Personal Development

Curious About Curiosity

todd herman web

I invite you to be curious for a few minutes. Are you curious as to why? GOOD! 

I have ALWAYS been incredibly curious. I want to know how things work, what makes people tick, what feelings come from certain experiences, and the like. Indeed, I attribute much of my success as a consultant to an almost insatiable curiosity.

Even though I've written several articles discussing aspects of curiosity - including How to Find Your Company's Essence, Close Only Counts In ... , 25 Lessons from 25 Years in Business, and Seeing Around Corners - Four Books to Help You and Your Business - I had never thought deeply about curiosity until a friend asked me about it. Dang it! Why did she have to go and plant that question in my mind? Didn't she know I would HAVE to do something to satisfy my curiosity about curiosity?!?

Assessing Curiosity

Ever since my Psychology 101 course at Wake Forest, I've been fascinated with psychology - especially how psychologists work to understand the intricacies of our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, with the goal of improving our lives.

As a naturally curious person, I asked myself, "Hmmmm ... I wonder whether there's an assessment to measure curiosity?" After asking Google and clicking around to various suggested links, I came across three assessments of curiosity created by academic researchers - in all cases, the main researcher was Dr. Todd Kashdan of George Mason University. The first assessment was the "Curiosity and Exploration Inventory" (2004), with "Curiosity and Exploration Inventory-II" (2009) and "The Five-Dimensional Curiosity Scale" (2017) refining and expanding on the initial assessment.

For the rest of this section and most of the next section, I'm drawing on or summarizing from two journal articles by Dr. Kashdan and his co-authors, "The Curiosity and Exploration Inventory-II: Development, Factor Structure, and Psychometrics" and "The Five-Dimensional Curiosity Scale: Capturing the bandwidth of curiosity and identifying four unique subgroups of curious people."

The original "Curiosity and Exploration Inventory" measured two aspects of curiosity:

  • Exploration - This "reflects an orientation toward seeking novel and challenging objects, events, and ideas with the aim of integrating these experiences and information. As such, exploration serves as a prerequisite to personal growth."
  • Absorption - This "reflects the ability to self-regulate attention to allow for immersion in these novel and challenging activities."

The revised "Curiosity and Exploration Inventory-II" measured two different aspects of curiosity:

  • Stretching - This entails "being motivated to seek knowledge and new experiences."
  • Embracing - This describes "a general willingness to embrace the novel, uncertain, and unpredictable nature of everyday life."

The "Five-Dimensional Curiosity Scale" (abbreviated as 5DC) assessment jettisoned the two-dimension model in favor of five different dimensions of curiosity:

  • Joyous Exploration - People scoring high on this dimension "were shown to be open to experiences, in possession of a strong personal growth initiative, show tenacity when pursuing opportunities to learn and grow, and derive positive emotions and meaning from learning new information and experiences."
    • The authors note this "is the archetype of curiosity as a motivational drive that enables rewards for seeking out the new." To such persons, being curious is pleasurable.
  • Deprivation Sensitivity - High scorers in this area "were shown to be intellectually engaged to think about abstract or complex ideas, solve problems, and seek necessary information to eliminate knowledge gaps."
    • One important point about this dimension of curiosity - exploring ideas or experiences reflects "the discomfort of not knowing and the urge to reduce this tension."
  • Stress Tolerance - Persons strong in this dimension are "less deterred by doubt, confusion, and other forms of distress when exploring new places, and willing to embrace the inherent anxiety of a new, unexpected, complex, mysterious, obscure event, that often evokes a motivational conflict of whether to approach or avoid."
    • The researchers note "Stress Tolerance has the strongest correlations with every dimension of well-being: happiness, meaning in life, satisfaction of needs for competence, autonomy and relatedness, and positive emotions."
  • Social Curiosity - Folks with this factor "want to know what other people are thinking and doing, whether it is through overt means such as observing and probing questions or covert means such as listening into conversations or gathering second-hand information."
    • Interestingly, the researchers note "socially curious people show a behavioral preference to seek out and contribute gossip." My take on this - in this sense, "gossip" is less about destructive comments and more what the article calls "an efficient strategy to gain information compared with the labor intensiveness of first-hand, trial-and-error social behavior."
  • Thrill Seeking - Such persons are "on the hunt for varied, novel, complex, and intense experiences and, to have them, are ready to risk physical, social, and financial safety."
    • The authors note "Thrill Seeking has a duality of outcomes – high scorers are at risk for impulsive problems such as chemical substance use and abuse, gambling, aggression, and unsafe sexual behaviors ... yet are also prone to being effective leaders in volatile environments such as first line responders, military, government politics, and entrepreneurship."

