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The 4 different ways we are Curious

Updated: Jun 25, 2022

We live in more complex and uncertain times, placing a high cognitive load on engineers and scientists. It helps to stretch beyond what is already known by leveraging the different modes of innate curiosity, a key results-driver. New research (2 studies of 800 people over 2 x 6 mth periods) shows that those with high curiosity have enhanced well-being and increased performance. They also enjoy the effort involved more to pursue challenging goals and, hence, tend to persist longer and be more resilient to setbacks.

The research also indicates that curiosity and effort are equal to the impact of intelligence (for academic performance) but did you know that there are actually four different ways in which we can be curious? I learnt this from the U.S. company, 'Applied Curiosity' recently and it has inspired someProblem Based Exercises on my programmes.

Identifying your preferred mode of curiosity and then adapting the others can help you to generate new ideas or notice what others don’t. In 'wicked' learning environments, where patterns of the past aren’t repeating themselves, this can also unlock opportunities for risk prevention or prediction and even innovation:

Which one of the following are you -

1. Like Amelia Earhart; an 'adventurer' type?

If so, you like to explore and experience new things in order to bring back ideas that can be applied to your existing environment. When was the last time you toured (in person or virtually) a different site with the same processes and/or constraints as yours? Who can you meet with, talk to or where can you go to find adjacencies?

Be curious about time-travelling too – understanding the reasons why certain strategies were employed based on past consideration can also be revealing. You might assume technical cause where really social or other contextual factors played a bigger part. Future-map too - take the lead in a pre-mortem to explore what could turn out to have very different implications now that might have been discounted earlier but based on false assumptions.

2. Like Aristotle; are you the 'thinker' type?

Do you like finding new ideas that can be rolled out in your setting? 'There's very little as practical as a good theory' as Lewin said. If so, find something interesting to think about by adding time for regular reading outside your own domain. Explore subject area’s with professionals in other disciplines with different ways of knowing and framing problems. Be careful though that your research dosnt just become a “search” - be clear on your purpose through-out. Addig to information is only useful if it garners new insights. Being open to ideas from other fields however can often generate a fresh line of questioning that bears fruit. When others are probing into ever more detail, use your wider lens to take in a broader perspective and connect what others may not. A science Nobel laureate once recommended “grazing widely rather than digging deep”.

3. Like Leonardo da Vinci; are the 'Observer' type?

Are you good at seeing what others miss - or can't as yet - through your powers of acute observation? If so, you might spot under-utilised equipment that can be dual-purposed e.g. a hot press machine for bonding one product could test spring-back on a different, 90-degree mould. You can maximise the return on your inventiveness by asking questions like “what else might be going on here?” and “why are we not seeing X?” regularly. Often a keen sensers, an 'observer' type (e.g. auditors tend to be) are good to hone perceptive powers hone, naturally, to highlight untapped resources and gaps. You benefit your team most by going to the /gemba', visit suppliers to find leverage points or to manipulate elements and materials in 'design of experiements'.

4. Like Albert Einstein; are you the 'Solver' type?

Einstein reminded us that we cannot solve problems using the same thinking used to create them. If you are a “solver” type, you excel at coming at problems (as puzzles) from new new angles.

You will apply 'first principles' to re-configure how user requirements can be represented and met. It's likely you often play a ‘devil’s advocate’ role in challenging conventional interpretations. Your non-linear approach helps your team to start with the end in mind and ensuring the right balance is struck between applying expert intution and a 'beginners mind'. 'Solvers' tend to ask a wide array of conceptual questions to ensure teams have break complex problems down to complicated ones that can be addressed, one-by-one.

Start to notice which is your preferred approach and then form teams of different archetypes so you can tap into other peoples’ strengths too. Stretch yourself to adopt the practices of all the various styles and of you're interested in how you can channel each, join our critical thinking programme.

Let me know how you get on please – as we run creative and critical thinking workshops for teams and want to continue to learn too.


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