Curiosity & Learning
A few days back my friend Cap wrote a great post about curiosity. In that post he postulated that curiosity is a must for (I assume) creative professionals, but, as I’m sure he’d agree, it applies to anyone.
In this I agree with him 100%. I had, coincidentally, been writing a similar post about Kickstarter and how much it inspires me. (And how much it drains my wallet.) My (as-of-yet not entirely formed) point was that we need things like Kickstarter to encourage and help those folks out there who are taking risks. By supporting ideas, even wacky ideas like some of what you’d see on Kickstarter, we allow for us to be inspired, educated and entertained, even if some of those endeavors don’t come out the other end as planned. As well, too many people are content with letting life pass them by. Those of us working in tech often forget that we’re not representative of the masses when it comes to taking risks and being curious.
But, back to Cap’s post. He concludes with the following:
It’s not a nice-to-have. It’s not optional. It’s required. Put it on your job postings, make it part of your interview loops, embrace it as part of your companies’ cultures. When you’re surrounded by driven and creative people with a constant thirst for knowledge, you’ll be glad you did. And when you’re surrounded by apathy, you’ll be sorry that you didn’t.
Apathy. Such a horrible word. Say it out loud and try not to cringe. Apathy… eww.
It’s the worst possible emotion I can think of. Anything we can do to root apathy out of our lives is a good thing. But I think the real value healthy curiosity brings relates to learning. There are many things that go into learning: focus, motivation, discipline, but I see curiosity as a big, big part of what drives continual and lifelong learning.
If you’ve followed my writing at all, you’ll probably have noticed that learning is a big theme for me. I see learning as something that makes everything about life more fun and interesting, but it also works as a key competitive advantage, for me, those I work with and within the context of what I do.
In thinking about Cap’s post, I couldn’t help but draw the connection between learning and curiosity.
Curiosity and learning: two sides of the same coin.
When I moved down to San Francisco a few years ago, I took a chance on a position as a lead game designer for a very small startup. I’d never designed a game, and knew very little about game design, but I was very curious. I mean, I’m a gamer, and while I didn’t know much, game design has always been an interest.
I dove in began to learn all I could. I started experimenting with what I was learning and before I knew it had designed several games. One of those games, Shadelight, won a bit of critical acclaim and helped my small company get acquired. More importantly—for me anyway—it was totally fun, both the game and the experience of learning about game design. To top it off, it was played and enjoyed by tens of thousands of people before it was shut down about a year ago. Overall, in my mind, a great success.
If there is one thing I feel has contributed the most to the successes I have enjoyed over the years, it’s that I’ve always been flexible enough to learn new things when needed. Hell, I taught myself to do what I do! I bet many of you can say the same.
As with curiosity, I feel the ability to learn new things is a must. And they go hand-in-hand. A big part of continual learning comes down to being curious about things and truly enjoying the act of learning.
Of course, it could be argued that having too much curiosity could be detrimental; trying to learn everything, for example, could shatter your focus and distract you from the important things.
So while curiosity can be a great motivator for learning, it needs to be tempered with focus and discipline. And that can be hard. In my role as a product designer, for example, there are so many things I can learn. I want to know how everything works, and I have a genuine interest in almost everything that relates to my role. And that doesn’t even touch on my interests outside of work. I want to learn everything. Seriously, it’s pretty rare that I’m not at all interested in something.
I’ve often wondered if narrowing my focus even more, and putting a bit of a lock down on my own curiosity, would help me in my career. I’ve wondered if it would allow me to get really good at one thing. But then I remember that I’m pretty good at a lot of things, and I am really good at one thing: learning. And I can thank curiosity for that.
I honestly feel like I could learn how to do almost anything, and I think the reason why is that I’ve proved it to myself over and over again. I’m also pretty much unafraid of learning new things. Sure, I might not be mastering those things, but being an accomplished learner, especially in today’s ever-changing world, allows me to fairly often get decent at something new. That has to be worth quite a bit. And I think a curious mind is—if not a prerequisite—a solid part of that capacity for learning.
Of course, I think there are many other benefits to having having a solid dose of curiosity in your life. I also think it’s something you can—and probably have to—work at. Digging into things, even things you’re interested in, takes effort. That may be why some people aren’t all that curious; it’s hard work.
So, finally, to tack on to Cap’s point: curiosity is your number one defense against apathy (and boredom!) but it’s more than that, it’s a very valuable skill that can help you learn anything you put your mind to. I suppose there might be such a thing as too much curiosity, but, hell, the way I look at it, there’s always retirement and knowing how to learn will probably help in the pursuit of that bestselling novel. :)
What do you think? Is curiosity a valuable skill? Or, is it a costly distraction to focus? What are some ways you keep your curious mind active and learning? I’ve started a Branch to talk about this post, head over here to check it out.