Curiosity is the itch to explore and to know stuff

Babies are born explorers of their environment whether they are putting dirt in their mouths, checking out what’s behind the couch when they are crawling, or pointing to things before they can speak, non-verbally asking the question, “What is that?” Their pointing is not just foraging for information but is linked to language acquisition and building their vocabulary. Supporting their sense of curiosity is a central role of a parent.

A child’s curiosity needs to be encouraged in positive ways. They have a constant desire for new information, sensations, experiences and challenges. They seek them out in a quest to gather information, knowledge and understanding of the world they live in. As you can see from the examples above, their knowledge is a social thing. They are interested in their world and we need to be interested enough in their thought processes to play the game of ‘serve’ and ‘return’. Think of a tennis ball crossing the net between two players. It’s a helpful analogy of the to and fro communication between a parent and their child.

They ask a question, or prompt us, through their actions for an answer. In other words, they serve the ball to us. We return service by either giving them an answer or, more ideally, by asking them another question. We need to keep the ball in motion for learning to get deeper and more interesting.

Paul Harris, Professor of Education at Harvard who is an expert on children’s question asking says that between 2 and 5 years of age kids ask about 40 000 questions that require an explanatory answer. This is very important for learning how to think. As they realise there are things they don’t know they ask more answers. “They also discover there are invisible worlds of knowledge that they have never visited, and that other people are the source of information….language transfers information,” says Ian Leslie in his book, Curious (Quercus, 2014).

Children are like investigative reporters

Leslie likens children to investigative reporters pumping adults for information. Questions bring knowledge. Even if they don’t use that information immediately, it might be useful in making connections in the future. Curiosity is rarely goal-oriented and can even be curiosity for curiosity’s sake. There is often serendipitous and surprise learning when we have enquiring minds that are allowed to wander and ask why. This is how dots get connected between disparate and seemingly unrelated bits of information. It’s also the antidote to boredom because you can be curious about anything and everything. Even a passing interest can be transformed into a lifelong passion or could lead to an innovative thought that could be an industry game-changer.

As an author and researcher, myself, I can attest to the value of reading widely and interviewing people from a variety of disciplines. In this way I get to cross-pollinate bits of information, discovering hidden connections. It adds a richness and freshness to my thinking and my ability to impart knowledge and understanding to others. This is how I innovate in my industry, and it provides a thrill and quiet sense of satisfaction.

The importance of knowing stuff

I love the way Leslie puts forward the case for knowledge acquisition in the quote below, instead of leaving knowledge outside of us in the hands of Google:

“Knowledge, even shallow knowledge – knowing a little about a lot – widens your cognitive bandwidth. It means you get more out of a trip to the theatre or a museum, or from a novel, a poem or a history book. It means you can glance at the first few paragraphs of a story in The Economist, grasp its essentials, and discuss them later [with enough stored knowledge you can connect the dots without reading the entire article – you can fill in the gaps]. It means you can engage with the person next to you at lunch on a broader range of topics, contribute meaningfully to more meetings, be more sceptical of dubious claims, and ask better questions of everyone you encounter. Whoever you are and whatever start you get in life, knowing stuff makes the world more abundant with possibility and gleams of light more likely to illuminate the darkness. It opens the universe a little.”

I just love his explanation about the importance of ‘knowing stuff’. I often tell young people who are about to leave school to study, or who are entering the world of work, that they need to be interested in other people and be interesting themselves. If you don’t make a point of knowledge acquisition, and you have to keep excusing yourself to check things up on Google to appear intelligent and be able to contribute to the conversation, you will not appear interested or interesting, but rather dumb, unintelligent and disinterested in the world around you.

It is still important to know stuff!

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