Living in Beta
As soon as we’ve made our way into the world, we explore through natural curiosity, asking limitless questions and exploring without fear. When we get...
Living in Beta: Sparking Curiosity
Unique live 90 minute experiment.
50 Curious minds.
19th July 2019 in TED Summit, Edinburgh
Why curiosity is the backbone of learning
Curiosity impacts everything from job satisfaction to personal growth. But how is it changing the future of learning and education?
What is curiosity and how have its effects been studied?
As soon as we’ve made our way into the world, we explore through natural curiosity, asking limitless questions and exploring without fear. When we get older, it’s easy for that curiosity to wane, particularly as life speeds up and learning becomes a means to an end. But curiosity has the power to transform the way we work and learn.
By allowing ourselves to be disrupted and to follow our natural curiosity, we can open our minds to innovative ways of thinking and teach ourselves new ways to engage, behave and perform.
From a business perspective, a curious nature opens our minds to new ways of thinking, leading to a more flexible and dynamic attitude to work. People who are constantly asking questions develop better critical thinking skills and are more likely to become business leaders as a result. According to a study by Francesca Gino at Harvard University, just 24% of 3000 workers studied reported feeling curious in their jobs, and 70% said they faced barriers when asking questions. Meanwhile, the study found that when used in the right way, curiosity had the power to boost a company’s commercial value, by improving decision-making and enhancing innovation.
And, the power of curiosity expands well beyond the world of work.
When Canon Australia partnered with Dr Maria Kangas of Macquarie University’s Department of Psychology to study the impact of curiosity, they discovered that it broadens people’s horizons and helps them to retain more information. The research also suggested that curiosity can help us to connect with strangers on a deeper level and build better, stronger bonds with people.
It’s clear that curiosity can drive meaningful relationships, job satisfaction, productivity and personal growth. So, what can we do to drive curiosity forward and reap its benefits?
Unique 90 minute live experiment
Living in Beta: Sparking Curiosity attracted more than 50 delegates, including some of the most dynamic business leaders and thinkers from across the TED community
In July 2019, Capita led a unique 90-minute, interactive workshop at the TEDSummit in Edinburgh. Living in Beta: Sparking Curiosity attracted more than 50 delegates, including some of the most dynamic business leaders and thinkers from across the TED community. Capita’s Chief Growth Officer, Ismail Amla, co-hosted the workshop with Andy Hagerman, CEO at The Design Gym.
Living in Beta is a simple concept: we must be prepared to disrupt the way we think to keep pace with constant change. Simultaneously, we need to be open to adaptation through un-learning what we have learned in the past and preparing to re-learn in the future. The workshop was designed to facilitate new ways of thinking and challenge traditional techniques of learning.
During the session delegates were asked to pinpoint moments of learning, un-learning and re-learning from their past experiences. Using examples from work and family life, people touched on their personal triumphs, including breakdowns, breakups, mental health problems, illness and even reconsidering their core beliefs as a result of a profound life event.
The data gathered during the workshop showed that despite personality types, professions and career levels, everyone shared common fears of loss, rejection and failure in both personal and professional contexts.
This realisation helped delegates understand that burying these concerns is actually counter-productive to learning and moving forward.
Over the course of the session, delegates then considered what the future of learning might look like if we were able to break these habits, and explore how curiosity might impact the way we move forward in life and work.
Further analysis found that redefining an existing thought process can be a serious challenge, particularly when we are used to doing things in a specific way. However, curiosity, listening and questioning were still seen as essential and all participants agreed that learning, un-learning and re-learning were possible with the right frame of mind and commitment.
More than 40% said that their most pivotal learning moments happened between the ages of 20 and 25, and for at least half of respondents, becoming more self-aware was a key contributing factor. Meanwhile, 60% of respondents thought that un-learning was more likely to happen between the ages of 20 and 40, as your career advances and you begin to question what you were originally taught. While work was the leading situation in which people found themselves re-learning. Family and personal situations were also considered important areas that would require re-learning. Traditionally we have considered school and college as the peak time in our life for education. But only a minority of respondents believed that the majority of key learning moments happened before the age of 20, suggesting that other types of education are now eclipsing formal studies.
Crucially, the group observed that un-learning and re-learning can be uncomfortable and scary, but that this fear can actually lead to greater progress. Self-confidence and belief, supported by coaching and mentoring, were also seen as important enablers for overcoming potential barriers. Accepting that perfectionism isn’t possible and that mistakes will be made was felt to be an important lesson for all delegates.
What changes can we expect to see in learning in the future if we embrace curiosity?
- Learning is not a linear process. In the future it will include explorations, experimentation, and exposure to many different scenarios which loop back and forth over time.
- Questioning yourself and your assumptions will become more important than ever. Nobody should stop questioning themselves as learning becomes more fluid.
- Failure will become more acceptable if we learn from the experience and use it as an opportunity to become better and stronger.
- Empathy, curiosity and flexibility will be core parts of the learning process and vulnerability will become a strength in learning. Leaders will be able to show their human side, turning the traditional ‘top-down’ management style on its head.
- Destabilising or confusing may be how you'll feel initially, but it also will be exhilarating. As part of learning you might have to face humiliation, anxiety or increased discomfort but it will be worth it in the future.
What stands in the way of curiosity?
Just like any other skill, if given the chance to flourish it can lead to huge gain, but if it’s neglected it will fall by the wayside
When people are scared of having their ideas shut down or questioned, it stops them from thinking outside the box. In an effort not to humiliate ourselves, we are more likely to stick to tried and testing methods of working, avoiding opportunities to take risks.
Technology and environment are strong factors which have the power to sap curiosity. When everything can be done at the touch of a button, or from the sofa at home, it can make individuals apathetic and less likely to tap into their natural curiosity.
Ultimately, curiosity is just like any other skill. If it’s given the chance to flourish it can lead to huge gain, but if it’s neglected it will fall by the wayside.
From those first days of nursery to on-the-job learning and development through to developing a new career, it’s essential that people are getting the right support they need to keep their curiosity alive and continue to learn to the best of their ability. Education is changing, and so is the world of work. As we continue to discover more about new ways of learning, traditional teaching methods may be replaced by interactive engagement that allows inquiring minds to blossom.
With jobs for life a thing of the past, it has now become the responsibility of the individual to seek out their own development opportunities. Employees who actively look for new projects and better themselves through personal development are more likely to excel in their roles and move forward than those who solely rely on spoon-fed methods that are offered to all.
Increasingly, training tools across all sectors will need to allow for curiosity. We need to embrace the idea of exploration. And while this might lead to mistakes and require multiple attempts before success is achieved, it is the journey of learning that will set the stage for sustained, lifelong curiosity.
“There was fantastic energy in the room, with delegates extremely open and willing to share their experiences. The workshop and the analysis of the outputs has helped us to develop an early view of how learning needs to adapt to individual differences and it helped open our eyes to new ways of thinking.
This is a crucial topic for our business because we want to explore the implications of the emerging paradigms of life-long learning. We’re established in the education and corporate skills sectors, so have the potential reach, and capability to step-change learning in the sectors we touch.”
Oli Freestone, Head of the Capita Institute
“Identifying significant life events of learning, having to un-learn and then to re-learn was a thought provoking and disarming experience. The use of storytelling and personal events, initiated relationship building and rapid communication within a truly international gathering of people.
Overall it was a powerful and positive experience which we should aim to learn from and implement in our careers.”
Justin Walker, Capita Senior Client Partner, Defence