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Curiosity Killed the Cat and Information Made Him Fat. 8 Reasons Why Scientists Disagree With This Cliché.

Curiosity Killed the Cat and Information Made Him Fat.  8 Reasons Why Scientists Disagree With This Cliché.

We have all heard the phrase “Curiosity killed the cat” and most of us can finish this statement by adding “And information made him fat”. It is likely that we heard this statement as youngsters because we were asking too many questions and the adults around us were just too busy to address them. While this might have been a useful time saving device for our parents, this was not a helpful or even a truthful piece of advice – at least not according to the latest science. We now know that curiosity is good for us on a number of levels. Curiosity actually stimulates our intellectual functioning and benefits our brain health. Some experts in the field of psychology have also posited that a healthy dose of curiosity may be the key to leading a happier, more meaningful and fulfilled life.

So what do people think when they hear the phrase “Curiosity killed the cat”?  Do we assume that it warns us of the consequences of asking too many questions? Or does it point to the limited capacity of a brain that can malfunction if it works too hard to understand the world in which we live? Of course, scientists now know that our brain cannot malfunction due to “excessive curiosity”. Here are the reasons why.

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    1. Your brain is a work-horse, not a store house.

    The more you exercise it, the healthier and more efficient it will be. In fact, if you want to really train your brain and increase your intellectual ability, stoking your curiosity about the world is one of the best ways to achieve that.

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    brain as computer

      2. Your brain is not a computer.

      In the 70s, the cognitive branch of psychology was dominant and scientists saw all of human development in terms of a computer-based metaphor of a brain as information processor. The information processing approach (see Woolfolk, Hughes & Walkup, 2008) saw the mind as a machine that takes in information, performs operations to change its form and content, stores the information, retrieves it when needed, and generates responses to it. So learning, remembering and thinking involve gathering information, encoding, storage and retrieval. This is a useful analogy in many ways and it makes it easy for people to understand how information might be processed by the brain. The problem with it is that people then assume that the brain actually is a computer, with only as much memory storage or capacity as is available on the hard drive. If the hard drive doesn’t have enough capacity, then you need a new one that is bigger, better or faster.  This is a very limiting view of our brain’s capabilities and some have called it a form of “negative psychology”.

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        3. We don’t know the limits of human learning.

        We may never know them. Thankfully, many psychologists have eschewed the notion that our brain has limited storage capacity which is great news for the whole field of education as well as for the curious natured individual. A nice illustration of this can be seen in Psychologist Steve Hayes’ (1993) discussion of Lerner’s (1993) epigenetic approach to human development. Lerner argued that there may exist predetermined genetic limits to human development. But Hayes explained that because we know that stimulating environments can help to make us smarter, there are no limits to our intellectual development until they have been reached. These limits can only be reached through exhaustive attempts to create ever more exceptionally stimulating environments.

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        In Hayes’ (1993) words; “Lerner seems too quick to say how high pygmies can grow or how well a person with Down syndrome can do. There presumably are such limits, but we cannot know them when we have reached them”.

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          4. Scientists have learned a lot by being curious.

          We used to think that persons with Down Syndrome would never present with measured IQ scores of more than 60, but now many persons with this genetic condition have received excellent intervention and high standards of teaching in enriched environments and are now capable of attending college. Thirty years ago the only outcome for persons presenting with Down Syndrome when, for example, their families could no longer care for them was to be institutionalised in a state care facility. Now many are living completely independently while others enjoy various levels of assisted or partially independent living and working environments. This only happened because the so called “limits” were pushed by psychologist that did not believe that curiosity can kill a cat.

          In order to develop the range of powerful educational methods that have enriched the lives of those with Down syndrome, scientists themselves needed to be curious about what might happen if you continually enriched the educational environment of someone with a developmental difficulty. Isn’t this the way all great scientific breakthroughs occur? In the latter example, the curiosity of psychologists about the intellectual “limits” of someone with Down Syndrome actually improved people’s lives. Thankfully those psychologists had not believed the old feline cliché when they were young.

