Curiosity and inspiration go hand in hand: Curious people tend to inspire, and inspiring people tend to be curious.
An active interest in things—an engaged , experimental mindset—is essential for any creative person, professional or otherwise. It keeps you agile, attentive and youthful and it leads to better ideas.
Curiosity has to be nurtured. It has to be refined, trained, and weaved into your life so that you are are always pushing yourself toward better questions—to develop both intellectual and emotional intelligence. It's important to pursue different fields of interest with a keen rigor to build a broad knowledge base. That breadth has a multiplier effect—you're able to understand different points of view, and see how a problem solved in one scenario could work in another situation. Over time you develop a superpower: the optimism from being confident in the ability to produce more options for solutions while others may be stuck in a limited mindset.
There are few things you can do deliberately to fine-tune your curiosity. The common thread in them is paying attention to how interests evolve in relation to your circumstances. A simple curiosity about calligraphy becomes infinitely more useful when you're spearheading the design of an operating system, as Steve Jobs did. His college interest in typography helped evolve the priorities of the design team for Macintosh and set the bar for desktop publishing. It also gave Apple the significant advantage for making it a standard for the publishing industry. Often, looking back makes it possible to “connect the dots” as Steve Jobs would eventually mention in his famous Stanford speech , to see how seemingly unrelated interests, small questions, and the ability to connect disparate ideas, might lead to larger projects, or areas of study.
Stepping out of your comfort zone is a great exercise for developing new insights. Something interesting happens when you start to pursue activities that are not directly connected to your work. Sometimes it's the new, surprising perspective a painter brings back to his picture, after taking up a martial art. A sculptor may understand process better by taking up gardening or a sport. In other words, things look and feel decidedly different after being exposed to difference. When you return to your studio, old ideas may keep their shape but their colors will likely have changed . They will become clear in a way you never expected, and this will affect your decision of what to make from it.
Changing your personal perspective on a problem. Look at it through an entirely different persona, it's another way to make it easier to ask yourself better questions. We forget how much we look at things through biases and limitations. By giving yourself the opportunity to imagine something from the perspective of someone of another gender or orientation, a different country, a different race, or with different financial means, you're able to tackle the same problem and its circumstances from an entirely different angle. It may not be entirely resolved, but you will have an entirely different perspective .
Turning an activity or event into sport Gamifying the process is another tactic to use from time to time, a way to keep the muscle active. After picking the aspects of your own performance in which you'd like to see improvement, compare your “scores” with those of your peers who have been immersed in it for a little while. It is a good opportunity to start asking why you get the results you get, and why they get the results they get. The goal is not to simply improve your score—although that would be great. No, you make it a point to push and probe and learn something unique and unexpected in the process. Otherwise it is simply not interesting enough to pursue.
Living a richer life There's a larger point to cultivating curiosity than just developing it to further your own work or project. Corporate culture has quietly worked to replace human work with more “friction-free”, seamless, automated substitutions that add intangible costs to our sense of self, to our humanity. We think nothing of the things around the product or service that disappear when we choose more immediate, automated options, or when we replace things. The difference is often about our need for convenience, but it's important to consider what gets lost in the difference.
When you get your shoes re-soled, for instance, you have the opportunity to meet the skilled person whose work and experience you're purchasing. How often does that kind of interaction happen anymore? Consider the life experience in their recommendation about how to care for your shoes. You'll listen because their advice is tailored to you, it's not a generic averaged-out response. If you're lucky you'll get clear understanding of the physics of protecting your shoe. It's the rare opportunity to meet an artisan, someone whose work you will immediately wear. That richness will never show up on a profit-and-loss sheet or a mission statement. It's a personal, one-on-one thing.
A life steeped in curiosity is like a life spent with a sharpened blade. Life will present a variety of circumstances, and if you stay curious and interested, you will be ready and adaptable for them. Remaining open and engaged is vital to being relevant, more now than ever before. It is when we question what part of our humanity is quietly being excluded from the everyday transactions of living, that we can begin to shape our personal values, decide more clearly how we want to live and cherish in the long term and what we will keep as part of our life.
PHOTO: "Winter" East village, New York City, 2016.