I was always a curious kid and asked all kinds of questions.. Things like.. Why can’t I get up on stage and start singing, too? Who’s that lady holding my hand? Where did my mom go now? When will I finally get to drive a real car? How come that farmer got mad at me for doing a dance on his hat?
Well, in time we learned that some questions are more “acceptable” than others. Slowly but surely society teaches us to color between the lines. Unfortunately, this not only shapes our curiosity but also limits our creativity and imagination.
We often talk about thinking outside the box, and I’ve discussed creativity inside the box. But what happens when we keep shrinking the box?
How Curiosity Inspires Creative Works
Producer Brian Grazer is known for a diverse body of work. His films have covered almost every genre, and Grazer credits his creative success to curiosity. In fact, Grazer turned his curiosity into a series conversations with anyone that he was interested in learning more about. Not only did these inspire ideas and give insights, it allowed Grazer to grow his own curiosity muscle and gain insight into how creativity and curiosity are really twin siblings.
"Curiosity is the tool that sparks creativity.. questions create a mind-set of innovation & creativity,” says Grazer. “..curiosity allows possibility that the way we're doing it now isn’t the only way, or even the best way."
Indeed we get in our own way of seeing possibilities if we’re not willing to be curious and simply ask questions. It’s when we assume that we have all the answers or that there’s nothing to learn that we’re really hearing the death knell of creativity.
How Curiosity Turned Barren Land into the Happiest Place on Earth
Walt Disney was known for both his creativity and his insatiable curiosity. He often went incognito and toured the grounds. No matter what aspect of the business Disney wanted to learn more about it. This was “management by wondering around” long before this became popular with the business guru’s.
Imagineer Bob Gurr who designed many of the attractions said, "Walt had a unique way of drawing out your creativity and poking holes in your assumptions. He wouldn’t push you - he would pull you.. lead you through new ideas. He would get you to ask, "What if?"
When Disney was designing the EPCOT center, he surrounded himself with books on urban planning - even experts in many fields. So many of his innovations came from his willingness to explore & experiment. Disney was one of the first to embrace sound in his films, then color - even combining live action w/ animation. His commitment to quality was amplified by his constant curiosity. Disney had no problem asking even a janitor or 19 yr old jungle cruise ride operator about how to "plus the Disney experience" - how to deliver always more than expected.
How Curiosity Finds New Opportunities
You must shed the habits of farmers - complacent, repetitive, protective - and adopt the instincts of hunters - insatiable, curious, willing to destroy, says Jeremy Gutsche in Better and Faster. Ironically, one hunter that Gutsche highlights is actually a farmer.
Ron Finley grew up in south central LA and became a player in urban fashion through his curiosity. In high school he argued his way into home economics by pointing out how most chefs were male. Eventually, he turned this willingness to question the status quo when he noticed that he lived in a “food desert.”
Finley decided to do something about it. He asked what if these 26 square miles of vacant lots were turned into urban gardens. Soon others joined him, but it wasn’t long before complaints came in. This didn’t deter Finley and his group, LA Green Grounds. Getting signatures for their petition, they eventually got the support of the city.
“Why wouldn’t they be happy,” joked Finley. “Growing your own food is like printing money.”
He goes on to say, “..just like graffiti artists, where they beautify walls - me, I beautify lawns, parkways.”
I’ve shared how curiosity is the most important skill in business. So how do we actually nurture curiosity so that it grows into creative energy?
First, be open to exploring. Instead of worrying whether something is going to be a waste of time, consider that there are only discoveries and lessons - rather than “successes” or “failures.” There is nothing more destructive to creativity or curiosity than fear. But like our muscles tackling big stretches can pull something if we push too much before we’re ready.
Create the space. Your environment to be curious requires time and opportunity. Set aside the time to wander. We feel deprived - bombarded by demands. Unless we see ourselves as worth it, no one else will.
Connect with like minds. Another key part of environment is finding your tribe - those people who not only inspire and support you but lift you up. Throughout history “movements” have started with groups of artists and entrepreneurs being “curious” together - the Impressionists, the Classic period of music, the writers of the 1920s.
So how has your curiosity nurtured your creativity? or for that matter how are you nurturing your curiosity?