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Are we really curious? The more we know, the more we need to question

How many times have you seen or heard the word ‘curiosity’ in the research sector? That we need curiosity, that a curious mind is what makes us good at our craft. But what are we doing to deliver on this curiosity?

Predictability is the opposite of excitement

It is interesting that some of the leading thinking on relationships is about fostering curiosity.

That strong feeling of connection with a partner comes about by us maintaining a sense of mystery for each other. And to create this mystery, we must take a more curious approach. Making the time to learn more about our partners by the questions we ask.

While love can shrink the distance between people (and this is positive), it can also make us think we know everything about the other person - and this is where it gets dangerous. It makes us feel there’s nothing more to learn and mystery becomes obvious.

Similar to insight. A lot of the time we can think we know the answers. We know what people will say. We know what will be in the debrief before it is written.

And just as we’ve come to know our husbands and wives, we don’t always come to the brief with that sense of the unknown or the excitement of getting to know someone or something.

What happens is we end up asking the same questions and not always listening for the answers. This lands us in a place where everything becomes a little predictable.

Think about what you asked your partner last night. When you asked how was work, what answer did you get? Did you learn something unexpected, compared to when you asked the same question the night before? Did you treat the question and your partner with curiosity?

Rather than asking ‘how was work?’ we should be more specific. Ask ‘how was that meeting you had this morning?’. Or even better, go beyond the day-to-day and ask them how they are feeling and what they are looking forward to.

Or to encourage more curiosity, pretend you don’t know anything. Embrace the Socrates Paradox, which is the open admission and acceptance that ignorance is the best foundation for acquiring knowledge. “I neither know nor think I know,” said Socrates. Tonight when you get home imagine you’ve never met your husband or wife – how will this change the types of questions you’ll ask? And will you get the same old answers?

But no, this post is not about how to improve the level of intimacy with your partner, although I urge you to ask different questions and treat them with more mystery.

The message here is that if we ask the same old questions, we get more of the same old answers. And we deliver the obvious, which isn’t the result of curiosity.

Embracing known unknowns – asking more questions

This problem intensifies when we are awash with data and information. We can access and think we know the answers, all the time. We think we know the people we live with and the businesses we work in. That we don’t really need to ask questions, right? At least not beyond the functional day-to-day.

This is wrong.

We must ask more questions. We must try not to know what we know. We must ask more questions of what we do know.

The more we know, the more important our questions become. The more questions we need to ask.

Look at ChatGPT where an OpenAI bot was awarded an A* grade by staff at my son’s school in London. The chat bot was very good at knowing the answer, but it only got there because it was questioned.

Given the ease of finding answers, schools are putting more emphasis on what they call ‘flipped’ learning. Where students are encouraged to research and prepare thoughts and questions based on what they learn, rather than churning out essays. Thinking critically and asking questions is what is being taught and assessed, as opposed to how well a student can come up with an answer to a question.

In insight, we often focus on trying to get to the answers. To give recommendations and solutions. It is our job. But should we learn from our schools and flip our focus too? Are we too focused on collecting information and accumulating knowledge over finding new ways to question and think?

We’ve always been told: go beyond the data. Go beyond the obvious. Give us a clear answer.

But, from what we’ve learnt about curiosity and ChatGPT, having all the answers isn’t what builds strong connections and outcomes. It is more likely to shut minds, close conversations, and reduce the excitement that comes from having a little more mystery.

Even when we need to have a point of view and our audiences are relying on us for advice, we shouldn’t give all of our attention to delivering an answer. Instead, we should spend more time thinking through the questions the answer throws up. When we frame what we know and what the solution is as a question, we invite curiosity. We invite discussion. We create connection.

Strategic business advice isn’t about being right. You shouldn’t try to be the person in the room who makes out they have all the answers. In fact, that will just make you look ignorant, but not in a good Socratic way.

Next time you are delivering a presentation or strategy, don’t try to be right. Let the audience know that you don’t know.

Try deliberate ignorance. Pose your solutions as questions. Challenge the audience to question what they know and what they’ve heard. All of this will make you and your audience more curious and prepared for the ChatGPT world. Where answers are in decline and questions are rising in value.


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