When asked recently to name the one attribute CEOs will need most to succeed in the turbulent times ahead, Michael Dell, the CEO of Dell, Inc., replied, “I would place my bet on curiosity.”
Curiosity is the keen desire to learn or know something. It’s the basic element of cognition; it motivates us to explore new ideas and is the building block of our decision-making. Most importantly, it’s fundamental to success.
Why Being Curious is Important to Success
Curious people desire to understand how the world works beyond what they experience, so they naturally ask more questions. This opens doors, giving them an advantage over those who are less curious. Asking good questions positions them to learn how do a job better, faster, and more creatively which leads to new assignments, promotions, and raises.
Being curious makes people more likely to consider new ideas which helps them discover the future. This is vital in today’s highly competitive and rapidly changing world. Imagine the world without curious thinkers such as Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, and the Dalai Lama. These leaders, along with many others, devoted their lives to finding new solutions to old problems. I’m not suggesting you should aim to be the next Albert Einstein, but you can make more of an impact by being relentlessly curious.
Curiosity leads to better decision making. This doesn’t mean curious people don’t fail; they do, but they learn from failure. They explore what went right and what went wrong. They work to expand their perspective so they don’t miss important information or overlook a key viewpoint. Curiosity also makes people more willing to change their minds; this is crucial because we all have cognitive biases that cloud our judgment and color our views incorrectly which can lead to mistakes in our thinking.
How to Be More Curious
While we are born curious, it can wane over time as we start to believe that we know more than we actually do. The good news is that we can relearn this trait. Here’s how…
- Spend time with people who have different viewpoints than you and engage in thoughtful dialogue. While it’s natural to surround yourself with like-minded people, doing so decreases your opportunity to learn how others think. “When two people believe opposing things, chances are that one of them is wrong. It pays to find out if that someone is you,” says Ray Dalio founder of Bridgewater Associates and author of the New York Times Bestseller book “Principles.” Dalio continues, “to me, it’s pointless when people get angry with each other when they disagree because most disagreements aren’t threats as much as opportunities for learning.”
- Ask lots of questions and listen without judgement. Start by asking the five “w” questions (who, what, when, where, why) and how. Seek to learn through your questions; don’t build your case as to why the person is wrong. Listen carefully and be open to what you will discover.
- Reading is an excellent way to expand your knowledge and gain perspective and inspiration. Reading also allows you to develop greater insights and connect seemingly unrelated topics. Aim to read a book each month and trying reading books and articles that take you outside of your comfort zone.
- Try something new, even if it’s a bit overwhelming. For example, I recently decided to learn Mandarin Chinese and because of it, my world expanded. What surprised me is how much better I understand the structure of the English language and what I learned about Chinese history and culture. Sure, learning something new can be hard and time-consuming, but the perspective you’ll gain is invaluable.
- Don’t let boredom suck away your curiosity. For example, rather than mindlessly stare at your phone when waiting in a lobby or a doctor’s office, people watch. Notice mannerisms, expressions, and body language. Engage in conversation with the person next to you by smiling and asking a few non-off-putting questions. Check out the magazines sitting on the coffee table; read an article that you normally wouldn’t. Curiosity is about inquiry and exploration so actively to choose to be present and engage in the world around you.
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