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Where Marketers Go to Grow

January 7, 2016 // 6:00 AM

How to Be a More Curious Person: 7 Tips for Becoming a Lifelong Learner

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How to Become More Curious

The other day, I was in the grocery store. I overheard a cart-bound little kid asking his mom question after question. "Mom, why do they put so many apples out at once?" he asked as they browsed the produce section. "Mom, what's Ocean Spray?" he speculated from one aisle over.

His enthusiasm and investigative demeanor got me thinking about my own level of curiosity. After all, in today's fast-paced, innovation-heavy world, what we know today might not be valuable to us in a few weeks, months, or years. And if we want to remain agile, we need to continue to seek out and explore new information, new mediums, and new opportunities.

We need to be more curious.

While it may seem like an innate desire, there's actually a lot you can do to nurture and increase your own curiosity. From asking more questions to embracing the unexpected, the following tips are designed to help you become more curious.

How to Be a More Curious Person: 7 Tips for Becoming a Lifelong Learner

1) Ask every question.

Try as we might, it's impossible to have all the answers, all the time. And while it's easy to default to assumptions when faced with a challenging unknown, it's better to work through knowledge gaps by asking questions. 

When we ask questions, we're creating an opportunity to discover new, useful information that can be used to challenge our existing approach, expand our vision, and spark fresh ideas. Questioning allows us to become more insightful.

"People who get insights see something that's a little bit off, and instead of ignoring it, they're curious about it. Curiosity keeps our mind engaged to work out the implications," explains cognitive psychologist Gary Klein.

Don't know what questions to ask? The folks at HopeLab, a research and development organization, created a series of questions for curious leaders. Designed to help people remain both present and open, these prompts promote the importance of curiosity when assessing a situation. 

2) Consume content that's outside of your comfort zone.

I never realized how much there was to learn about coffee pots until mine stopped working one morning. It's funny the way that works, isn't it? When we don't have any initial knowledge about something, we're not really curious about it ... that is, until we have to be. 

Back in 1994, George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, suggested that curiosity does, in fact, require some initial knowledge. In other words, the more we know, the more we want to know. 

So if you're looking to become a bit more curious, you may want to try tapping into some subject matter you don't know much about. Whether you focus on productivity habits, Egyptian pyramids, beer brewing or something entirely different is up to you. The important part is that the content is unfamiliar -- basic research will spur you to want to know more.

3) Listen without judgment.

"Curious people are often considered good listeners and conversationalists," explains Ben Dean, Ph.D. in a newsletter for the University of Pennsylvania

By suspending judgment, you're ultimately allowing yourself to be more receptive to what someone is saying. You're focusing less on what you're going to say next, and more on the words and information they're choosing to tell you -- or not tell you.

So next time you're having a conversation with someone, just listen. When you take the time to truly absorb what they are saying, it'll be easier for you to formulate questions, warm up to new perspectives, and learn something new that you may have missed otherwise. 

4) Embrace the unexpected. 

Many people find themselves plagued by their own doubts, which causes them to miss out on new places, flavors, people, and experiences. But often times, doing something unexpected can trigger a chain of reactions -- both positive and negative -- that you can learn from and formulate questions based on. 

When you're busy worrying about the "what ifs," you're shutting yourself off from these types of unexpected opportunities. So go ahead, book that plane ticket. Go on that blind date. Say yes to the "chef's special" at a restaurant -- even if you're not quite sure how to pronounce it. 

Research reveals that surprise can actually drive our motivation to learn, so embrace the unexpected and celebrate whatever the outcome. 

5) Try not to dwell on the past. 

When you spend all your time worrying about the past, you don't give yourself a chance to be curious about the future. So rather than worrying about what you could have, would have, or should have changed about your last assignment, try to focus on strategies for blowing your next project out of the water. 

"The problem for many adults is that we stop being curious about new experiences and are instead focused on understanding what we've already been through," explains David Klow, founder of Skylight Counseling Center.

What new opportunities are out there for you to explore? Is there anyone in your network who can help you get better at XYZ? What conferences can you attend to expand your understanding of the industry you work in? Focus on what's to come, not what's already happened. 

6) Gamify learning.  

If you tend to view learning as dull or tedious, you'll probably find that training yourself to be more curious isn't easy. As you would imagine, this is a problem that many teachers are forced to overcome when dealing with unmotivated students. 

To inspire curiosity and excitement, many teachers have turned to gamification in the classroom. By gamifying lessons, they're able to regain the attention and interest of their students. 

Why does this approach work? Games make us "more curious, more determined, and more optimistic," explains game designer and author Jane McGonigal. According to her research, games allow us to try -- and try again -- without having to worry about failure, which helps to motivate us to keep going.

If you're having trouble staying curious about a subject, try turning your research into a game. Check out Quizlet's game mode to brush up on subjects by completing challenges such speed tests and drag-and-drop matching games. 

7) Change your perspective on a situation.

Rather than rest on your laurels when it comes to making decisions or planning projects, allow yourself to view the situation from the perspective of a stranger -- or better yet, your buyer persona. 

What would they suggest? What concerns would they have? What challenges do they face? Then, look at the situation through the eyes of your competitor, your boss, an industry outsider, etc. and continue the exercise.

"When we are curious about others and talk to people outside our usual social circle, we become better able to understand those with lives, experiences, and worldviews different than our own," explains Emily Campbell, research assistant at UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center. More curiosity and empathy is a good thing -- it can go a long way to making you a better marketer (and human). 

What are your favorite tips for thinking more curiously? Share them with us in the comments section below.

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Topics: Professional Development

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