Why is curiosity important?

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Stefania Dangila

“I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.” -- Eleanor Roosevelt

Curiosity is important because it stimulates life long learning and supports intellectual development, is the foundation of creativity influencing all aspects of the creativity change model, creativity components and supports creativity skills and attitudes. In addition, curiosity creates a more positive outlook and understanding of others.

Curiosity Stimulates Life Long Learning

Key to Learning Children‟s natural curiosity guides their learning of the world. Tapping into this natural learning process has been incorporated into many teaching models. Exploring one‟s interests will motivate learning (Forbes, 1993; Barell, 2002). One of the Teacher’s purposes and many of the activities is to arouse learner’s curiosity. In doing so, the learner will demonstrate more creative behavior throughout the learning process. Suggested activities include questioning, increasing awareness, confronting ambiguities and uncertainties, and making the strange familiar or making the familiar strange.

Enhances Intellectual Development

Although the framework of intelligence is beyond the scope of this paper, a basic definition of intelligence is the „ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations‟ (www.m-w.com). Without curiosity (defined as „the desire to know‟ (www.m-w.com)), an intelligent student would lack the motivation to learn. While it is not necessary that the desire to learn will directly impact to the ability to learn, the desire to learn (or curiosity) is a strong component in learning and intellectual development.

From a neurological/physiological perspective, the brain grows when new connections are made. New connections are made by interactions and thoughts such as those motivated by curiosity – discovering challenges, taking advantage of opportunities, stimulating the senses, and interacting with others. The more often a connection is made, the more easily it is to make that connection. Learning throughout life stimulates the brain causing it to continue to grow and develop (Diamond & Hopson, 1998; as cited in Barell, 2002).

Curiosity: The Foundation of Creativity

There is a fundamental link between curiosity and creativity. Osborn, the father of brainstorming, quoted James Harvey Robinson in his foundational work Applied Imagination (1963), “even occasionally and fitfully idle curiosity leads to creative thought”. Csikszentmihalyi clearly stated “the first step toward a more creative life is the cultivation of curiosity and interest” in recognition of how critical curiosity is to creativity (1996, p. 346). Using the Creative Change Model adaptation of the four Ps model of creativity (creative process, people, press, product) (Puccio, Murdock, Mance, 2007) curiosity is at the heart of creativity.

Figure 1: Curiosity and the Creative Change Model: A Systems Approach (adapted from Puccio, Murdock & Mance, 2007)

“The more curiosity the more creativity” (Ray & Myers, p. 40)

Fundamental Aspect of the Creative Process

Torrance (1994, from 1978) defined creativity as “a process of becoming sensitive to or aware of problems, deficiencies, and gaps in knowledge for which there is no learned solution: bringing together existing information from memory storage or external resources: defining the difficulty or identifying the missing elements: searching for solutions, making guesses and producing alternatives to solve the problem: testing and retesting these alternatives: perfecting them and finally communicating the results” (p.192-193). He went on to describe the human motivations necessary to fulfill this definition with “curiosity and wanting to know in the face of wonder, incompleteness, confusion, complexity, disharmony, disorganization, or change”(p.194). The creative problem solving (CPS) process as outlined in Puccio, Murdock & Mance (2006) is a multi-step process from assessing the situation, exploring the vision, formulating challenges, exploring ideas, formulating solutions, exploring acceptance and formulating a plan. They contend that the affective skill that supports the initial stage of the CPS process, assessing the situation, is curiosity. In addition, they described the importance of knowledge and data in every step of the CPS process. I would expand this to include that curiosity-driven questioning is important at all stages in the CPS process. The creative process is based on asking questions to define the problem (Who? What? When? Where? Why), generate ideas (What if?, making the strange familiar and the familiar strange) and plan for action (Who? What? When? Where?).

Core to Creative People

Davis (2004) identified curiosity as one of the sixteen well researched creative personality traits. He developed these categories from over 200 adjectives and brief descriptions of the creative personality gathered from over fifty (50) sources of creativity literature. Within the curiosity category, he included such characteristics as „asks many questions‟, „experiments‟, „seeks interesting situations‟, „asks Why?‟, „enjoys taking things apart‟, „wide interests‟, etc.

Establishes a Creative Climate

Ekvall (1996) outlined ten (10) climate factors that are important to foster a creative environment. These are: challenge, freedom, idea support, trust/openness, dynamism/liveliness, playfulness/humor, debates, lack of conflicts, risk taking, and idea time. Although Ekvall did not explicitly state the role of curiosity in creative climate, I would contend that a curious attitude will enhance seven of the ten dimensions (i.e., challenge, freedom, openness, dynamism/liveliness, playfulness/humor, risk taking, and idea time). When one is curious or wants to learn about something he/she is more likely to take on these characteristics. In addition, curious people will create an inner creative climate on these dimensions. That is, they will both challenge themselves and be free and open to new alternatives. This will lead to an internal feeling of liveliness and playfulness with a willingness to take risks. As they further their exploration and learning, individuals will find time to follow their curiosity (J. Cabra, personal communication, October 9, 2006). Benefit to Innovation The outcome of creativity is the creative product or the innovation that occurs (Puccio, Murdock, & Mance, 2007). I believe that the creative quality of the outcome (in terms of novelty, usefulness, originality, etc.) is based on the creative quality of the input provided. This notion is supported by Torrance (1994) “when creativity is defined as a product, the results of the process are embodied” (p. 28). Because curiosity is at the root of creativity, the more curious people are, and the more they engage their curiosity throughout the creative process, the more original and innovative the result. Further research could be conducted to explore the linkage between curiosity and innovation in more detail.

Curiosity Cultivates Personal Satisfaction & Empathy for Others

Curiosity is very powerful in enhancing one‟s engagement in and perception of their life and of other people.

Increases Life Satisfaction, Personal Achievement and Well Being Cameron‟s quote describes another key aspect of curiosity, that is, the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that it provides to human beings. Fixated on the need to have something to show for our labors we often deny our curiosity. Denying our curiosity, we deny our growth… Exploration leads to accomplishment. (Cameron, 2005) Torrance also had a strong understanding of this power of curiosity. He believed that viewing the world with a creative attitude and a sense of curiosity strongly influences one‟s future accomplishments (Torrance, 1983). Anthony (2003) proposed that curiosity allows one to continue to learn throughout life and provides exposure to new things and connections to facilitate personal growth and life-long satisfaction. Ludeman & Erlandson (2003) noted that rather than becoming defensive towards negative feedback, a curious attitude will allow a person to view the feedback as an opportunity for learning and personal development. Taking this a step further, curiosity may be integral in personal well being. Personal curiosity can be the impetus for searching for and obtaining personally meaningful activities, which in turn provide a sense of life direction and purpose (Seligman, 2002 as cited in Kashdan, Rose, Fincham, 2004). Ryan & Deci (2000), in their work on self-determination theory, found that intrinsic motivation and curiosity supported skill development, activities become easier, aspirations and ultimately, well being increases.


Stefania Dangila