Dive 67: How to Spark Curiosity
Hey, it’s Alvin!
Some of the most successful people I had the pleasure to work with were also those who were deeply curious about a variety of subjects. But if you’re like me, there are some subjects or topics that may seem quite boring on the surface.
This mentality holds us back.
Because over the years, I found that developing curiosity about random topics helped me succeed in ways I never expected.
For example, developing an interest in ice hockey helped improve my grades in school. Now, I love ice hockey. Which doesn’t really make sense because hockey is a high-contact sport where players slam hard against walls and fight each other into a bloody mess.
And most people know me as someone who values kindness and unity. My manager recently described me as “a calming presence in the team.” And in high school, I raised my voice in anger once and it frightened my friend. I’m not exactly a ruffian.
So, how did a softie like me get into such a rugged sport?
If you want to get people interested in something, just make them curious. Easy, right? But telling someone to “just be curious” is as useless as being told to “just be happy” and “stop worrying.” So, what does it truly take to inspire curiosity?
We need to start by understanding what curiosity isn’t…
Curiosity Myth #1: You either have it or you don’t.
Phrases like “childlike curiosity” imply that children have it, but adults don’t. They mislead people into believing that adults need to learn to think like children. That’s a misconception. Here’s why.
Ana Fabrega is a former teacher. And her post below gives us a clue about where curiosity comes from:
Kids aren’t curious about everything. Because if they were, they’d love learning all the time. But they don’t.
Neither do adults.
We choose what we’re curious about. We’re picky because there’s too much to learn with too little time. So, it’s not that people lack curiosity. It’s just that people might not be curious about things we want them to be curious about.
Curiosity Myth #2: Asking questions increases curiosity.
I searched online for how to encourage curiosity. And the most common advice I found is to “ask more questions.”
Curiosity leads to questions, not the other way around.
This is like falsely equating happiness with productivity. When I was in university, I had a professor who lectured on organizational culture. There was one thing she said that I never forgot: “productive people are always happy, but happy people aren’t always productive.” You could replace “happy” with “curious”, and the statement would still be true.
Because correlation is not causation.
Productive people are always curious. They’re curious about how to be more productive. But curious people aren’t always productive.
I know many people who are curious about software development. So, they go online and take tutorial after tutorial, learning how to code. They may spend months without making a single software application. They’re curious, but they’re not productive. There’s a reason this phenomenon is called, “tutorial hell.”
Some people also equate curiosity with success. But does it really?
Curiosity Myth #3: Curiosity leads to success (always).
The problem facing Mark Brooks is not that people lack general curiosity. In fact, they might be quite curious about plenty of other problems. Family problems, relationship problems, global problems, etc. The real concern is that people might not be curious enough about the specific problem they’re asked to solve.
Curiosity only leads to success when your curiosities and goals are aligned.
Because when your curiosities and goals are misaligned, your curiosities will distract you from your goals instead. That’s why building general curiosity is misguided. If someone isn’t interested in a topic that you need them to be interested in, then you need to spark their interest first. You need to focus their curiosity on the topic at hand.
Curiosity is like a flame. You can start it with a spark. But what’s the spark? How do you inspire curiosity in the first place?
Motivations Matter More.
I never told you how I really got into hockey. Sure, I was curious about the game. But I had no reason to be, if not for just one reason…
When I was in the 7th grade, I was an ‘A’ student. But not a straight-A student. I wanted perfect scores. Luckily, I knew someone in my class who was widely respected as an ‘A+’ student.
I hadn’t met her before because we were in a “split class.” It meant that a group of 7th graders were in the same class as 8th graders, and she was a year older than me. But through other students, I found out she was a huge fan of our local hockey team.
I started learning about hockey so I could connect with her. That way, I could get to know her better with the goal of learning what it takes to be a better student.
This experience taught me that connecting a subject to something someone is already interested in can spark their curiosity. Here, my desire to be a better student fuelled my desire to connect with my classmate, which sparked my curiosity in hockey.
Salespeople, marketers, and other storytellers know this well. They know that to sell you a new idea; they need to tie it to something that will captivate you.
My love of hockey (my flame of curiosity) grew from there. I wasn’t as interested in the rougher side of the game. Though I admired the toughness and grit, I was much more captivated by the skill. To this day, I’m in awe watching Auston Matthews swiftly dodge defencemen with speed. Then, with hands like magic, flip the puck through the smallest gaps past the goalie for a nifty goal.
I’m no longer in school, but I’m just as curious about hockey as ever. Except now, my curiosity is fuelled by my enjoyment of the game.
General curiosity is overrated.
Successful people are always curious, but curious people aren’t always successful.
That’s why focusing on building general curiosity is misguided. If we want people interested in a subject, we’re better off finding out what intrinsically motivates them first. It’s harder. It takes time. And it means building rapport, diving deeper into their interests. But you can’t spark someone’s interest without knowing their interests.
Because curiosity is just a flame, not a spark.
Without a spark of interest, there is no curiosity.
Motivation is a spark. Curiosity is a flame.
Motivation sparks interest into a flame of curiosity fuelled by enjoyment.
From there, it’s about stoking and protecting the flame from snuffing out.
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Thank you for reading. Spark interests. And I’ll see you in the next one.