I was a real rebel as a young man; I questioned authority and cast off my parents conventions. I challenged everything with “why,” and “who decided that this is the right way?” Have I changed now that I’m an adult with a mortgage, a father of teenagers, and a business owner? Sure, but I maintain a deep respect for rebellion, and I’ll tell you why. Admittedly, at its lowest expression, rebellion is a thoughtless rejection of rules that doesn’t make the world a better place. But at its highest form, the drive to throw off the mantle of familiarity and precedent is a path to seeing the world anew.
Questioning, skepticism, and striving to be discerning are traits of rebels, they also happen to be critical for leadership and innovation. Leaders that carry the torch of a rebellious attitude take the position that the future is unfettered by the past.
At the heart of healthy rebellion is Curiosity – inquisitiveness, a thirst for knowledge, open-mindedness. Einstein once said (unbelievably, really), “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” He went on to say that “the important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” When you approach a situation, person, or project with curiosity, you engage with openness, marvel, and respect. A curious mindset allows you to look at things with innocence and a willingness to learn, not merely to categorize.
Leadership requires vision, confidence, emotional intelligence, and courage. But that’s not sufficient; leadership is a journey into the unknown and untested, and it works exceptionally well with real curiosity. Leaders that lack curiosity are doomed to repeat old patterns, miss opportunities, and be incapable of innovation. Psychoelasticity is a regenerative ability for mental flexibility and potential. Mental agility is a leadership high bar, and curiosity is a cornerstone of psychoelasticity. Curiosity gives us eyes with which we can see reality as it is, not as it was or could have been, or will be or should be. Curiosity, the thirst for understanding and clarity, keeps your perception open to what is really going on; it peels away the veils and filters of our mental projections.
I’ve been coaching and facilitating smart, mature, competent leaders for 15 years. Curiosity, above most skills, continues to provide my clients expanded options and clarity, not merely information. In coaching, we practice being curious together, and these leaders find that a curious, question-based approach opens new paths to them, and accelerates their team’s results and learning. Consider these five practices that will help cultivate your curiosity.
Ignorance is not point of failure, it’s a momentary fact, and an opportunity for growth. Embrace the emptiness by asking questions. Questions provided insight, while pretending to know provides foolishness.
Recognize the urge to surf the web for immediate answers, or call “experts” for info. First, write down several questions you’d like answered. I encourage leaders to remain curious through questions such as: “Is this really what’s going on?” “What is another way of seeing/hearing/feeling this?” “Can there be more?” “What if I defer my conclusions?”
Vary your reading
Pick a book or magazine on a new subject and let it feed your mind with the excitement of new frontiers. It’s tempting to keep going deeper into the familiar, but looking into other dimensions expands your imagination, creativity, and set of possibilities.
Intentionally challenge your expectations, labels and assumptions about familiar activities and events. Make an effort to suspend judgments and attend to how things are, not how you expect them to be. It’s easy to prejudge an activity because we think we have seen it before or avoid an activity entirely because we expect it to be boring or unpleasant.
Explore and learn
Learning begets learning. Knowledge opens our eyes to interesting gaps about what we don’t know. The person learning to play the piano will hear more nuances in a piano concerto than the person who doesn’t know treble clef from bass clef. If you want to be curious, start learning and practicing something new.
People who take part in new and uncertain activities, research shows, are happier and find more meaning in their lives than people who rely on the familiar. It’s a common yet mistaken belief that certainty makes us happier than uncertainty. Part of the thrill of a football game or a new movie is not knowing the end, and enjoying the thrill and good tension that comes with not knowing what will happen next. Its easy to forget about the pleasures of surprise and uncertainty.
I invite you not to take my word for this. Be curious. Try it, and see what you discover.