There’s a famous and often mocked quote by Donald Rumsfeld, a previous US Defence Secretary which talked about unknown unknowns. And yet I realise these days that the unknown unknowns are the frontier.
Yesterday I spoke to Michael Henderson, a Corporate Anthropologist at an event on curiosity, hosted by Rackspace. He said, “When you look at the world, you often see what you expect to see.” And these things you see are based on the things that each of us has learnt and done in our lives. But to see the real world, you must take the filters off, you must unlearn and re-evaluate what is out there, because that is how you learn and grow.
Here is our world, disrupted, competitive, complex, unpredictable… and how do we manage in such a world. How do we innovate, and find the answers to the wicked problems?
Is it by being cleverer, faster, better at exams, more edgy? Maybe those are a small part of the story, but I suspect that all of them fade away without a sense of curiosity and childlike wonder.
In some of my work on theology, the essence of being childlike (not childish) is about coming to the table with few preconceptions and limitations, but instead to go into a situation with openness and innocence, to find out what is happening and then go forwards. But it is more than that, because “going to the table” is a business cliché. What if there is no table? Or the answer is not at the table but behind a door that appears closed? This is curiosity. It is the ability to look at the world and notice it for all its wonder and then to ask the big questions. They may not seem very big, but they are. And from them we can move forwards. According to Michael, some people call that disrupting but that’s only disruption is only in our imagination, because the marketplace only evolves.
Albert Einstein said “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” Here’s the guy who didn’t speak until he was 4 and failed his university exam, talking about how curiosity unleashes the capability to solve problems.
Remember that what you know is all you know. Don’t be afraid to be curious, even if it shows your knowledge is somewhat lesser than you thought. Curiosity is an act of courage. To embrace what might be unknown, to take a chance on risk and adventure.
Perhaps there is the adage about curiosity killing the cats, but we never do hear about the cats that got away? Here’s to curiosity. That’s what we are about, At The Corner.