Being curious is a means to discovery and innovation and requires an energy that many are finding in short supply.
If you’ve ever doubted the idea that focusing on caring for ourselves — the personal psychology and wellbeing of innovators — is worthwhile when discussing innovation consider what drives curiosity, the foundation of discovery and new ideas.
Children grow and learn quickly in part because of their curiosity. Their curiosity is fueled by energy — it takes more energy to question and challenge what we’re told or given than it does to accept. One is active, one is passive.
It therefore makes it important that we consider what it means to have energy, bring energy to a situation, or cultivate it in our work. As we’ll see, caring for the innovator is caring about innovation.
Energy is a largely universal, yet poorly defined concept in psychology. Whether its seen as mental force, will, motivation, ‘life force’, or spirit the shared conceptualization is that is exists somewhere within that connection between consciousness and unconsciousness and psychology and physiology. Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz spent years working with high performance athletes and executives and found consistently that the key to great work and a great life come from managing energy, not time.
Energy is the combined wellbeing of our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual selves and the engagement we have with those things that raise energy across those domains. Energy comes from what we eat, how (and how much) we move, who we interact with and how we do so, how we interact with ourselves, and what we believe and practice regularly.
While none of what they describe in their book is all that surprising, it still disrupts the dominant ways we view performance the metrics we use to judge ourselves and others. The recommendations are almost identical, just differently phrased, to what was found in the National Geographic global study of longevity and the regions known as the Blue Zones. What they add is the concept of engagement.
Curiosity and Engagement
Engagement is about active interaction. It requires energy to do. We can’t engage passively.
Curiosity, while very natural – most evidently in children, requires energy. Children have much of this energy and as humans our energy tends to wane a little as we age. Yet, this decrease in energy is something we have a say in. We can, as Loehr and Schwartz illustrate many times over, cultivate energy through practices that nurture our whole selves — physical, emotional, mental, and spirit. As with any guide, there is no perfect pathway and there’s also recognition that deadlines, circumstances, and seasons might all contribute to our ability to fully engage with each of these domains, but they can be managed in some way.
Energy > Engagement > Curiosity. (And for some, curiosity provides energy, creating a virtuous cycle)
Creating an Energized Future
What the pandemic has done for many is disrupt this connection between energy, engagement, and curiosity. The many restrictions, lack of contact and contrast in our lives, the roller-coaster of hope that comes and goes as new policies, discoveries and setbacks arrive, and the simple absence of options for making things different has sapped people’s energy. That has contributed to and been precipitated by lack of engagement. The sheer absence of diversity of experiences — social and physical in particular — has curtailed our engagement opportunities.
Without engagement, we lose curiosity. Losing curiosity leads to a lack of creative output and innovation.
While I can’t say what will come, it is likely this is a big reason for the lack of innovation activities we are seeing during the pandemic. For every remarkable transformation of a business, artistic effort, or community action we see, there are many activities that simply aren’t happening. Research on the psychology and neuroscience of curiosity points to the pathways to learning and the reciprocal benefits between the two. As one cited paper found “Curiosity enhances learning, consistent with the theory that the primary function of curiosity is to facilitate learning.”
Tying all of this together means that if we are to foster innovation, we need to support innovators in building their energy.
The lesson from this is that personal matters of care and community are not ‘nice-to-haves’ — they are essential. Creating spaces and places for people to meet, share, support each other — which sometimes mean giving space, too — is as important as education, training, R & D and financing.
If we are serious about innovation, we invest in ourselves as innovators as active, full partners in any ecosystem. We do this, by design. Meet-ups, walks in the park, time spent with loved ones, and participating in intentional communities of practice are all ways we can support innovators — by making time and space for us to maintain, nourish, and sustain our curiosity and our energy for doing the work we do.
Our innovations depend on it.