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  • Writer's pictureAri Betof

The Benefits of Cultivating Purposeful Curiosity

If you think about it, learning to ask the right questions—and to ask them at the optimum moment—often means the difference between success and failure. Curiosity is what built human civilization. It’s that initial spark that drives all human progress and innovation.

The power of asking questions

Constantine “Costas” Andriopoulos, PhD, is professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at City, University of London’s Bayes Business School. His new book, Purposeful Curiosity, is subtitled The Power of Asking the Right Questions at the Right Time. It’s an excellent read for anyone interested in refining their ability to cut through distractions and focus on what matters to enhance work-life balance and real productivity—in and away from the office. 

As Andriopoulos sees it, we can all improve our lives by reawakening our inborn curiosity, and intentionally directing it to build knowledge, insights, skills, and innovations that will help us achieve our goals.

Purposeful curiosity, as the author sees it, is different in kind and degree from merely “idle” curiosity. Purposeful curiosity is productive; it converts the raw material of experience into actionable intelligence, and it adds value to our projects and our lives.

At the same time, we shouldn’t banish idle curiosity. We can use it in short bursts to relax, recharge, and discover new avenues of inquiry. However, curiosity directed toward a goal can propel us to achieve great things.

People who exemplify purposeful curiosity

In his book, Andriopoulos offers us the results of his years of research into how successful people use their curiosity to do exactly that. The contemporary people whose achievements he studied are those who advance human progress through decisive action driven by their purposeful curiosity. They are artists, chefs, designers, and other creators. They are explorers, venture funders, scientists, and others who have built careers on their search for knowledge. All of them are people who have put their search for meaning at the center of their lives.

These interview subjects, whose fascinating stories form the backbone of the book, have learned to take setbacks in stride, to cultivate resilience, to filter out noise and distractions, and to see problems as solvable puzzles. 

Nine characteristics to cultivate

Based on this information, Andriopoulos delineates for us nine specific behaviors that allow us to realize the breakthroughs and discoveries we are seeking.

These include:

  • cultivating your desire to know more

  • going where your curiosity leads you

  • moving beyond fear

  • building your personalized curriculum

  • finding your supportive community

  • planning for and mitigating problems

  • leaping into the unknown

  • growing resilience in tough times

  • forging new beginnings from what you’ve learned

Reading this book, you’ll feel your own purposeful curiosity ignited, as well as your courage to move outside your comfort zone. 

The many benefits of learning to tap into the power of purposeful curiosity include enhanced critical thinking skills, increased health and wellbeing, and even a new understanding of how to throw off the emotional burnout and information overload inherent in our digital age. 

Teaching and learning curiosity

Andriopoulos has built his decades-long career around teaching people how to more effectively explore and take charge of their curiosity.

His work at Bayes includes directing the work of Bayes X, a research arm of the school centered on disruption and innovation. He additionally teaches advanced business and executive education classes designed to encourage students’ curiosity and passion about starting new enterprises and products. Andriopoulos also serves as director of management consultancy firm Avyssos Advisors Ltd.

For Andriopoulos, curiosity is the wellspring of innovation, and he approaches his subject as a professional educator and as a father deeply invested in nurturing his own family’s curiosity. 

His insights into the distractibility of his students in our over-stimulated, social media-rich, instant-gratification age became one of the prompts for him to compile his research into a book. He noticed that, while they showed a hunger to learn and explore new things, his students often didn’t know how to do that in the most focused and productive way. They allowed themselves to drift from one topic to another, content to skim the surface of knowledge. They were unpracticed in staying focused and allowing themselves to dig deep enough to gain real expertise.

He set out to learn more about this “butterfly” way of skimming over knowledge, and to find out what effects this tendency was having on the world of business and innovation. He also wanted to offer his students and his readers an alternative—to show them how to make a more sustained effort to learn about the subjects most important to them. 

As Andriopoulos writes in his preface, his goal is nothing more nor less than to “make purposeful curiosity the new normal.”

Begin here: time, mindset, inspiration

So then, how do you start cultivating your own purposeful curiosity? According to Andriopoulos, it begins with a couple of simple-sounding concepts: mindset and inspiration. He notes that most of us don’t know what these words actually involve.

To cultivate a mindset that allows inspiration to blossom, you need to step back from the over-stimulated, always-on world we’ve surrounded ourselves with. Set aside the time to get comfortable entertaining your own thoughts, and allow your sense of wonder to emerge.

“One of the most significant barriers” to growing our curiosity, Andriopoulos writes, is our lack of purpose in making time for it. When you give your natural inquisitiveness the space to roam freely, you never know what you might stumble upon.

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