The Power of Curiosity

Rod Judkins teaches at the world-famous St Martin’s College of Art in London. In his book, The Art of Creative Thinking, Judkins tells us, “Creativity exists in not knowing. You have to be happy to admit that you are ignorant.”

At the recent Spikes Asia festival of creativity, J.Walter Thompson’s Worldwide Chief Creative Officer Matt Eastwood took this one step further with a thought-provoking presentation on the subject of Curiosity.

Matt is one of Australia’s most successful creative exports and growing up in Perth has clearly taught him to be a fast learner. He challenged the Singapore audience to consider the beauty of being the dumbest person in the room.

Curiosity, he asserted, is a natural human trait. We ask questions because we want to understand things. After all, it’s how as young children we all learned about the world around us – by asking questions without fear of looking stupid.

Why is that man wearing glasses? How does that work? What’s that thing? Where do babies come from?

Everything is the result of somebody asking the kind of simple questions a three year old would ask. All knowledge, says Matt, begins with ignorance.

But here’s the thing. Why does curiosity stop when we get older? Is it because we’re not willing to be open about what we don’t know? A fear of appearing stupid?

And yet, how many times have you been in a meeting with new people and been impressed not by the person who says the most, but the one who asks the most?

This problem is compounded by the way most companies are run. The leaders expect their people to know all the answers. To make matters worse, they promote people who don’t reveal their lack of knowledge. The bluffers.

Like Matt Eastwood said, it takes courage to appear stupid, or to admit to being wrong. But in my view, the ones who ask more are the ones who learn more. And those are the people who ultimately achieve more.

Matt finished his talk by imploring us to ask the challenging questions when we get back to work. Is this the best way? Why are we doing this? Have we forgotten anything?

At our agency, we’ve found that the best work has come from empowering everyone in our team to chase greatness, with one simple question.

Is that truly great, or is it just good?