Posts Tagged curiosity
From celebrating pets to ferrets, zoos, and dolphins, April is an animal lovers’ dream month as we celebrate National Ferret Day on April 2nd, 2017, National Zoo Lovers Day on April 8th, National Pet Day on April 11th, and National Dolphin Day on April 14th.
As I snuggled up with my business of jills (my group of female ferrets) during National Ferret Day, I thought about what lessons ferrets can teach us as a society. I submit to you that there are several key characteristics that ferrets, along with our other furry, feathered, and scaly friends, have that we could develop more extensively in ourselves.
Ferrets are phenomenal animals to own and watch as they test their limits and expectations with everything they encounter, not to mention their boundless curiosity. Whenever they come across something they would like to have as their “treasure” and they haven’t seen it before, they perform a ritual of tasting, circling, poking with their nose, and if the “treasure” passes their test, they then determine the best way to move it to their stash. No object is too heavy or bulky and everything is up for claiming. I cannot recount how many times my left shoe, box of garbage bags, or napkins have gone missing no matter how high or hidden they are.
What if we took lessons from this, and approached each new task, co-worker, or call and found a way to use your skills to test new things and find ways to make it your own? Ferrets both in the wild and as pets look at the world as endless opportunities to explore everything around them. Take time to be curious about new systems at work or about your newest co-worker. Talk to them about where they come from and what their experiences are. By developing new skill sets and relationships, you are ultimately setting yourself up for success both professionally and personally.
Besides being incredibly curious, ferrets are very intelligent. They can sense danger ahead of time and are attuned to human emotions. They know the difference between my left and right shoe, they can be potty-trained, and can do obstacle courses. They are ever learning new ways to get to where they want to go and they aren’t discouraged when they don’t “know” something. They simply observe what happens when they do a certain activity and try it differently if it doesn’t get the desired results they wanted.
Can you imagine how much life would change if we open our minds up and allow our brains to be re-wired to change our biases and perspectives on life? We could accomplish so much more as a society if we could just switch off our prejudice and focus on our common goals. So how do we use this knowledge about ferrets? The next time you are angry about how you were treated by your co-worker or boss, step back and filter that experience through their eyes. Do you think it was intentional or could they have been busy and not realized what they did or said could have triggered you? If you do that with every situation instead of automatically having assumptions, you will start to see the world differently and maybe you will be able to explain what about the incident made you angry so your co-worker and boss can try to adjust their actions.
My ferrets, like most animals, are social creatures. They seek out attention and want to have a community. They don’t shy away from being around others or seek isolation 100% of the time. Ferrets tend to want to be around their own kind, whether they are sleeping, hunting, or committing larceny. My ferrets sleep in the most awkward positions on top of each other and don’t seem to mind as they are near each other. If you remove one of them, the other will wake up and want attention too. Now I may never have seen my ferrets hunt, but I have watched wild black-footed ferrets hunt and it is very similar to when my ferrets are up to their thieving ways. Cooperation is key. They know that between the two of them they can figure out how to climb the cabinet to get that hidden bag of potato chips or how to move a pair of crutches from the closet to under the couch.
We should try to do this as well. Not the team larceny of personal property, but the seeking out of companionship and friendship. Don’t isolate yourself. Take that 5 minutes to talk to others at work, go out to lunch, or discuss what is going on. Surround yourself with supportive people and lean on your friends and family when times are tough or when you want to share your success and laugh.
Animals have lots of lessons they can teach us. From their character traits to their social interactions, if you pay attention to them, you can see an unbiased version of what it means to live contently, take risks, and thrive on adventure. Take a minute the next time you are at the zoo, outdoors, or cuddling with your favorite furry, feathered, or scaly friend, and thank them for showing you how to live. Enjoy your animals as I know I will be enjoying my beloved teachers. And don’t forget to give them a special treat to say thank you on one of these fun “holidays”.
To Your Wellbeing,
The MINES Team
I just finished a thought provoking and assumption challenging book, Curiosity, by Ian Leslie. I hope you get a copy and read it in its entirety. This blog addresses some, and not all, of the important information presented in the book.
The tag line on the cover directly implies that performance is impacted by “the desire to know and why your future depends on it.”
Leslie describes three types of curiosity. “diversive curiosity” is the restless desire for the new and the next. Think scrolling through your cell phone apps such as facebook, twitter, emails, wordpress, and news feeds, while spending very little time on any one piece. The value of “diversive curiosity” is that it helps the exploring mind find the new and the undiscovered. Its ultimate value is helping us be curious enough to learn futher about a subject, to do a deeper investigationThe second type of curiosity is “epistemic curiosity.” It is a “quest for knowledge and understanding, it nourishes us. This deeper, more disciplined and effortful type of curiosity” is the focus of the book ( prologue, p.xx).
The third type of curiosity is “empathic curiosity.” This is “about the thoughts and feelings of other people. It is distinct from gossip or prurience, which we can think of as “diversive curiosity” about the superficial detail of others’ lives. You practice empathic curiosity when you genuinely try to put yourself in the shoes – and mind – of the person you are talking to, to see things from their perspective… (p.xxi).”
The relevance for psychology of performance in business is far reaching. Given the complexity of our business environments, advances in science and technology, and the exponential growth of knowledge. Organizations and individuals who are not curious will become obsolete or become further and further behind compared to those who embrace epistemic curiosity and life-long learning.
Leslie does us the same service Malcom Gladwell and other synthsis writers do by diving into the scientific literature behind the statements in the book. One area that is concerning is the role of core subject knowledge and the ability to be curious. Schools who teach process skills without content knowledge produce students who are less capable of the creative, cross-discipline insights and thinking required to solve the complex and diverse problems we are faced with. This body of research is counter to what has happened in many schools across the country. One has to have information in order to know whether one wants to be curious and learn more about it. Leslie’s handrail was “knowledge loves knowledge.”
He adds an interesting case study related to Disney and Pixar concerning then-CEO of Disney Michael Eisner and co-founder of Pixar, Steve Jobs. Leslie looks at an interesting quote from Jobs stating that as Pixar was the creative organization producing one money making film after another while Disney was the distributor, Eisner only spent a little over two hours at Pixar rather than learning how Pixar was doing what it did and taking it back to Disney. Finally, after Eisner and Jobs left, Disney bought Pixar. If someone is out-performing you as an organization or individually, being curious as to how they are doing that could be a good process to go through rather than avoiding it, resting on the status quo, or other reasons for not learning more.
Leslie discussed breadth versus depth in knowledge and the need for both. He uses the concept of a “foxhog” (p.152). “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing” (p.151). A foxhog is one who combines deep knowledge of a specialty with broad understanding of other disciplines. Leslie also pays tribute to one of my favorite business people and writers, Charlie Munger, who is exemplary in his pursuit of knowledge outside of his field and in learning useful mental models from other disciplines. From a psychology of performance point of view, Charlie Munger and Warren Buffet have performed at high levels in their field for decades.
In order to improve your performance over your lifetime, be epistemically and empathically curious, be a lifelong learner, apply what you know, and take action!
Please have a day filled with loving kindness and extend compassion and sympathetic joy to everyone you meet.
Robert A. Mines, Ph.D., CEO & Psychologist