The glint in the eye of the curious seeker of knowledge

The narrower our world, the more we must be curious. In a time of transactions and digital interactions, we must dig beneath the surface of appearances, tease the loose threads and explore hard questions.

The Lost Art of Curiosity.

Type curious into an image search engine and you will get an array of images of kittens, puppies and babies. We know the very young are learning and are supremely curious creatures. Spending time around young children and you discover that they are fans of Simon Sinek. They always start with why. For adults, curiosity is no longer an expectation. The loss of that expectation is the loss of learning.

I am old enough to have grown up before the internet when not knowing was a moment to moment experience. We didn’t know a lot always. One got used to being curious. Sports results, political discussion, historical facts, how to explanations, the locations and activities of friends and family, and scientific information were not always to hand. Some you would know later, if you put in the effort to look it up in a library, an encyclopedia or an almanac. Other answers came if you found and asked the right person. Some you never did know and just remained forever curious. We did not have the world on hand to answer our queries.

The magic of studying out of date and often wrong answers in an almanac

All that not knowing and the attendant curiosity began to decline with “Just Google it”. Suddenly there was a ready answer. Curiosity became less an energising, sustained and difficult quest and more like the dopamine hit of online betting. That findability of information didn’t mean the answers were worth the effort. Some answers just depend on your bubble. Finding answers just meant that there were always answers available. The reward for the second and third wave questions of curiousity ameliorated. If you investigate your curiosity, there are always many others already there, many far ahead of you. We lived in a digital equivalent of the response to every question being ‘asked and answered’.

Below the Surface

The work for the truly curious remained. The modern internet delivers most common answers to most common questions, whether at a large scale or in a bubble. This transactional delivery of information starts and stops at the surface of things. Top 5 simplicity wins. Transaction information wins over systemic and relationship-based knowledge. Long reads, ambiguity, multi-disciplinary and multi-faceted depth are left lower rungs on the search engine results because they do not win the power law of validation game.

Our future depends on the long, hard, ambiguous, multi-disciplinary and multi-faceted response to systemic problems. Our future belongs to the curious who ask questions below the surface of things. The Coronavirus pandemic is a simple example. When it began many of the western public health heuristics were based on simple rules from previous flu epidemics: focus on lungs, the symptomatic, handwashing, 1.5m separation, etc. Only as the curious have dug into the superspreader events, the data and the anecdotes have we come to realise that this pandemic is more complex, involving whole of body responses, asymptomatic spread, the indoor/outdoor transmission, the impact of different strains, need for masks, role of comorbidities and population effects and so on. The curious have led us from simple rules to much more effective targeted efforts to manage the mortality and control the spread of a deadly virus. We laugh about armchair epidemiologists but hypotheses can be sourced from anywhere and guide new research and testing.

In my everyday concern of how we work in more human and more effective ways, we need to go below the surface of things too. Yes videoconferencing, messaging and other tools deliver a simalcrum of our working lives remotely. However, we now need to consider the risks of this transition and ask ourselves deeper questions about work, relationships and autonomy in the digital age. We need to get beyond simple answers and be curious about how and why we work the way we do.

Working out loud is not just a tactic. It is a new relationship with our work, our networks and the challenges before us. Working out loud shares our curiosities and invites others to join in. Working out loud invites others with different perspectives to help us get beneath the surface, the symptom and the immediate. With that intent, I am curious about the following questions:

  • Why do organisations exist? and how can we best leverage the collective potential of people?
  • How do we shape and manage the creation of value through strategy in a distributed networked and dynamic world?
  • What can we do to better realise the potential of a diverse community of contributors?
  • How can we learn faster and build the capabilities we need to succeed more effectively by rethinking our models of learning?
  • What does autonomy mean? How do we best support it? How do we unravel centuries of thinking around political, social, and commercial models of control to free ourselves for the next wave of innovation?
  • Why do we have different expectations of relationships in our personal, political and commercial lives?
  • How can we better support individuals and organisations to work on systems not symptoms?
  • What does collaboration become when we recognise we work with both machines and humans on every task?

There is much to be gained by sharing the questions that make us curious. What is intriguing you?

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