Intellectual Curiosity


Photo by Mark Baker

Intellectual curiosity may be roughly defined as a willingness to explore something based on interest, a desire to learn something new and the pursuit of answers to “why” questions. It encompasses mental stimulation and the journey of the discovery process, as well as the satisfaction that comes with knowing more than you did before.

Recently I was engaged in a business conversation about this topic. It was precipitated by a colleague’s comment, “We don’t hire people who are intellectually curious like we used to be.” To which another colleague challenged, “Aw, come on – you really believe that?”

The initiator of the conversation meant that “back in the day,” young professionals studied technical subject matter relevant to their field. Becoming an expert, having deep understanding and being able to answer questions off the top of their head would help propel their career (and it apparently did). Another colleague challenged this notion, responding, “That’s what I thought, too, and I was totally wrong. I should have become expert in selling, because being able to generate business is what would have propelled my career.” The response was, “Well, I don’t think the young people we are hiring today are intellectually curious.” 

This discussion revealed a nuance I hadn’t thought about before—that curiosity and our approach to learning and investigation may differ along generational lines. In today’s world, expertise is at our fingertips, and we have Gen X and Gen Y members newer to the labor market who have not known any other way. Vast digital libraries of information may be pulled up with just a few clicks, or via a quick tap to call on SIRI to do the search. “Just Google it” gets said many times at our dinner table, particularly when teenagers are present. So, why would you want to become a technical expert when all of this is available? Isn’t it more productive to learn how to ask the right questions, and apply brainpower to problem solving and innovation?

This brings me back around to curiosity. Recitation of facts or memorization of data was a form of curiosity that was valued in the past. Today, I believe a greater worth of a curious mind may be measured in the ability to formulate questions, navigate through the labyrinth of information that is available and embrace different perspectives generated by the answers uncovered.

More good stuff on the topic of curiosity:

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