Curiosity allegedly killed the cat.
How do we know curiosity killed that cat? Were there any eyewitnesses to that crime? Did anyone hear strange cat calls? Did you see what curiosity was wearing? Do you know any reason why curiosity wanted to kill the cat? Were curiosity and the cat family, friends, enemies, frenemies, or strangers? What color was the cat? What was that cat’s name? How old was it? Is there a carcass or any evidence? Did the cat die from poking its paws through holes in a box? Maybe it actually died from old age and not curiosity? Perhaps we killed the cat because we kept it from following its natural instincts to explore.
These are the questions that come to my mind when I think about the phrase curiosity killed the cat. However, curiosity won’t kill your conference participants. It fuels their professional growth, distinguishes them from status quo and guides them to success.
A Child’s Wonder Grows Up And Fades
As kids, almost anything can ignite our curiosity. I recently watched my one-year old niece explore balloons, tissue paper and gift bags more than her birthday gifts. Her investigation of her first birthday cake was priceless. Purple frosting was everywhere and no one seemed to mind!
We are born curious. As young children, we ask a lot of questions. We learn as we explore. Curiosity is a natural part of life.
Yet very few of us are curious today.
Our Search For Right Answers
As we grow older, we tend to lose our curiosity. Rules, society’s norms, and people’s expectations discourage our inquisitive minds.
Bosses, professors, and relatives teach us to seek the one right answer. We feel pressured to unearth and reveal the correct response. We bubble-in dots on multiple choice tests to demonstrate our recall of accurate knowledge.
We fix symptoms. We problem-solve. We are quick to tell others how to overcome their challenge.
At conferences, our pursuit for silver-bullet succinct solutions engulfs us. We pursue quick tips, succinct highpoints, tried-and-true steps to success and accurate results. We seek out successful veterans and state, “Just tell me what to do. I don’t have time for questions and games.”
We even justify our curiosity-deprived-actions with “We have the internet. We have all the answers and solutions at the click of our thumbs. So why bother with curiosity and questions?”
Start With The Questions, Not The Solutions
Curiosity must be stimulated and encouraged, especially as we age. Few have an insatiable curiosity that is not dampened by rigid conformity to the pursuit of the right answer. Conferences that dictate facts and data suffocate any inkling of curiosity.
Solutions and correct answers don’t stimulate curiosity. Questions do!
It’s the question that stimulates curiosity; being told an answer quells curiosity before it can even get going, says author, researcher and cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham. Instead of starting with the answer, begin by posing for yourself and others a genuinely interesting question — one that kindles curiosity and opens an information gap.
As meeting professionals you have a tremendous opportunity to create conferences that inspire your participants’ curiosity. Relevant, interesting questions can serve as the cornerstone for your conference planning. Start with questions that stir up curiosity and provoke reflective thinking. Exploit questions that highlight knowledge gaps. And most importantly, foster intriguing questions that provide meaningful cognitive work.
Intellectual curiosity is hard work. It requires a willingness to learn things. And it is also deeply satisfying.
People are naturally curious, but we are not naturally good thinkers: unless the cognitive conditions are right, we will avoid thinking, says Willingham.
We avoid thinking because thinking is work. Why should we work at being more curious? Why should we engage our cognitive functions with inquiry, higher order thinking sills, deep learning and reflection?
Because the benefits of curiosity outweigh and out-perform ordinary, copy-cat solutions and apathy. Curiosity is a marker of potential. Read more about curiosity’s benefits in the next post.
When have you been the most curious in your life? How can we foster more conference curiosity?