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Five ways innovators harness their curiosity

Photo Credit: Sam, W via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Sam, W via Compfight cc

When the inventor Thomas Edison signed a guest book in someone’s house, the story is told that after he signed his name he scribbled a single word under the “Interests” column:


I think–hearing that anecdote–that Thomas Edison might have said he was a curious human being, and that he wouldn’t have been the inventor and innovator he became without it.

Being curious keeps you hungry. Open. Asking. Seeking.

It’s a perpetual curiosity that’s driven the esteemed televised naturalist David Attenborough to pursue the adventures that have taken him around the globe multiple times in search of ever-greater wonders. He might just be the most well-traveled human, according to some suggestions.

Curiosity can be a valuable asset, if you go about your life seeking ways to fill in the blanks.

In a messy, complex and culturally diverse world, questions drive us to be open to creative solutions.

Five ways innovators harness their curiosity

1. They explore big and bold ideas. Publicly.

The TED community and its tagline “ideas worth spreading” is an ongoing demonstration of the power behind posing interesting questions.

Take for example, the journey that was sparked by the simple question “How can two people wash up on shore and not be reported missing anywhere on the continent they were found on?”’s blurb hooks us in with a stranger-than-fiction summary:

When two bodies wearing identical wetsuits washed ashore in Norway and the Netherlands, journalist Anders Fjellberg and photographer Tomm Christiansen started a search to answer the question: who were these people? What they found and reported in Norway’s “Dagbladet” is that everybody has a name, everybody has a story and everybody is someone.

2. They allow their curiosity to fuel new projects

It sounds like author Gretchen Rueben did something like this when she was struck with the idea of creating “The Happiness Project,” and then her follow-up book “Happy at Home.”

Speaking to author and podcaster Jeff Goins on The Portfolio Life, Rueben explained that she came up with the questions first, and then turned her quest for the answers into a book:

“The premise of my book [The Happiness Project] was that I was test-driving all these ideas. So I had to test drive the idea that novelty and challenge would make me happier. … And almost flippantly I picked starting a blog as [my] challenge. … I started it to do something novel and challenging but then I grew to love it.

3. They’re willing to just observe sometimes

Beloved comedian and entertainer Robin Williams, speaking in 2011 to Australian journalists on news show The Project, shared his secret to gathering the material which fed his comic genius. He said,

“People expect me to be ‘on’ all the time. A lady walked up to me at the airport one time and she said ‘Be zany!’ It’s like going up to Baryshnikov and saying ‘Dance, white boy!’ It’s so crazy. But most of the time, the weird thing is I’m just very kind of quiet, observing and kind of recharging. That’s the way you get more material–listening and observing people.”

4. They get creative about turning curiosity into an asset

Curator-of-interestingness Maria Popova has created a career out of curiosity on her Brain Pickings website. On her blogs About page she explains the motivation that drove her to evolve a part-time hobby into a full-time career:

“Hey there. My name is Maria Popova and I’m a reader, writer, interestingness hunter-gatherer, and curious mind at large. … Brain Pickings is my one-woman labor of love … an inquiry into how to live and what it means to lead a good life.”

Later on in the page, she explains why this isn’t just a quest for knowledge for the sake of it:

“In order for us to truly create and contribute to the world, we have to be able to connect countless dots, to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of disciplines, to combine and recombine these pieces and build new ideas. … Brain Pickings … is a cross-disciplinary LEGO treasure chest, full of pieces spanning art, science, psychology, design, philosophy, history, politics, anthropology, and more. … Above all, it’s about how these different disciplines illuminate one another to glean some insight, directly or indirectly, into that grand question of how to live, and how to live well.”

5. They hang out in hallways sometimes

Author and innovator Seth Godin, made an audacious suggestion about random hallway encounters.

“If the hallway conversations at a convention are worth more than the sessions, why not have more and better hallways?”

Share your latest curiosity-success story

Now it’s your turn.

  • Share a random Seth-Godin-type hallway encounter that led to a cool new collaboration, joint venture, or lifelong friendship.
  • Or share how your curiosity is fueling a new project like Gretchen Rubin…
  • Or how it’s helping you build a new digital asset like Maria Popova…
  • Or how it’s furnishing you with creative material like Robin Williams.

And after you share your comment, feel free to sign up for my brand-new baby newsletter.

As a special thank you I’ll send you (very, very soon) a free copy of #UrgencyOfStory—an easy-read PDF manifesto that explores the key element–storification–that shines through in the writing of engaging leaders, coaches, activists, and digital professionals.


About Anaik Alcasas

I'm here to demonstrate that your editor can also be your ally, and to talk all things clarity, influence, and connecting through story. I'd love you to join the conversation.