The 5DC uses the five dimensions to identify four distinct types of curious people:

  • The Fascinated - Persons in this group "have inquisitive minds and a joie de vivre. These individuals are social, enthusiastic, assertive, aspiring people who love to be in-the-know and are influential leaders and do-ers, who thrive on the unpredictable and see life as an adventure. They have a variety of passions that translate into wide-ranging expertise."
  • Problem Solvers - Such persons "are hard-working individuals, with a core value of independence, who love to learn while working relentlessly at problems they feel must be solved. They do not tend to ask a lot of questions and are spartan - showing less interest in luxurious activities such as accessing social media and fashion magazines, and less interested in understanding people."
  • Empathizers - Individuals in this group "love to know what makes them tick. Despite being socially perceptive, they prefer to observe what is going on around them instead of participating."
  • Avoiders - These individuals "shy away from things they don’t know or don’t understand. This group feels stressed more often than any other group and endorse an inability to handle difficult situations, avoid confrontation when possible, and lack understanding of their emotional life. Perhaps as a consequence, this group has substantially fewer passionate interests and areas of expertise than other groups."

Being Curious - Attributes and Benefits

"The Five-Dimensional Curiosity Scale" paper contains these tidbits about curious people and curiosity:
  • Curious people are known to:
    • Ask a large number of unprompted questions,
    • Examine interesting images,
    • Manipulate interesting objects,
    • Investigate how other people think, feel, and behave,
    • Take risks to acquire new experiences, and
    • Persist on challenging tasks.
  • Curiosity has both short-term and longer-term aspects:
    • Curiosity’s immediate function is to seek out, explore, and immerse oneself in situations with potential for new information and/or experiences.
    • In the longer term, consistently acting on curious feelings functions to expand knowledge, build competencies, strengthen social relationships, and increase intellectual and creative capacities.
  • Curiosity at work appears to:
    • Help people adjust to new roles and situations,
    • Predict job performance, and
    • Enhance creative thinking.

How To Enhance Your Curiosity

Interestingly, the academic papers listed earlier describe characteristics and measurements of curiosity, yet do not give tips on how to develop this very beneficial trait. For that, let me share suggestions from the book Speed: How Leaders Accelerate Successful Execution, by John H. Zenger and Joseph R. Folkman. These authors note that the key to improving one’s external focus is to become more curious, and their suggestions to increase curiosity include:

  • Become a Great Networker - Make a deliberate effort to meet interesting people from various fields and backgrounds, and ask open-ended questions to elicit deeper responses.
  • Broaden Your Reading and Listening - I personally like to listen to podcasts and audio book summaries on various topics during my daily commutes. I also always read all op-ed columns in The New York Times - even if I do not share their views or buy all their arguments, deliberately reading all the columnists helps me see and understand ideas I might otherwise have missed.
  • Study Other Organizations - The authors note that Sam Walton, former CEO of Walmart, encouraged his managers and executives to visit competitors to learn what they were doing well.
  • Travel - Different places, persons, and experiences break your routine, and allow you to see new and interesting things.
  • Participate in Industry and Alumni Associations - These allow you to learn about "best practices" in your field, and develop your network within your industry and across industries.
  • Become Close to Your Customers or Clients - Whatever your role in your organization, looking for and building relationships with your customers or clients helps them and you. In particular, if you have the ability to work with a customer or client at their location, do it!

Honoring Curiosity

A May 1955 article in LIFE Magazine shared a wonderful quote from Albert Einstein:

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day. Never lose a holy curiosity.

As we close our thirteenth year of monthly e-newsletters, I thank the Joyous Exploration dimension of my natural curiosity for identifying and researching 156 interesting topics to share with you. My curiosity drives me to distill new ideas into an interesting, informative, and readable monthly e-newsletter to share with you, and also to equip my associates and myself to better serve our clients.

Sincerely,

toddsig

Todd L. Herman

PS – If you’re curious about your own curiosity, I highly recommend you take a few minutes to download and take the "Five-Dimensional Curiosity Scale" assessment.

PPS – If you’re curious about other aspects of what makes you tick, here are two sources for various assessment tools:

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