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          brain scan photo

            5. Neurogenesis.

            Neurogenesis is the stimulation of brain growth. It is the process by which neurons are generated from neural stem cells and progenitor cells. Most of this neural activity happens during pre-natal development, but we also know that it continues to happen throughout the lifespan. It is now a well-established phenomenon and we often hear about it in the context of brain training software used for older adults who may be experiencing some level of cognitive decline or for anyone who simply wants to increase their IQ. Indeed there is much evidence supporting the efficacy of brain training interventions in studies examining its effects on stroke recovery and management of dementia in the elderly (e.g., Smith et al., 2009).  Some of the intellectual skills improved by such training are very important foundational skills like memory and attention that had perhaps been quite well developed at an earlier time in the person’s life (see also Ball et al. 2002). The important point here is that the stimulation of specific brain regions through brain training supports ongoing growth and development in areas of the brain which are important for intellectual pursuits.

            6. Brain Training has been shown to improve intelligence.

            In a groundbreaking 2011 study conducted at the University of Michigan, and widely reported in the media, Susan Jaeggi, John Jonides and colleagues reported improvements in one aspect of intelligence known as fluid intelligence that the researchers achieved for their research volunteers by having them engage regularly in a brain training task known as the n-back procedure. Another research study conducted in Ireland (Cassidy, Roche & Hayes, 2011) reported significant IQ rises as a result of an intensive computerized “relational skills” brain training program. These large IQ increases were maintained 4 years later without any further intervention (see Roche, Cassidy & Stewart, 2013). Both of these studies moved people’s intellectual ability well beyond its assumed limits- without any disastrous consequences for anyone!  (For more research in this area visit this site). So it appears that there may indeed be no real limit to our ability to develop our minds. This kind of research pushes the boundaries of what many experimental psychologists and brain scientists thought were the limits of learning.

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            woman cheering with happiness

              7. Curiosity can help us to lead more fulfilling lives.

              Our brain is naturally curious and as I have argued, it cannot fill up because it is infinitely “malleable” or “plastic”, like play dough. Learning never stops, and we continue to learn and develop across the whole lifespan. One of the key ingredients to keeping that development on an upward trajectory is to nurture your native curiosity. The Psychologist Todd Kashdan wrote a whole book on the topic called The Curiosity Advantage, in which he presents the evidence that our brains are infinitely expandable, and that curious people lead more fulfilling lives. Kashdan is not talking merely about healthy cognitive development, but extols the virtues of curiosity for our mental health and our emotional well-being, too. And here is an important paradox he outlined. Too many of us have been sold on the idea that enjoying ourselves and being happy is the only, or most important, goal in life. But, instead of chasing happiness, Kashdan outlines the evidence that we should focus on trying to create a rich and meaningful life, guided by core values and interests. We can do this by chasing up the things that make us curious in every area of life.

              According to Kashdan, “The greatest advantage of curiosity is that by spending time with the new, increased neurological connections are made possible. Facts and experiences are synthesised into a web, paving the way for greater intelligence and wisdom. We become more efficient when making future decisions. We become better at visualising the relativity of seemingly disparate ideas, paving the way for greater creativity.  It is the neurological equivalent of personal growth. New pathways in the brain are inevitable when you seek out new information and experiences and integrate them into the previously known.”  (p. 57).

