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The Hoshin Group

Leadership and Executive Coaching

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. ~Mark Twain

The Courage to be Curious

“Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.” ~James Stephens

I am curious because, honest to God, I don’t know. I don’t have the answers. And I’m not even sure sometimes that I am asking the right questions.

Author S. Leonard Rubinstein is noted to have said, “Curiosity is a willing, a proud, an eager confession of ignorance.” Yes. And curiosity is also the engine of achievement. So I’ll add a powerful word to my earlier statements. Yet. I don’t have the answers YET.

To venture into the realm of curiosity requires both vulnerability and courage. By asking questions, we are admitting to the world that we don’t know. We are opening ourselves up to the possibility of cognitive dissonance, where new information painfully challenges and contradicts what we think we already know. We are also willingly walking towards what the most primitive parts of our brains perceive as danger, the unknown. We may be taken advantage of. That’s why it’s so easy for us to stay put for so long, stalled in discomfort, rather than driving forward towards what lead to a significantly better outcome. In some strange way, we’ve convinced ourselves that retreat and entrenchment is the safer option.

“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” ~Albert Einstein

Embracing curiosity also requires commitment to seeking, relentlessly doing the work, and ultimately, to knowing. The loyalty is not not to ultimately to curiosity, itself – the means – but rather to what might be changed by the knowledge gained – the end. In some way, through the acquisition of new information, insights, and doing something differently, some part of our world might be changed for the better.

Where to start? In order to know what questions to ask, I need to have a pretty clear idea about where I’d like to end up. Again, easier said than done. Yet doable. Coming up with that clear vision of my desired tomorrow is the critical first step. Inviting and involving others in what will become a shared vision is the next. We rarely accomplish great things without help. If I chose instead to go it alone without a clear objective, I would likely find myself looping around as if lost in the woods, crossing over my old steps repeatedly, without making any perceivable forward progress. Exhausting.

My worldview is unique and personal, informed by my values, beliefs and prior experiences. So is yours. And so is everyone else’s. Our world is complicated and interconnected. Every issue has myriad stakeholders, each with their own life story, and each person has come to their own ideas and conclusions honestly. Some stakeholders I can easily identify and some, who may be greatly impacted by an issue, I cannot. To see anything clearly is to look at it holistically. This means there are many more questions to surface than I might have realized at first glance. And I can’t do it alone. Sigh…

Yes, being curious and committing to creating change takes work. But what might be gained? Perhaps it’s even more motivating to ask, “What is the opportunity cost of not figuring it out?” In a day, in a week, in a year, in choosing to do nothing, I would be in the same place as I am now – or worse. Ouch. Often, that is enough incentive to move me to take that first small step. To believe that change is possible. To fire up my curiosity. To commit to finding a way. If not today, when?

I surface and then sit with each question. I let one lead to the next. I write down both my questions and my thoughts about them, without pause or editing. I give myself the time and space to brainstorm myriad ideas, and hold back from leaping quickly into action with one of the first few feasible thoughts, which were likely old thoughts that informed my prior thinking and habits – the very things I’m seeking to change. Rather, I allow myself to create a messy, creative, comprehensive list of ideas. And when I think I’m done, I ask, “What else?” and write some more. I engage and share with others. I grow wiser in learning from their unique points of view. And more often than not, it’s the combination of a few crazy, disparate ideas, put together in a bold new way, which pave the way for true transformation.

We show the world by our actions what we are committed to. Mahatma Gandhi once wisely said, “All good thoughts and ideas mean nothing without action.” The world needs us. Not to root ourselves firmly in place and state ever more loudly our existing positions, but to step forward in community with others, embracing curiosity and working collaboratively towards a shared vision, leaving the world better than we found it.

What one small thing might you become curious about, today? About what might you become passionately curious? And what greatness could come from that? You’ve got what it takes to change the world, in small ways and large. Shine your light and see what happens. If nothing else, you’ll have marvelous adventures.

“Blessed are the curious, for they shall have adventures.” ~ Lovelle Drachman

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