The Magic of Intellectual Curiosity

By Dr Amal Ahmadi

I was at the Academy of Management annual meeting last week, where over 11,000 academics and practitioners gathered in Boston to discuss critical issues facing business leaders across the globe. I was fascinated by the power of intellectual curiosity and the range of ideas and insights presented at the conference, ultimately aimed at making a difference in the world of business. I attended sessions tackling important questions around for instance courageous leadership, diversity and inclusion, workplace emotions, as well as lighter topics such as humor and swearing at work! Inspired by the intellectual buzz, I came back refreshed by new insights and energised to continue to ask questions for future research.

Are we intellectually curious?

Intellectual curiosity can be simply described as having a hungry mind. It drives us to dare to dream, seek new experiences and generate novel ideas. Albert Einstein, one of the world’s greatest thinkers said, “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious”.

Children are naturally curious, constantly asking questions, persistently seeking answers. As we grow older, we may at times lose this initial curiosity. Is it the fear of judgment and appearing unintelligent that stops us from asking questions? Is it the fear of failure that holds us back from shaking the status quo? Maybe curiosity did kill the cat? Or is it perhaps cynicism as we begin to see the world as it is rather than what it could be?

Fostering intellectual curiosity

It is important for parents and teachers to nurture intellectual curiosity and encourage a passion for lifelong learning and discovery. It is equally important for business leaders to promote workplace cultures where curiosity thrives beyond rules, processes and boundaries. This reminds me of the likes of 3M and Google allowing their employees to spend around 15-20% of their time to develop ideas and work on projects outside of their regular job descriptions. Companies that offer idea incubators and such free “dream” time to work on unofficial activities can inspire intellectual curiosity that ignites creativity and innovation.

Intellectual curiosity pushes us to challenge conformity, develop breakthrough visions, and explore alternative possibilities. Intellectually curious and courageous leaders ask “why?” and “why not?”, they inquisitively question their current state over and over and relentlessly look for opportunities for further development and growth.  

My suggestion here is, take time to search for answers to whatever questions come to your mind on a day-to-day basis. We live in an information overload that can be overwhelming at times, but we can be selective about what information to seek and what information to allow into our world. Perhaps start each day as a clean slate, an empty glass, free of prior knowledge and preconceptions, and allow it to fill up through the day by asking questions and seeking answers. If at the end of a day we gain one insight, however small, then we have learned something new and that can’t be bad! My guess is, if we do not see anything inspiring worth looking into, then we’re probably walking too fast!  

Let’s embrace this important quality that we all once possessed when we were children. Stay hungry, stay foolish and never stop questioning.

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