I’ve recently finished writing a book on essential future skills, and if I had to pick one skill that underpinned all the other skills in the book – the one skill that I believe everyone must nurture – it’d be curiosity. In our ever-changing world, the desire to continually learn new things will be a must-have ingredient for success.
As Sir Ken Robinson, a key figure in education, put it, “Curiosity is the engine of achievement.” In other words, it’s a natural driving force that propels us forwards to success and personal fulfillment. Where would we end up without that natural driving force? Stuck in a rut, probably. Bored, no doubt. Overtaken by changes in our job and industry, for sure. For this reason alone, we all have an obligation to stay curious.
In my book, I talk about two factors that drive curiosity: humility and a growth mindset. Let’s briefly explore both factors – why they’re so important for staying curious and how you can improve in these areas.
The importance of humility
Being humble – basically, to be free from pride and arrogance – is central to curiosity because it tells us that we don't know everything there is to know. Humility is often confused with a lack of confidence or self-belief when in fact, the opposite is true. Humble people recognize their strengths as well as their weaknesses; they just don't seek to hide their weaknesses. This inner confidence is why a humble person has no fear of looking stupid or asking "dumb” questions – it’s all part of growing.
There are several ways you can work on your humility:
· Be honest with yourself. Think honestly about your weaknesses as well as your strengths. Be willing to admit your mistakes and take responsibility without relying on excuses. These mistakes or weaknesses show where you have room to grow.
· Practice acceptance. While you want to be honest about your shortcomings, don't be hard on yourself. Try to look at yourself without judgment and negativity – to accept yourself as you are, as the first step in learning to be or do better in future.
· Practice active listening. Inviting feedback and listening actively to what others are saying is an important part of humility. But do listen with an open mind. Leave your assumptions or preconceptions at the door.
· Recognize when you need help, and ask for it. Likewise, don't be afraid of saying, "I don't know." You don't have to be the smartest person in the room.
· Get comfortable with uncertainty. Admitting that you need help, have failed at something, or don't know how to do something can be uncomfortable. As can any sort of change. Try to "sit with" these feelings when they crop up rather than rushing to solve or unpack them.
The growth mindset
Psychologist Carol Dweck coined the phrase “growth mindset” in her groundbreaking book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck argues that success doesn't come from intelligence, talent, or education – it comes from having the right mindset. Specifically, a growth mindset. This is backed up by her many years of research showing that the attitudes of students – in particular, their attitude to failures and setbacks – had a significant impact on their achievement.
Someone with a growth mindset believes they have the ability to grow, improve and learn. They see obstacles or failures as a chance to grow. And, importantly, they believe that, while everyone has inherent qualities and traits, success comes from constant personal development and continual learning. This is in contrast to someone with a fixed mindset, who believes they’re limited by fixed, inherent traits and abilities that can’t be changed or improved. Basically, with the fixed mindset, you’ve either got it or you ain’t. But with the growth mindset, even the most basic abilities can be developed with hard work.
How can you cultivate a growth mindset?
· If you haven’t already, do read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. Then think about where you currently sit on the growth mindset vs. fixed mindset spectrum.
· Try to see challenges and failures as opportunities for self-development. It might help to think about a past challenge you've encountered and how it ultimately led you to become stronger or better at something. After all, every athlete who's ever won a gold medal has no doubt had their fair share of injuries, losses, and setbacks along the way.
· Reward yourself for hard work. The growth mindset prioritizes effort and hard work over natural talent, so when you’ve worked hard at something – even if it hasn’t been a total success – give yourself a mental pat on the back or a physical reward.
· Embrace the power of “YET,” as in “I don’t know how to do this YET.” With hard work, you can learn to accomplish pretty much anything.
· Notice how you talk about the talents of others and reframe your language accordingly. For example, instead of saying, "She's so good at that," you could say, "She must have worked really hard to develop that skill."
· Be realistic. Learning any new skill takes hard work and patience. And that’s okay. Embracing the journey is all part of the growth mindset.