While curiosity may have killed the cat, it’s curiosity that is the reason for the thriving dominance of humankind.
It doesn’t take much contemplation to come to the conclusion that the human psyche is one of paradox. There are endless examples of the balancing act of this paradox, including the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other. When it comes to decision-making, however, the minds of humans are trying to balance every choice. We teeter towards safety and certainty. Then, we totter towards curiosity and uncertainty.
The latter, however, is what we have to thank for our courageous departure from our caves, our villages, our shores, and even our planet to explore the unknown.
This is the first of a three-part series introducing the power of curiosity for development, the impact curiosity has for leadership, and ultimately how this simple trait can provide insurance against fragile systems.
Part 1: The Power of Curiosity for Development
It’s no coincidence that the mechanism that encourages us to tolerate perceived risk and uncertainty is critical to our development. In my latest book, Going Right: A Logical Justification for Pursuing Your Dreams, we see it's curiosity that tips over the first domino in a life of peak expression. “Curiosity is the seed for commitment,” and the cascade of possibility after we’re deeply committed that our best selves and best contributions to the world can emerge.
What is it that makes curiosity such a prime mover in our development and ultimately our ability to be in leadership?
First, we’ll need to understand how development works. Development follows the now fabled phrase in positive psychology, “transcend and include.” This means that as a person, place, or thing evolves, it includes past iterations and capacities without being confined by them any longer.
Classically, multi-cell organisms evolved from single cell organisms and, by definition, transcended its previous self while still being made up of individual cells. Our conscious development and even our athletic development works in this compounding way as well.
The mechanism for evolution comes from the growth-rich exploration of our edges. Our edges exist at the margins of our abilities.
New strength evolves from a careful dance with stimuli that challenge our edge, which creates an adaptation to a bigger, more capable being. Our minds work the same way.
Confirming and reconfirming already held beliefs couldn’t change us. It’s about seeing what we previously couldn’t see that would grow our conscious capacity. In both cases, the mechanism for evolution comes from a departure from our comfortable center. It’s specifically our curiosity that provides a foundation from which we can depart from the comforts of what we know. In that way, curiosity becomes the passport to our edge. Ultimately it allows access to our single greatest human duty: to evolve.
Curiosity & Effective Leadership
In order to understand how curiosity is critical to the role of “leader” in the lexicon of the Hold the Standard™ conversation, we’ll need to declare how effective leadership is defined. Effective leadership is a teachable skill with two key elements.
1. Leaders are ultimately responsible for the results that are never fully in their control.
The term Hold the Standard™ comes from the leaders’ duty to hold the space between reality and the idealistic peak potential, or standard, of the group.
2. Leaders are effective drivers of evolution toward the standard.
The only way to drive adaptation toward the standard is a recommitment to the controllable processes of the task at hand. Ultimately, leaders must be curious about the disconfirming feedback required to close the gap between reality and the standard.
Curiosity isn’t just critical for today’s leaders. It’s how we got here in the first place. Author, Yuri Noah Harari, reflects this notion in his best-seller, Sapiens, when he carefully notes that when Europe began colonizing other continents, their ships weren't just loaded with guns, they also sent scientists. Even with India and China accounting for 80% of the world economy in the 18th century, Europe became the center of the global sphere of power by advancing their worldview.
Starting with the premise that maybe we don’t know everything has shown us unimaginable riches. It behooves us continually to nurture curiosity as a mechanism for growth and a characteristic of quality leadership.
In the next articles on curiosity, we will understand the power of a curious leader. Historically speaking, curiosity isn’t just responsible for our global dominance, the birth of science, and unfathomable outcomes humans have repeatedly produced. It’s also been shown that curiosity is the insurance policy against collapse too.