How to Be Curious: Commitment to Exploration and Expansion

by Amy Steinberg Published Feb 27, 2018 Last updated Feb 28, 2018

Sometimes we get stuck in routines about what we know and have trouble breaking out into curiosity. What happens when we stop asking questions or looking outside our individual knowledge base for the answers? Advancement in science depends on two things: basic questions and applications. Once something is invented and all the tools are put away, where do you go from there? You have to start asking more questions and then finding ways of applying the answers you come up with. Science feeds on questions and curiosity.

The issue is, how does one find starting points, questions that can lead to new innovation?  First of all, the questions have to be answerable. They have to be framed in terms of reality that can be manipulated. How do scientists find the problems to be solved? How does one open himself or herself to new solvable questions? It’s not so much a mystical journey into the unknown but the action of being inquisitive.

Steve Jobs, a master of innovation, once said,

“Creativity is just connecting things,…creative people feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize things.”

  • Remain observant and listen without judgment.

Artists, poets, and novelists are models of creativity. Neuroscientist Dr. Vilayanur Ramachandran noted that the creativity of artists and writers comes from the fact that they are good at metaphor. Metaphor, he says is the basis for creativity–linking seemingly unrelated ideas, concepts or thoughts together.

  • Build metaphors–the way things work in one form can work in another form.

Innovative ideas don’t just come into existence out of nothing. They are based on a progression from events, memories, and ideas already in your mind. The more knowledge you have accumulated, the more potential for innovative ideas. People move their minds along by copying, transforming, and combining elements from other ideas. The mind builds models by combining elements together. At one point they say “Ahah!” or “Eureka!” and something new is formed. Innovation comes from seeing patterns where others just see chaos.

  • Look for patterns and don’t reject them when you see them.

Minds wander all the time, it is the waking analog to dreaming. Often absent-mindedness is part of the creative process. University of Auckland Psychologist, Dr. Michael Corballis describes how the brain is like a small town, with people milling around, going about their business. When some big event occurs, like a football game, the people flock to the stadium and the rest of the town goes quiet. In between big events, the people in the village have many other things to do, or they do nothing. When the mind is not focused on some major event, it wanders. The mind is in a continuous game of cat and mouse with focused attention. The wandering mind is part of the creative and innovative process. The wandering mind is also allied with one of the great fountains of creativity, the memory.

  • Permit your mind to wander.

What you create in dreams and free thought wanderings have to meet the test of relevance and semblance of fact, which many creative ideas do not. The creative person must always examine creative thoughts in the light of the application and bring logic to them at some point. Sometimes the ideas born of dreams are better poetry than science.

  • Throw the light of reason on your creative thoughts.

Creative, innovative thinking is the product of curiosity and the ability to link thoughts, ideas, observations, and knowledge into the models that you make in your brain. They often come from observation and metaphor that occur around you, patterns you see, your wandering mind, and dreaming. They are insights you take the trouble to catch and bring to the light of practical application.