              8. Being curious increases our “flow”.

              Kashdan’s ideas fit perfectly with what neuroscientists have been telling us about keeping our environments “stimulating”.  But Kashdan adds the important advice that by being fully engaged with life, we also derive more happiness from it – as a pleasant by-product. Positive psychologists call this state of total immersion in whatever fulfils you “flow”. The concept of flow was the brainchild of Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, (1990) who used it to refer to a genuinely satisfying state of consciousness, which is the optimal human experience. You are in a state of “flow” when you are so deeply and effortlessly involved in what you are doing that you forget all else. Flow activities challenge you and engage you with all your senses and all your being. Flow activities are not necessarily enjoyable when you are doing them (e.g., competing in a swimming competition or staying up all night studying) because they really and truly push you to your limits, but the sense of accomplishment you gain from doing them is what leads to you feeling so happy and so positive about the experience in the aftermath.

              mother and child deeply engaged in learning task

                So being curious is about being engaged with your environment in a deep and meaningful way. It is about chasing the things that interest and stimulate us. It is about doing these things to the best of our abilities. Being curious is not about being nosy or getting involved in other people’s business. Being curious is about increasing our quality of life in all domains. Being curious is a good thing. In fact, it is a great thing.

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                Last Updated on March 15, 2019

                How to Be a Leader Who Is Inspiring and Influential

                How to Be a Leader Who Is Inspiring and Influential

                When I began managing people 15 years ago, I thought having a fancy title was synonymous with influence. Over time, I learned that power is conferred based on likeability, authenticity, courage, relationships and consistent behavior. When leaders cultivate these attributes, they earn power, which really means influence.

                Understanding influence is essential to professional growth, and companies rise and fall based on the quality of their leadership.

                In this article, we will look into the essentials of effective leadership and how to be a leader who is inspiring and influential.

                What Makes a Leader Fail?

                A host of factors influence a leader’s ability to succeed. To the extent that leaders fail to outline a compelling vision and strategy, they risk losing the trust and confidence of their teams. Employees want to know where a company is going and the strategy for how they will get there. Having this information enables employees to feel safe, and it allows them to see mistakes as part of the learning journey versus as fatal occurrences.

                If employees and customers do not believe a company’s leadership is authentic and inspiring, they may disengage, or they may be less inclined to offer constructive criticism that can help a company innovate or help a leader improve.

                And it is not just the leadership at the top that matters. Middle managers play a distinct role in guiding teams. Depending on the company’s size, employees may have more access to mid-level managers than they do members of the C-suite, meaning their supervisors and managers have greater influence on the employee and the customer experience.

                What Is Effective Leadership?

                Effective leadership is inspiring, and it is influential. Cultivating inspiring and influential leaders requires building relationships across the company.

                Leaders must be connected to both the teams they lead as well as to their own colleagues and managers. This is key as titles do not make a person a leader, nor do they automatically confer influence. These are earned through trusting relationships. This explains why some leaders can get more out of their teams than others and why some leaders experience soaring profits and engagement while others sizzle out.

                Eric Garton said in an April 25, 2017, Harvard Business Review article:[1]

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                “… inspiring leaders are those who use their unique combination of strengths to motivate individuals and teams to take on bold missions – and hold them accountable for results. And they unlock higher performance through empowerment, not command and control.”

                How to Be an Inspiring and Influential Leader

                To be an inspiring and influential leader requires:

                1. Courage

                The late poet Maya Angelou once said,

                “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”

                Courage is required in the workplace when implementing new strategies, especially when they go against professional norms.

                For instance, I heard Lisa TerKeurst, bestselling author and founder of Proverbs 31 Ministries, explain her decision to move away from her company’s magazine. While the organization had long had a magazine, she saw a future where it didn’t exist.

                In order to make the switch, she risked angering her team members and customers. She took a chance, and what started out as a monthly newsletter, has grown into a multi-dimensional organization boasting half a million followers. Had Lisa not found the courage to change the direction of her organization, they undoubtedly would not have been able to experience such exponential growth.

                It also takes courage to give and receive feedback. When leaders see employees who are not living into the company’s mission or who are engaging in behavior that may undermine their long-term success, one must risk temporary angst and speak candidly with the colleague in question.

                Similarly, it takes courage to hear constructive criticism and try to change. In business, as in life, courage is necessary for being an inspiring and influential leader.

