural active curiosity fed and inspired you, pushing you forward as you figured out the world. Between then and adulthood, most people slip down the slope of thinking they have figured the world out and so curiosity fades. But here are three easy techniques to get it back whether in your professional or personal life…
1. Ask divergent questions
Anyone who’s recently been around a five year old has already had a masterclass in how this works. They ask divergent questions. Ask yourself questions beginning with these words: WHY? HOW? WHAT ELSE? WHAT’S NOT HAPPENING YET? When you ask these expansive and open-ended questions, it means you’re not asking questions that lead to a yes or no answer. ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ answers stop thinking. However divergent questions push thinking forward. Curiosity for life comes from asking these divergent questions that will inevitably lead you to more creative places.
2. Nurture an active mental state
I’m not one to blame technology for the downfall of creativity but I do think that grabbing for the smart phone like a reflex gets in the way of something. Have you done this?: you’re at a restaurant, the other person excuses themselves for a minute. And in a matter of seconds you are on your phone. What about at the bus stop? Or in the first waking moments of the day? Doing that stops something that we naturally did more of before. We observed more. Next time, look around instead. What and who do you see? What does that make you think of? Then insert some of those divergent questions mentioned above and see what happens. Your mind will start to percolate in ways that Instagram has never seen.
3. Give yourself a kick
Every project described in the case study above was a real kick in the butt to get us moving, start exploring and actively move forward. To get Curiosity for life, you need to take actions that will feed your curiosity. For example, finally learn that skill you’ve been thinking of exploring for years. Go to a new area of the book store you never go in and find a book that you don’t usually grab. Set a deadline for exploring something new. See what creative new horizons that curiosity reveals for you.
“I have no special talents.
I am only passionately curious.”
As I say in my creativity talks, so much of getting curious is as easy as breaking old habits. With these relatively simple shake-ups to your routine, you can quickly discover a more creative you by stoking a curiosity for life (in both senses!).
POST SCRIPT: Thanks for coming along on the adventure. Drop me a note in the comments below and I hope to see you again after a few more turns in the trail.