Ellenor Cox provides regular insights and advice for supercharging your creative career. They all just happen to start with the letter C. In her last column, she talked about the chord of Connection, and the importance of keeping connected socially, as well as ‘connecting the dots’ creatively. Here she explores the gentle and inquisitive power of Curiosity.
The Chord of CURIOSITY
‘I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.’ – Einstein
I’m a big advocate for the role that curiosity plays in our creative careers.
Passion versus curiosity
We are constantly being told to ‘follow our passion’, but sometimes passion seems like a really tall order. In moments like now with COVID continuing to create a sense of insecurity, of loss and of boredom perhaps, the idea of ‘passion’ can feel quite remote.
Curiosity, however, is the much kinder, omnipresent and more forgiving friend.
In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear she describes passion as ‘ a tower of flame, but curiosity is a tiny tap on the shoulder — a little whisper in the ear that says, “Hey, that’s kind of interesting…”‘
We live in a world, especially as creative people, that has come to fetishise passion above all else, and there’s an incredible pressure for us to be clear on what we’re passionate about. If we’re not ‘living this dream’ then we can end up feeling excluded, exiled and even like a failure.
The case for curiosity
Curiosity is a lot easier to reach than full-on passion and the stakes are lower and easier to manage. The trick is to just follow those small moments of curiosity. Just pause for an instant. Respond to what has caught your attention. Look into it a bit. Is there a clue to the scavenger hunt of your creative life perhaps?
People often end up not following their curiosity is because they’re waiting for a bigger sign. Curiosities can sometimes be so mild and strange that they’re like the little trail of breadcrumbs easily overlooked as you’re focused on the destination of the next mountain top ahead.
Compounding this is the fact that curiosity is slowly beaten out of us as we grow up. We’re taught to conform, follow the rules and to fit in. We’re reminded that ‘curiosity killed the cat’ and are encouraged to be risk-averse in all that we do. Instant access to Siri and Google stops us from pondering, and if we do question something, we are often told ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’.
And yet, how many job advertisements do you read where; ‘a passion for learning, a thirst for knowledge, an inquiring mind, an ability to think “outside the box”’ are all noted as desirable attributes and all relate to the cultivation of our curious minds?
In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book: CREATIVITY: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention, he notes:
‘If too few opportunities for curiosity are available and if too many obstacles are placed in the way of risk and exploration, the motivation to engage in creative behaviour is easily extinguished.’
How to prime your curiosity pump
The results of pandemic challenges can easily dampen our curiosity. If curiosity is indeed the spark for our creativity then the following tips are great ways to keep those creative juices flowing
1. Ask questions and question everything
- Practise beginning sentences with ‘I wonder’ and ‘What would happen if…?’ These are great starting points for brainstorming and coming up with creative solutions.
- By challenging the status quo you may end up finding a better way to do something!
- Have you ever been grateful for someone asking a question that you were thinking? Be that person.
- Ask yourself at the end of each day ‘what did I learn today?’
2. Do something you have never done before
- We are creatures of habit and gravitate towards what’s familiar but your curiosity will never be piqued unless you experience new things.
- Get out of your normal routine, learn something new, walk or drive a different way home, soak up new experiences like a sponge.
- Creativity is often coming up with novel ideas from different sources of inspiration so the more you curiously experience new things, the more naturally open you’ll be to new ideas and solutions.
3. Switch off and let your mind wander
- Next time you find yourself in a situation where you’d instinctively pull your phone out to kill time, resist the temptation and instead just let your mind wander.
- Creative insights often come when we become curious about our surrounding sand let the problem solving tick along in the background.
As Brene Brown says in Dare to Lead, curiosity loves a wild ride and is up for whatever goes. It will persist to get to the heart of a problem, and doesn’t need to know the answers or say the right thing. ‘”I just have to keep listening and keep questioning“is the voice of curiosity’, she says.
When you’re curious, everything is an adventure.
Looking forward to sharing the Chord of Consistency in the Key of C with you next time!