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How we kill our innate curiosity (and how to stop doing that)

How we kill our innate curiosity (and how to stop doing that)

“I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity.” Eleanor Roosevelt

We are a naturally curious species; we are born with an innate drive to explore new ideas, open ourselves to new frontiers and wonder about possibilities.

But that drive to explore disappears for some reason when we mature.  Through the years, many have attempted to explain why this change occurs.

Socrates targeted hubris as the cause, suggesting that it’s the main reason behind our dissipating curiosity, strengthening the notion that one should always be on the pursuit of knowledge i.e., “I know that I know nothing.”

Albert Einstein was a severe critic of modern methods of education saying that:

“It is nothing short of a miracle that modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry. For this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom.”

There’s a growing movement nowadays that supports Albert Einstein claims and in this wonderful video Sir Ken Robinson, a world-renowned education and creativity expert explains why our current educational system is fighting an uphill battle for our children’s attention.

No matter the reason, the fact remains – we are getting less and less curious and as a result dumber.

Our IQ score, (at least the crystalized part of it) is plummeting since almost all the knowledge in the world is currently outsourced, crowdsourced, and cloudsourced.

Questions that once could have filled our lives with wonder and purpose which would have sent us into the library to do some exploration are now easily answered online. In the past, lack of knowledge and the drive to attain it pushed us to cultivate our curiosity.  Often, the search for the answer led to many useful discoveries along the way.

Taking a step back and actively cultivating curiosity again will grant us several lost abilities; some pretty obvious, other quite surprising…

People who explore, learn better

Pretty obvious when you think about it, right?  When you’re interested in something, feel motivated about it and invest extra time in exploring it, you’ll get better at it.

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There’s even research that suggests that it’s a required criteria for success among students.

According to Sophie von Stumm of the University of Edinburgh in the UK curiosity is as important for learning as intelligence, putting curious students at the top of their class.

“Curiosity is basically a hunger for exploration, if you’re intellectually curious, you’ll go home, you’ll read the books. If you’re perceptually curious, you might go traveling to foreign countries and try different foods.” Both of these, she thought, could help you do better in school.”

Curiosity enhances creativity

Some people believe that creativity is a single moment in time, a sort of eureka moment.  In fact, creativity is more of a deliberate repetitive practice that we need to pursue actively to be really good at.

In order to become more creative, we need to invest in our creativity and the best way to invest in something is to be genuinely interested in it.

Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, former chairman of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago says in his book “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention” that

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“To free up creative energy we need to let go and divert some attention from the pursuit of the predictable goals that we are naturally inclined to pursue and use it instead to explore the world around us on its own terms.”

He also adds that this investment in our own creativity starts with an investment in our curiosity.

“The first step toward a more creative life is the cultivation of curiosity and interest.”

Cultivation of curiosity can actually fuel our passion and passion fuel our creativity.

Curiosity can create better relationships

Todd D. Kashdan and Paul Rose, psychologists from the University at Buffalo suggested that the degree to which people are curious actively influences their level of intimacy.

“Highly curious individuals tend to experience more positive interpersonal outcomes than the less curious in different social contexts as a function of the way they process rewarding or “appetitive” stimuli during the relationship process.”

In other words, being more interested in your partner constantly stimulates and fuels your passion.

There are several habits and behaviors you can adopt to become more curious.

1. Listen

Listening is the one life skill you can’t learn in school or anywhere else for that matter. Listeners absorb more information than non-listeners.  While non-listeners are interested in expressing themselves, listeners are more interested in the information the other party offers. You’ll be surprised what you can learn just by listening.

2. Resist the pull of cognitive biases

Your mind is constantly trying to play tricks on you.  It does that so you won’t get fatigued and keep your energy for decisions that really mater. It has good intentions but you know what they say about good intentions…

If you assume or dismiss things without checking them first, if you have prejudices then you’re probably under the influence of some sort of cognitive bias. If you start paying attention to the things that you normally dismiss, you might find that you’ve been missing out on an entire world of possibilities.

3. Ask more questions

Never take things at face value, always dig deeper, turnover a few stones and explore. Questions open possibilities, possibilities give you new directions to pursue, and as you pursue new directions curiosity takes over.

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Until we meet again!

Featured photo credit: Kazutaka Sawa via flic.kr

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The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

What is the productivity paradox?

There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

He wrote in his conclusion:

“Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

How do we measure productivity anyway?

And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

Possible causes of the productivity paradox

Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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  • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
  • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
  • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
  • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

The paradox and the recession

The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

“Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

Looking forward

A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

“Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

“Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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