Nurturing curiosity & inspiring the pursuit of discovery
February 24, 2011
The courage to make mistakes is related in some measure to curiosity, exploration, and the ability to speak honestly about a topic and about ourselves. For it is fear of mistakes, of being wrong, and the possibility of ridicule that stops us from showing our natural curiosity. The openness to show your natural curiosity in front of others requires one to be vulnerable. In her book The Gift of Imperfection, Dr. Brené Brown says "Ordinary courage is about putting vulnerability on the line. In today's world that's pretty extraordinary." Passionate curiosity demonstrates many things to others, including that we don't know all the answers or even that we are uncertain about various things. In today's world of cable news sound bites, entrenched positions, and unyielding opinions, revealing our uncertainty or changing our point of view as we discover more and delve more deeply in the material is often seen as weakness. Certainty is seen as strength. Yet admitting you don't know our that you're not yet sure, or that you need more information or more time and so on takes more courage than faking certainty or going along with conventional wisdom because it is safe.
We are born curious—so what happened?
Earlier I wrote a piece entitled "The need for connection & engagement in education" -- but I should have used the word school in place of education. Education is not the problem. For where there is education — and the best education is usually self-education — there is necessarily participation and engagement with the material, and our curiosity thrives. The problem for a lot of us — teacher and student — is school, especially large institutional schools. Our methods of instruction — or perhaps it is just the system itself — do a poor job of nurturing students' natural curiosity. This is nothing new. Einstein said many years ago that "it is in fact nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry....” In this short video clip below Dr. Michio Kaku says that we are born scientists. Children go through much of their childhood driven by a natural and insatiable curiosity about life, but somewhere along the line we all but extinguish that flame of curiosity. Dr. Kaku says that school often results in "crushing curiosity right out of the next generation." Watch the clip below (or on YouTube).
Dr. Michio Kaku: "We [all] are born scientists."
Rewarding curiosity vs. rewarding certainty
We are obsessed with giving prizes to students who memorize the most facts and bits of information (and in the shortest amount of time). Why don't we give prizes for the students who demonstrate their unabashed curiosity and demonstrable pursuit of discovery? A driving child-like curiosity and sense of wonder is an undeniable sign of intelligence. The curious can eventually overcome their ignorance, but the chronically incurious—and yet self-assured—are stuck with their ignorance for a lifetime.
I don't know all the components of a good teacher (or a good presenter), but certainly a necessary element of good teaching is curiosity. That is, demonstrating our own curiosity and inspiring and cultivating the natural curiosity in others. The ineffective teachers are the ones who have lost their curiosity and sense of wonder for their subject or even for their job. You can't fake curiosity and wonder. The best teachers are the ones who show their own desire to learn more about their subject and who are not afraid to show mistakes or admit that they don't know it all. The best teachers guide, coach, inspire, and feed that natural flame of curiosity that lives within every child. The courage to teach, then, is the courage to expose yourself as you demonstrate your curiosity and wonder for your subject. This kind of passion is infectious (and memorable).
Curiosity has its own rewards
If I were hiring employees I would look for the insanely curious and hungry applicants not necessarily the ones who ticked off all the correct boxes and jumped through all the right hoops in school. I would look for the highly educated and talented but not necessarily the highly schooled. School for a student is ephemeral and short, but learning, self-education, and inquiry last a life time so long as a student's unabashed curiosity remains alive. The best teachers (or trainers, coaches, etc.) are those who light the sparks and inspire students to pursue a lifetime of exploration and discovery. "School" says the rewards are cash, status, and security. But wouldn't it be great if our lessons instilled the notion in students something which they already knew when younger but may have forgotten: "Curiosity has its own reason for existing," as Einstein said. Curiosity has its own rewards.
Michio Kaku refers to Richard Feynman at the end of the video clip above. This video here features Richard Feynman talking about his father's influence.
Note: Click on slides for a larger size.
Thank you for another inspiring post. I am the first to admit that my curiosity, and my willingness to take risks and be wrong, took an almighty hammering at school. I'm still trying to recover, little by little.
Posted by: Davide Rizzo | February 24, 2011 at 09:48 PM
These are some great thoughts! In the past two years (since I started university) I have rediscovered once again the magic of curiosity. I do believe now that the only way one can grow personally and professionally is by cultivating this curiosity and always keep an open mind and eyes. In this way I learn something new everyday and find new exciting things that can possibly change my whole life!
Thanks for sharing your insight!
Posted by: Maringerov | February 24, 2011 at 11:28 PM
Curiosity is what drives me to go do a PhD...but even today's top PhD school, they don't even encourage students to be curious and be excited by new hypotheses that are completely out of the box. You must be lucky to find the department or director that encourages you to come up with curious and innovative ideas. I dream one day to teach and fuel student's curiosity, or in many cases make them curious again.
Posted by: Charles Martineau | February 25, 2011 at 02:35 AM
just joined your blog.
This post + Dr.Kaku clip connected with me 100%
I became very frustrated with studying Biology in a University,,the life was sucked right out of it! I choose wonder, curiosity and the true study of life -being an artist.
Posted by: kara rane | February 25, 2011 at 05:14 AM
I believe it was Mark Twain that said, "I have never let my schooling interfere with my education."
I intend to continue my education until I die.
Posted by: Jim Dickeson | February 25, 2011 at 05:19 AM
There is one book out there on the psychological science of this exact topic. I encourage you to read it.
Dr. Todd Kashdan wrote Curious? Discovering the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life (HarperCollins). Check out- http://toddkashdan.com and http://www.amazon.com/Curious-Discover-Missing-Ingredient-Fulfilling/dp/B002QGSWFG/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0
Posted by: Sarah Spitz | February 25, 2011 at 09:58 AM
good post. Thank you, Garr. :)
Posted by: jodi | February 25, 2011 at 05:46 PM
I agree with English-speaking hair salon this is very true "we dont reward creativity instead of memorisation is because teachers would then need to be able to recognise creativity when they saw it ;)"
Posted by: Meratol | February 26, 2011 at 09:30 PM
what an interresting guy :)
Because of this post i have spent the last 5 hours watching vids on Dr. Kaku. I would like to add that you ( Garr ) really inspire me. And i am currently spreading your message in the Netherlands.
I wish you the best
Posted by: Kendy Louwaars | March 01, 2011 at 06:07 AM
Hi Garr, many thanks from Spain. I have discovered you yesterday surfering via internet on hotel marketing web sites. I am engaging a new project related with marketing and revenue management and your suggestions will be very helpful for my future presentations!
Thanks for share!
Posted by: Damià Font Taulina | March 02, 2011 at 01:55 AM
You're right about curiosity being a key characteristic of good teachers and presenters. Unfortunately most "experienced" teachers (with say, 10 years of experience) actually have had 1 year of experience 10 times!
Curiosity keeps things fresh and encourages us to try new approaches that may be more effective.
I think that's certainly one of the benefits of visiting this website: we often get a fresh perspective and some real "food for thought"
Posted by: Business English | March 09, 2011 at 03:07 PM
I think part of the problem is that most learning is not learning but absorbing. Curiosity is definitely something that could be included more in education but the problem is that it is harder to manage. How do you make sure the students explore in the right directions? How do you assess when everyone has taken different approaches? What about students that don't want to go down the path themselves?
I believe there are some great approaches out there but we haven't discovered them yet.
Posted by: Ryan on Creative thinking | March 09, 2011 at 03:18 PM