The role of curiosity in a collaborative world

The role of curiosity in a collaborative world


One of the most important books I read in my life is “The Rapture of Maturity“, by Charles Hayes. While the content is not revolutionary (we’ve been writing about how to lead good lives for thousands of years), it found its way to me at a key period of personal introspection.

One of the main points in the book, which has been a driving force behind all I do, is that maturity means lifelong learning. Misrelating, Hays says, is humanity’s biggest problem, and it arises from people not learning about each other:

“Learning about the world makes it smaller. Learning about people who are great distances away brings them closer. Learning about enemies offers a chance for improving relations. Fully comprehending the forces behind human inequality gives us the capacity to achieve maturity and to help forge the capstone of civilization.”

Another concept Hayes focuses on is authenticity, a key requirement if we are interested in learning and reaching maturity:

“My quest has been to show that the quality of our existence depends upon learning. By learning I mean, not the rote memorization of facts, but sincere efforts aimed at better understanding the very nature of knowledge and the tenuous, cultural construction of the things we call reality. I’ve come to the conclusion that rapture and maturity are reciprocal products of authenticity, and that authenticity involves living your life as if you are really interested in it.”

The road to a society made up of mature, authentic, empathic individuals begins with people being interested and wanting to learn about the world. It beings with curiosity.

What inspires curiosity?

It’s my experience and observation that some people aren’t curious. They don’t want to find better ways of doing things, or find out how they might be wrong, or discover new fields of information. They don’t want to expand their views of reality.

This is logical. Learning is painful and slow (which is why most people change their lives after something happens TO them, not because they seek it). Learning requires us to abandon some belief we spent energy building, or rearrange our view of the world, and then build new mental models. Whether that’s a religious belief, or how to be single again at 50, or how to get to the office faster, learning demands effort and time.

I believe daily life makes curiosity a tough ask for most people. Learning requires investing our resources and delaying gratification, tradeoffs some people just can’t accept in their current circumstances. Most people are too tired or worried or in too much pain to care about being curious.

Go tell a mother of four, with no high school education, poor grammar, health issues and an abusive husband: “the jobs you are looking for are in risk of being automated, so you should be learning to code.”

It’s not that job automation may not happen, or that she shouldn’t learn new skills. She should, but she just can’t care about it. She can only care about what’s happening today. About making it to the evening and surviving her daily battle.

This is where most people live. In today. Curiosity is a luxury saved for those with a long-term outlook of life. Most people don’t have time for curiosity. Whether that’s because they struggle with medical conditions, or depression, or social insecurities, or boredom, or isolation, or financial struggles, most people can’t think about tomorrow. They are struggling with today, every day.

What are the conditions for curiosity to flourish?

In order to want to learn and grow, we must create circumstances where people can feel that learning is safe and relevant. There are three conditions for curiosity to flourish:

1)* We must be rested.* Whether it’s physical exhaustion at the end of the work day, or emotional fatigue because it’s hard to be “me”, people don’t want to learn when they are tired.

2)* It must help us today.* A major obstacle for adopting new information or behavior is the poor narratives behind them. People drink diet soda and think it’s healthy. Interpreters resist translation technology. We let media and politics label and simplify different human perspectives, fragmenting our collective efforts in the process. When it comes to tech advances, or economic trends, or social clashes, or health advice, the narrative matters. If we want people to expand their views, and embrace change, we need stories that put each person as the protagonist and help them see how this is relevant for them today.

Dan Ariely calls this “reward substitution”: give short-term incentives to trigger behavioral change today, that is aligned with the long-term outcome, instead of only giving long-term incentives.

3)* Our identity must be protected.* We don’t want to learn when our sense of self is at stake. To acquire the confidence to feel comfortable about our unique aspirations and let our path provide our sense of self is, I believe, the hardest journey of all. Emerson said: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

From a short term standpoint, it’s more logical to define ourselves through our nationality, job title, religion, etc. Questioning who we are and where we are headed is not worth the effort for someone already overwhelmed with a sense of doubt every day. A flexible, inner-driven identity is the consequence of a lifelong journey of learning, not the starting point.

My goal is to help people find contexts where spending their energy learning means also addressing their pressing life concerns, and feel safe enough to take learning risks without feeling an immediate threat to their identity. And I believe the only place where we can find this is in our careers and in our work.

Work is the only area of life that can both provide short term stability, in form of salary, relationships, belonging, and also provide long term aspirations, in form of fulfillment, mastery, transcendence and more.

Here’s the kicker: *in the networked age of the Internet, all work involves collaboration. *Whether we want better jobs, employees, customers, partners or ideas, we have to look for people that offer what we need, and needs what we offer in exchange. Understanding who to talk to, where to find them, and what kind of conversation we should have with them, is the key to tapping all human potential.

Figuring out how to maximize collaboration with today’s pros and cons of technology is the path towards a bright future for careers all around.

This is what this newsletter is about: understanding the how to have healthy careers and businesses in a collaborative world.

I believe a rise in mutually beneficial alliances can lead to a rise in curious individuals. When we can customize our work environments and relationships so that people acting curious is in everyone’s best interest, then we can see a mature, authentic, fair society.

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