Provision #676: Curiosity Matters

Laser Provision

Happy Independence Day! Or at least that’s what we call the 4th of July in the United States. As you read this I am hopefully getting off the plane in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Are you curious to learn why? Great! That’s the subject of today’s Provision. In the last two weeks I’ve written about the importance of constraints and creativity when it comes to leadership. But where does that creativity come from? Let me give you a hint: it doesn’t just come from passive reflection; it more often comes from the active engagement of our inherent curiosity. Read on to learn more.

LifeTrek Provision

As I sat down to write today’s Provision on curiosity, I happened to look at my top Signature Strength as determined by the Values in Action Signature Strengths Questionnaire. Given that my wife describes me as the most curious person she’s ever met, it came as no surprise that “Curiosity and interest in the world” came out on top. Here’s the description:

“You are curious about everything. You are always asking questions, and you find all subjects and topics fascinating. You like exploration and discovery.”

That description fits me like a glove. It’s my standard modus operandi, my way of being in the world. What did catch me by surprise, however, was the daily horoscope in The Washington Post for a Sagittarius on Friday, July 2, 2010:

“Keep your curiosity alive. Imagine a way to arrange the obstacles in your path. Maybe the roadblocks could be stacked like stairs so that you could climb up and out. The win goes to the one who perseveres.”

I don’t “believe” in horoscopes, but I do have fun reading them and claiming the ones that seem to fit for me and my wife. In other words, I only “believe” them when I like what they have to say. 🙂 And I like this one. It could well be a LifeTrek Provision all on its own! The metaphor of turning roadblocks into stairs and of persevering to get to the win is a beautiful metaphor indeed.

But that doesn’t happen all on its own. It only happens when we take that first sentence to heart: “Keep your curiosity alive.” We have to do the work to figure out how to arrange those obstacles like stairs. We have to arrange them, and rearrange them, and rearrange them again until they fit together perfectly. It may not work the first time; in fact, it usually doesn’t work the first time. But it will work eventually. We just have to keep trying different possibilities until they all come together in perfect arrangement.

Fortunately, curiosity does not have to be taught. It simply has to be unleashed. I have two birdfeeders in front of my office window. You can watch the bird cam any time you want. As anyone with birdfeeders will confirm: where there are birdfeeders there are squirrels. And perhaps you’ve heard the old saying: There are liars, there are damn liars, and there are those who claim to have invented a squirrel-proof birdfeeder.

It’s hard to find an animal more curious, more persistent, and more creative than a squirrel. They are there from sun up to sun down, and they are always trying to figure out another way to get on those birdfeeders. You can tell when they are hatching a brilliant idea. They stare with rapt attention at the object of their desire, motionless except for the steady twitching of their tails. Then, when they are ready to pounce, they look around one last time as if to see if any other squirrels are watching.

As birdfeeders go, my own system is pretty squirrel proof (I know, I know). It has evolved over the years so the feeders are just out of jumping range and, with the baffles on top, the arrangement now foils even the most curious of squirrels. But it is still fun to watch them try. Today, one squirrel came down the hanger of my suet feeder only to land on the baffle and fall off, five feet to the ground. He did that twice. Then he got one of those brilliant ideas. His tail was twitching up a storm.

“Maybe I can go down the hanger of the seed feeder,” he thought, “and jump over onto the suet feeder.” I’ve seen that one many times before. But I have never yet seen a squirrel successfully navigate the jump. They end up right back where they started, on top of the suet feeder baffle, only to fall off again.

I mention all this to illustrate how inborn curiosity happens to be. It is certainly not limited to human beings and cats. Little children may be the most curious of all. Their appetites for novelty and learning are insatiable.

Here’s how I tell the story: I learned how to cook because my mother wanted me to learn how to cook. She taught me. Here’s how my mother tells the story: She taught me how to cook because I wouldn’t leave her alone in the kitchen. I always wanted to know what she was doing and I also wanted her to show me how to do it. My curiosity turned me into a pest; it was easier to get me involved than to tell me to go away.

The key to unleashing curiosity is letting go of fear. Nothing squelches curiosity more than being afraid to fail, or afraid to make mistakes, or afraid to be embarrassed. Curious people live by the mantra, “Fail often to succeed sooner.”

There is no other way to learn! It’s the scientific method. Imagine a possibility, create a hypothesis, and run the experiment. Whatever happens, great! If the experiment works out the first time, great! If not, great! Imagine a new possibility, create a new hypothesis, and run a new experiment. It is a never-ending cycle and the key to lifelong learning.

So why am I getting off a plane in Amsterdam? 21 years ago I baptized a baby in Chicago, with water brought back from the Jordan River by my parents. This baby was the first-born son of some very good friends from our college days, at Northwestern University. We have stayed in touch with them ever since, although we have never lived in close proximity. Their lives and our lives have always moved in different circles.

But that hasn’t stopped us from supporting each other and travelling together. In fact, we visited these friends when they lived in Alaska, we visited them when they lived in New Zealand, and we traveled with them for a week in Costa Rica. There’s never a dull moment when we travel. Our friends are better than travel agents. They always figure out the most unusual and interesting things to do at a most affordable price.

Now, 21 years after their son was born, he is getting married to a wonderful German woman who we have never met face to face but who we have gotten to know and cherish on Skype. Part of the reason for those Skype conversations is that they have asked me to once again put on my pastor mantle in order to officiate at their wedding service. I was humbled, honored, and thrilled. It promises to be a glorious time of celebration and renewal.

That’s one way to tell the story. Here’s another way: why am I getting off a plane in Amsterdam? I’m curious! Curious to finally meet this gal. Curious to see what northern Germany is like (we will be in Osnabr•ck and R•gen). Curious to see how Amsterdam has changed since the last time we were there. Curious to see if I can remember my high-school German. Curious to see if I can drive with a German-speaking GPS. Curious to have an adventure and a week away from the office.

There is nothing that I love more than setting out on and successfully navigating an adventure. It is one of the universal needs that I have identified on my Wheel of Needs diagram, and it fuels my fire. It also fits in well with my personality type as identified by the Enneagram (I’m a 3). We Achievers love to explore new territory, particularly if we can master the terrain and, in my case, help others.

So unleash your curiosity. There’s a big world out there waiting to be explored.

Coaching Inquiries: How curious are you? What would it take for you to unleash even more curiosity? What is one adventure you would like to embark upon right now? How could that adventure enrich your life and the lives of others? How could you bring curiosity to bear to the challenges you face at work? At home? In life? Who brings out your curious side? How can you get closer to that person?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.

I loved your Provision this week on Creativity. It complements the book I’m reading right now by Ken Robinson “The Element.” Here is a link to Robinson’s TED Talk on how schools kill creativity. I’m curious to know your thoughts and feelings about this. (Ed. Note: Love it!)

Thanks for your Provision on creativity using Apollo 13 as an example. Too often people view science as the opposite of creative when in fact science at its best is all about creativity and thinking outside of the box. 

I work in the pharmaceutical industry in Switzerland. I am wondering if you would give me permission to share your latest Provision, Creativity Matters, with the Directors who report to me? I would of course give full credit for to you. (Ed. Note: Permission granted! Let me know their response.)

You probably already saw this, but your Provision, Constraints Matter, was used as the basis for David Emerald’s blog:

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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