Seeking Quick Answers Shuts Down Curiosity
Ian Leslie, in his book Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends Upon It, builds a strong case for the value of putting in the extra effort to develop curiosity.
The hidden cost of googling a question the first time it jumps into your mind, is that you don’t give your mind a chance to turn a puzzle into a mystery.
Puzzles vs. Mysteries
Puzzles are questions with answers, while mysteries are continuing questions leading to deeper thought, a consideration of alternative viewpoints, and analysis.
Our culture loves quick answers delivered in sound bites. You can hear reporters pressing the experts they interview to give yes or no answers; to agree or disagree with simple statements; to predict the future with certainty. Many experts hesitate to do so, not because they are hiding something, but anyone who values intellectual inquiry knows that it doesn’t lend itself to sound bites.
The way to turn a puzzle into a mystery is to ask questions. Getting quick answers shuts down that questioning process. Instead of Googling specific questions, such as “What is the world’s largest shark?” Read a Wikipedia or Encyclopedia entry about sharks and, as you read, train yourself to ask more questions.
Raise Your NFC
NFC stands for “Need for Cognition.” It is a scientific measure of intellectual curiosity. Created in 1984, the psychology test measures “the tendency for an individual to engage in and enjoy thinking”.
John Webb Young, an advertiser, described a similar idea in his book, A Technique for Producing Ideas. He explains how famous economist Vilfredo Pareto divided the world into speculators and rentiers.
Future Jobs Belong to the Curious
The jobs of the future belong to the speculator, those with a high NFC. Easy jobs with easy answers will be outsourced to other nations or A.I. Creative individuals with curiosity will become the valued employees.
Diverse Vs. Epistemic Curiosity
Googling for an answer sounds like an act of curiosity. However, Ian Leslie makes a point to distinguishing diversive from epistemic curiosity.
Diversive curiosity is what babies are born with, it is an interest in novelty. It is a question that pops into your head that you have an itch to know the answer to.
Epistemic curiosity, on the other hand, is the type that sustains your interest. It can turn a simple question into a lifelong passion. This is when the thinker continues to seek more knowledge on the topic, keep asking questions and going deeper. This type of curiosity takes more effort.
This is the type of curiosity that takes pleasure in reading a book, instead of a blog. Epistemic curiosity leads us to seek experts with specialized knowledge and ask them questions.
Epistemic curiosity asks you to have a mind like an octopus: reach out with all eight arms and fondle ideas in your tentacles; turn them around and look at them from different angles; ask questions and consider different solutions.
7 Ways to Stay Curious
In his book, Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends Upon It, Ian Leslie lays out seven ways to stay curious.
1. Stay Foolish
Indulge your questions and curiosities. Don’t worry about looking stupid. There is always a learning curve to acquiring new information and habits. Learn to love Shoshin, or “beginner’s mind.” Approach new topics with eagerness, openness and no preconceptions.
2. Build the Database
True epistemic thinking relies on a storehouse of knowledge. Modern education acts as though the acquiring of facts has no value. However, the more you know about a diverse range of topics, the easier it is for your mind to make connections.
Setting goals, like taking the Ray Bradbury Reading Challenge, can help you acquire new knowledge and explore novel topics.
Googling an answer to a question, when you have no prior knowledge, gives you a random fact. Direct instruction and education gives you hooks in your mind to hang new facts upon.
3. Forage like a “Foxhog”
This references a proverb by Ancient Greek poet Archilochus. “A fox knows many things but a hedgehog knows one big thing.” The argument in the proverb is that it is better to be a specialist and know one thing well, than to be a generalist with many tricks. However, in today’s society, it is best to be a combination of the generalist and the specialist: a “foxhog.”
4. Ask the Big Why
When faced with an initial question, stop with the first answer and ask “why?” Keep asking why and push a closed question into an open-ended one that encourages the exploration of additional disciplines, ideas and solutions. Questioning is an important technique for teachers and parents.
For example, I learned the random fact that mistletoe translates into “poop on a stick.” I asked why? I kept following my questions and wrote Magical Mistletoe about the natural history of this parasite and its rich mythological history.
5. Be a “Thinkerer”
A combination of the words “think” and “tinker.” A “thinkerer” plays with ideas and solutions. She explores and tinkers, seeking refinement and deeper thinking, rather than simple answers. Model-making and approaching problems through different lenses helps one “thinker” with problems.
6. Question your Teaspoons (Nothing is Boring)
Seeking easy answers often makes topics dull. To appreciate a subject we need to slow down and spend time exploring it. John Lloyd, founder of the Boring Conference in London, argues that nothing is really boring if you pay attention.
7. Turn Puzzles into Mysteries
Don’t let a simple Google search be the end of your question. Why were you asking it in the first place? It may be a hint that you can turn your puzzle into a mystery.
The future belongs to the curious. However, it may require some effort on your part. Google is a tool. It can shut down your curiosity or provide a gateway into greater exploration. Push yourself to open the gate.