Where would we be without curiosity? Carol Dweck differentiated between the growth mindset and the fixed mindset in her now famous book “Mindset”. Basically, a person with a fixed mindset believes that they have been dealt a fixed level of intelligence whereas someone with a growth mindset believes they are constantly learning, constantly developing and constantly working to get better. Dweck argues that the growth mindset will ultimately outperform the fixed mindset and developments in the study of the brain will demonstrate that organ’s almost infinite capacity to grow and speed up, irrespective of age.
A Growth Mindset
Curiosity and the growth mindset are not the same thing but they are closely related. Curiosity is the ability to wonder how things can get better, to debate how things can get faster, cheaper, more effective. Curiosity is the precursor to experimentation and trying something different. ultimately that is how progress is made.
Curiosity has had more than a hand in every advancement man has made and I am pretty sure it has had a hand in every advancement you and I have made too.
It is easy to be curious when we are young. Everything is new and we are trying to understand our world and how things work. That is perfectly natural. As we start to evolve theories and models of the world that we find we can apply time after time we will understandably become more comfortable with and settled on our particular view of the world and it is at that time our mindset is in most danger of becoming fixed, set or fossilised.
The danger of generalities
Often you can hear it in people’s language. Their speech is littered with sweeping statements that are so certain. “He always does that”, “no-one ever does this”. Sweeping, matter of fact generalities. They are difficult to miss. They preclude the possibility of anything else.
No longer do you hear the words “I wonder” or “I am curious if…”. As the world is prescribed in a few mental models that cover everything the chance of anything else being considered starts to become impossible. Curiosity dies and with it so does any chance of learning or development.
Which mindset will you choose?
I think Thomas Szasz put it best when he said “Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. That is why young children before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily; and why older persons, especially if vain or important, cannot learn at all.” Children are naturally curious. A trait that can often disappear as we grow older and more self-important and as we start to lose the potential of that growth mindset.
A coach of mine always signs off his e-mails with the words ‘stay curious’. An unusual exhortation which isn’t always appreciated or understood but is always relevant. That is my hope for you, that you manage to stay curious and look at the world with childlike wonder as you try to wonder what might be happening. Curiosity drives learning so stay curious.
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