24 June 2018

Getting Curious about Curiosity – Part 1

I initially thought this was a one off Blog on the subject – but it’s a biggie and a growing interest of mine – hence the part 1.

About five years ago we worked out the four Collective Intelligence attributes, by analysing why some people got more out of our process than others, and then distilling the key differences. It took about 9 months to complete, and it was time well spent, as they are incredibly accurate and are referred to in all onboarding of new members, and monitoring of existing.


Of the four Collective Intelligence attributes, I have understood Curiosity the least. Recently, when I stated this out loud to a cohort of Global Woman in a speech in Rotorua, a little voice spoke in my head, and said, “This is an oxymoron. Why are you not curious to find out more about curiosity – you dick?”

Then a few days later listening to Frances Valentine speak in Auckland, her message was clear – New Zealanders need to become more curious. That did it, and now I have become a curiosity zealot in the making.

So now I am trying to get my hands on whatever material I can on the subject (please forward any cool references at the bottom of this Blog). One of the first things I have uncovered is the huge variety of Curiosities that exist, such as;

Perceptual – why people climb mountains.
Diversive – what lies on the other side of the mountain.
Epistemic – arms us with the knowledge to survive once we get to the other side of the mountain. It is a huge motivator, but needs constant working on.
Empathetic – what is it like to walk in those shoes?
Academic – a hungry mind is essential, which can be easily dulled by time and apathy. It is equally at risk of dogmatism.
Cultural – needed more now in NZ than ever before.

So here are some thoughts I have on my readings and musings so far – part 1 remember and not sure how many parts there might be.

As a facilitator I often observed a huge difference in people under pressure or duress. Some would clam up and protect themselves, others would be okay with being vulnerable and seek out more information by being curious. The difference in the outcomes was vast, with the people able to remain curious able to gain far better outcomes than the others. And I reflected; how do we increase this skill. Still don’t know.

Another reflection is that to be truly curious you also need to be brave, as you are going to uncover things that you may not like, or want to know about. It may also challenge some beliefs you may hold as truths. The best example I have uncovered was Charles Darwin writing to a mate from the Galapagos Islands, stating he was about to put down in writing his growing belief in the concept of evolution. This was that uncomfortable and foreign to him, that he likened it to committing murder, literally. It would have been so much easier to gloss over his findings and continue with creationism as the accepted knowledge. Remember many people still do not accept the law of evolution, so imagine writing this in scientific journals in 1859 – bloody brave.

There are another couple of learnings from Darwin which are easily overlooked. For curiosity to flourish, it needs time. Time to percolate. There was bugger all else to do on Galapagos than for Darwin to observe and ponder. I have talked about this before, being busy is overrated.

And, the other insight which surprised me, is that we learn best when we find something hard to learn. The learning becomes sticky and deep.

Recently I was challenged by one of our scholarship recipients Tui Williams, as being sexist and ageist. I won’t go into the details (as they are not important), but Tui let me know she was unpleased with me over how I had responded to one of her colleagues Lauren Peate.

My initial reaction (internally – thankfully) was ..this bloody generation are a pain in the butt, and a bit precious. Move on – next subject. Then, that little voice in my head went ‘what are you missing Harv?’

So I enquired a bit more – then started to defend myself – then thought no need to defend myself as I ain’t guilty – then thought … get some more information – get curious you dick.

When I asked myself the question; if Lauren was a male of the same age would I have treated him differently? No I wouldn’t.

If Lauren was an older woman would I have treated her differently? Yes highly likely.

If Lauren was an older man would I have treated him differently? Yes I would.

I did this out loud with Tui at a cafe, not knowing the outcome. So, in the end Tui was absolutely correct in her observation. I stated to her I didn’t feel remotely guilty as it was completely an unconscious reaction, but will be far more conscious in the future.

Curiosity got me there, nothing else. Thanks Tui, and I have had the chance to discuss with Lauren too, which was a cool conversation.

I believe we need to foster every kind of curiosity, as they are precious. As soon as we start judging others or ourselves, curiosity is the first victim.

To summarise I am going back to one of my favourite quotes from Jiddu Krishnamurti:
“Observation without evaluation is the highest form of intelligence”

More to come on curiosity in the future from me folks.

Ian Harvey (Harv)


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