“The mind that opens to a new idea never returns to its original size.” Albert Einstein
When speaking at a leadership conference in Kentucky recently, I met an emerging leader named Adam, who wanted to discuss his career path with me. During the conversation, he asked me if I could give him just one word or trait that he could hold on to as a reflection of leadership evolution. After thinking about this for a moment, I replied to him with the word “curiosity.” Because a true leader, regardless of age or experience, is always curious, knows how to ask fantastic questions and has an “I want to know” mindset.
The questions “Why?” or “How?” reveal curiosity, which according to Webster’s Dictionary is a “strong desire to know or learn something.” It’s that innate ability that inspires children to learn about the world around them by asking questions. Lots of them. It also can be the kind of curiosity that drives adults to seek answers, solutions and open their minds in a quest to learn more.
I am a firm believer that success is less about having all the answers and more about asking questioning and learning. It’s been my curiosity that has inspired me to continually seek out the fresh ideas and approaches needed to keep the pace with change and stay ahead of competitors.
I suggested that Adam read the book, “A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life” by Brian Grazer. In the book, the author credits curiosity as the driving force behind his success as a Hollywood movie and television producer.
Grazer’s days are action-packed as he flies to movie sets, screens trailers and attends red-carpet premieres. He often has 10 or more movies and TV shows in production at a time and is on the go meeting with actors, writers, directors and musicians while juggling calls with agents, producers, studio heads and stars.
All that glitz and glamour would not be possible without the power of curiosity, he says. “Curiosity is what gives energy and insight to everything else I do,” writes Grazer. “Curiosity has been the most valuable quality, the most important resource, the central motivation of my life. I think curiosity should be as much a part of our culture, our educational system, our workplaces, as concepts like ‘creativity’ and ‘innovation.’
“This powerful force is not exclusive to high-level entertainment professionals. It’s a natural factor that gives energy to everything we do. When we tap into our curiosity, we open up the potential of exploring, growing and challenging ourselves and others.
Leadership demonstrates what’s possible
A curious mind always exercises its creative muscle. It expects, anticipates and is hungry for new ideas.
Our day-to-day routines can dull our sense of curiosity, but staying keenly aware and interested in new possibilities keeps life exciting. When one is constantly seeking to know and learn more, nothing can be boring or routine. When you stop being curious, you stop living.
When I look at some of the greatest leaders, they all have that foundation of curiosity. Even if they know they are right, they are open-minded enough to want to know more.
Steve Forbes is a tech genius whose work impacts virtually every aspect of our culture. He knew that curiosity and taking risks spawned progress. He also was willing to learn and garner ideas from those around him. He even said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
As we grow older, our childlike curiosity is tempered with the fear that asking questions may make us appear less educated or uninformed. We begin to worry more about what others think of us instead of about learning new things. Our frontiers shrink when we no longer ask what’s beyond the horizon.
Curiosity is the fertile ground where creativity thrives. It is the secret of most creative people and the element that sets them apart. Curious-minded leaders approach every conversation as an opportunity to discover something new and interesting.
Imagine if Christopher Columbus had not been curious about finding a shorter route to India? Where would we be today? Sailing to the end of the earth expecting to fall off its edge? Of course not, because eventually someone else would’ve seized the opportunity and made the discovery. The link between curiosity and success is inevitable.
If routine has set in leaving curiosity in the dust, we can recapture that sense of wonder by rediscovering experiences we find interesting. We can nurture and develop an inquiring mind by harnessing the power of curiosity.
We do this by using our powers of observation and sensing what is happening in the present moment to the fullest. We engage our senses to notice and take in even the most ordinary of experiences – walking the dog, cooking a meal or talking with a friend.
Curiosity provides an entry point into those aspects of life that brings meaning and satisfaction. It replaces the monotony of today’s cocoon society of going to work, watching TV and going to bed only to do it all again the next day with more passion and excitement.
As leaders, we can break free from our daily monotony and take a cue from people like Adam. He had the curiosity to ask me for my advice and walked away knowing that maintaining a sense of wonder and having an unending thirst for knowledge will help him tap into his leadership potential. That’s the real power of a curious mind.