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What Curiosity Really Did to the Cat

Did curiosity kill the proverbial cat? If so, does that mean curiosity is something to be feared and avoided? Read on to find out what curiosity really did to the cat and the effect it has on you, your brain, and your success.

“I think I benefited from being equal parts ambitious and curious. And of the two, curiosity has served me best.” ― Michael J Fox

Felines are designed for curiosity, to explore their environments and discover anything hiding there. Their eyes, ears, nose and whiskers work in sync to uncover hidden prey and dangers. Cats survive and thrive due to their natural instinctive curiosity. Clearly curiosity helps cats much more often than it kills them.

Why then do we caution against curiosity by saying things like, “curiosity killed the cat?” Usually it is meant as a caution against sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong or looking too deeply into a potentially dangerous situation. But when you say it you are telling your brain that curiosity is bad and should be avoided.

Therefore, I recommend removing the saying from your repertoire of pithy retorts and here’s why: curiosity benefits humans at least as much as it does cats. As you can imagine, it improves creativity and innovation. But surprisingly, studies show that curiosity also improves teamwork, fosters empathy and makes us less susceptible to confirmation bias and stereotyping.

Other benefits include:

  • enhanced ability to think deeply and rationally

  • better decision making

  • improved memory

  • enhanced ability to learn

Those are just some of the benefits so it is obvious that curiosity is a useful trait to have. But where does it come from? Is it something we can develop or are you either born curious or not?

New interest in an old game

In 2020 Google reported that searches for “chess” surged to their highest level in 14 years. Registrations on the site suddenly boomed in November with registrations up 400%.

What accounts for the sudden interest in an ancient, difficult, and complex game? You probably guessed that the answer is The Queen’s Gambit, an extremely popular TV series that became Netflix’s most watched limited series of all time.

The Queen’s Gambit is a fictional account of a young female chess prodigy. It presents the game so compellingly that it sparked viewers’ curiosity about the mysterious game.

Most people already knew chess existed but may not have known much about it. In the show they saw a game that was not just played by old esoteric male brainiacs, but appealed to people across all ages, races and genders. The producers made the game look fun, intriguing and sexy. As the protagonist, Beth Harmon, explains, “"Chess isn't always competitive. Chess can also be beautiful."

What can we learn from this? There are two drivers necessary to ignite curiosity:

1) You have to know the thing exists.

2) You need a reason to take an interest in it.

A curious development

Here are some tips for developing your “curiosity muscle” so you can enjoy all the benefits that having a curious mind has to offer:

  1. Identify what you love and why - If you like to cook, what is it about cooking that fascinates you? Or why do true crime shows draw your attention? Who are the people that inspire you? What classes in school did you enjoy the most?

  2. Go wider and deeper - Take one of the things you already love and learn more about it or something related to it. The cooking enthusiast can find out how people prepare food in other parts of the world. That may lead to an interest in a culture they were not aware of, which may lead them to discover a new style of music.

  3. Explore what else the world has to offer - We are living in an age of unprecedented access to knowledge.

  4. Discover personal stories of people you know - If you want to be interesting to other people, be interested in them. People are fascinating and we all love to share our stories. Ask, listen, and respond. Not only does it help flex your curiosity, but it makes you more likeable and helps to build stronger relationships.

“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

We don’t need curiosity to survive like cats in the wild, but we do need to be curious if we want to grow and improve to our fullest potential and become the best version of ourselves.

- Steve Haffner, decision performance and productivity expert

Want to learn more about improving your thinking and decision making?

Click here for my free book, 7 Strategies for Making Better Decisions


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