3 Concrete Ways To Cultivate CURIOSITY ~ The Driving Force Behind True Innovation


From Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom, the evidence that curiosity was the driving force behind many great creations is indisputable.

Mr. Disney even called it the key to his company’s success.

In Curious: The Desire To Know and Why Your Future Depends On It, Ian Leslie puts things into a 21st century context:

“The key to making one’s curiosity more fruitful and productive is to harness it…to take a non-discriminating interest in anything and everything new and apply it in a more focused, directed, and sustained manner.”

So the obvious question is HOW? How can I harness and cultivate curiosity? How can I take an interest in everything and then make good use of what I learn?

First you need to recognize that cultivation is not a quick or easy process. From making wine to mastering the game of chess, time, effort and a lots of perseverance are 3 key ingredients.

Though not a fine product or skill, even curiosity can be cultivated. However, a willingness to experiment with eyes and ears wide open is the key.


TESTING 1, 2, 3…

These 3 concrete ways with 3 + 3 easy-to-execute experiments will help you cultivate this highly beneficial force:

Way 1:  Approach It As a State, Not Trait

Unlike chess or long-distance running, curiosity is a mindset, not a skill or natural ability. By asking questions and taking a real interest in other people and things (beyond what you know or think you know), you will develop a state of curiosity.


Approach your next coaching or developing opportunity with the mindset of “dumb & lazy”. How?

Ask simple, basic questions as if you don’t know anything about their idea (dumb). This will force them to articulate and sell their idea in a convincing way – a critical skill you want them to develop!

Let them come up with the idea/solution on their own (lazy). Letting them do the brain work and adding input only if necessary will ensure their full ownership!

Positive Result: Modelling this behavior will definitely spark the interest of your collaborators; it can also help break down barriers between job functions and departments*.

*Warning: Do not model this behavior unless you wish to cultivate a “culture of inquiry” among your team or staff.


Way 2:  Before Walking Away, Challenge Yourself

Just because you’re uncomfortable or even threatened by an idea doesn’t mean it’s a bad one.

In fact, forcing yourself to be curious in times like these can produce some unexpected positive results.


The next time you’re feeling uncomfortable by an idea ask yourself these 2 questions:

  1. How might I/we actually do this?
  2. What might the results look like if it worked?

Positive Result: This can help you overcome fear or skepticism in order to see the merits of an idea. More importantly, it will spark your creative thinking*.

*Warning: Do not ask yourself these questions unless you want your mind to start working on possible strategies and solutions.


Way 3:  Listen Up & Learn

When I actively listen to someone’s story, I almost always learn something. Not only do I learn about something outside my world, it activates my mind and I generate ideas that I can apply to my own situations.


The next time you’re meeting with someone outside your company or even area of expertise, practice focusing 100 % on them and listening with a receptive mind.

Here’s a powerful, highly effective 3-Step Process for Active Listening:

  1. Listen with open ears & eyes, not mouth – withhold your input.
  2. Ask clarifying questions only and regularly summarize what you’ve understood.
  3. Offer tips or personal stories only if requested or the conversation is stuck.

Positive Result: Listening in this way will multiply your experience and knowledge ten-fold; it can also lead to new ideas and possibilities*.

*Warning: Do not listen to others’ stories unless you wish to learn something new and spark your creative thinking.



Around 2004 I met a guy at a birthday party of a mutual friend. He introduced himself as an Intercultural Trainer. It sounded interesting but I had no idea what that was. I proceeded to ask him question after question until finally he invited me to be a role player at his next workshop.

A year later I was running intercultural workshops of my own. It was the beginning of a new career.

I learned to ask people lots of questions to discover new and potentially life-changing opportunities – even when there’s no clear or immediate benefit.

If the founders of Airbnb Inc. hadn’t been curious about fixing the problem of not enough lodging in popular cities by allowing locals to rent out their private lodgings, I doubt their business would have taken off like it did.

Warren Berger paints it as a must-have 21st-century skill in 3 Ways Embracing Curiosity Can Change Your Life:

“Having a broad perspective and a wide knowledge base is particularly valuable in today’s multi-disciplinary work environments, where ‘T-shaped people’, whose skills and knowledge run wide as well as deep, tend to fare well.”

The 3 experiments in this article will help you develop the “T-shape”. Don’t take my word for it – go find out for yourself.

Here’s an easy-to-use Successful Experimentation Loop:

  1. Act and create results
  2. Reflect on results
  3. Adapt and repeat

By using your own data (your results) and not that of past or present experts, you’ll create your own style and approach – one suited to your own needs and desired results.

Being curious about yourself and the world around you will not only improve your personal and professional life, it will make it a lot more fun.

Please do take my word on that!


What do you see as the key ingredients for cultivating curiosity? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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  • Shawn Donley

    Reply Reply January 4, 2016

    Great article on acquiring this essential mindset. I’ve found that the key ingredient to tapping into the power of curiosity is to seek out those with interests and tastes very different from my own. The questions will come naturally when you’re learning something completely foreign to you and the newly acquired knowledge will stoke your desire to learn even more.

    • Tim Nash

      Reply Reply January 5, 2016

      Absolutely – you don’t learn anything new talking to people with the same interests! Thx for sharing, Shawn.

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