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                2. A Commitment to Face Your Internal Demons.

                If you feel great about yourself, enter a leadership position. You are likely to be triggered in ways you didn’t think possible. You are also likely to receive feedback that may leave you second-guessing yourself and your leadership skills.

                The truth about leading others is that you get to a point where you realize that it is difficult to take people to places where you yourself haven’t gone.

                To be an influential and inspiring leader, you have to face your own demons and vow to continually improve. Influential leaders take their personal evolution serious, and they invest in coaching, therapy and mindfulness to ensure that their personal struggles do not overshadow their professional development.

                3. A Willingness to Accept Feedback

                Inspiring and influential leaders are not afraid to accept feedback. In fact, they actively solicit it. They understand that everyone in their life has a lesson to teach them, and they are willing to accept it.

                Inspirational leaders understand that feedback is neither good nor bad but rather an offering that is critical to growth. Even when it hurts or is an affront to the ego, influential leaders understand that feedback is critical to their ability to lead.

                4. Likability

                Some people will argue that leaders need not worry about being liked but should instead focus on being respected. I disagree. Both are important.

                When team members like their boss and believe their boss likes them, they are more likely to go the extra mile to fulfill departmental or organizational goals. Likable leaders are moved to the front of the line when it comes to being influential.

                Relatedly, when colleagues feel management dislikes them, they experience internal stress and can spend unnecessary time focusing on the source of their manager’s discontent versus the work they have been hired to do.

                So, likability is important for both the leader and the people she leads.

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                5. Vulnerability

                Vulnerability is critical for being an inspiring leader. People want the truth. They admire leaders who can occasionally demonstrate vulnerability. It promotes deeper relationships and inspires trust.

                When leaders can showcase vulnerability appropriately, they destroy the illusion that one must be perfect to be a leader. They also demonstrate that vulnerability is not a dirty word; they too can be vulnerable and ask for a helping hand when necessary.

                6. Authenticity

                Authenticity is about living up to one’s stated values in public and behind closed doors.

                Influential leaders are authentic. They set to live out their values and use those values to guide their decisions. The interesting thing about leadership is that people are not looking for perfect leaders. They are, in part, looking for leaders who are authentic.

                7. A True Understanding of Inspiration

                Effective leaders are inspirational. They understand the power of words and deeds and use both strategically.

                Inspiring leaders appropriately use stories and narratives to enable the teams around them to see common situations in an entirely new light.

                Inspirational leaders also showcase grit and triumph while convincing the people around them that success and victory are attainable.

                Finally, inspiring leaders encourage the teams they lead to tap into their own genius. They convince others that genius is not reserved for a select few but that most people have it in them.

                As explained in the article True Leadership: What Separates a Leader from a Boss:

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                “A leader creates visions and motivates team members to work together towards the same goal.”

                8. An Ability to See the Humanity in Others

                Inspiring and influential leaders see the humanity in others. Rather than treating their teams as mere tools to accomplish organizational goals, they believe the people around them are unique beings with inherent value.

                This means knowing when to pause to address personal challenges and dispelling with the myth that the personal is separate from the professional.

                9. A Passion for Continual Learning

                Inspiring and influential leaders are committed to continual learning. They invest in their own development and take responsibility for their professional growth.

                These leaders understand that like a college campus, the workplace is a laboratory for learning. They believe that they can learn from multiple generations in the workplace as well as from people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

                Influential leaders proactively seek out opportunities for learning.

                The Bottom Line

                No one said leadership was easy, but it is also a joy. Influencing others to action and positively impacting the lives of others is a reward unto itself.

                Since leadership abounds, there is an abundance of resources to help you grow into the type of leader who inspires and influences others.

                More Resources About Effective Leadership

                Featured photo credit: Markus Spiske via unsplash.com

                Reference

                [1] Harvard Business Review: How to Be an Inspiring Leader

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