We think curiosity - the fierce, unwavering desire to know more - is an important part of social innovation. It is a mindset - a way of being and thinking - rather than a tool or method. It’s the opposite of normality, status-quo, dogma, or a fixed belief that what we know to be true is unwavering and unchanged. It can sometimes feel different to expertise, where we depend on our existing expert knowledge and skills instead of questioning, wondering and asking more.
To be clear, we’re not talking about the kind of curiosity that sees what would happen if we put a knife in the power socket, stared relentlessly at the sun, or attempted to fly off a cliff on an old beach umbrella. That type of curiosity most definitely killed the cat. And killing the cat is not the goal of social innovation.
It is common for us to use our knowledge and experience to avoid curiosity - ‘I know about this issue and these people, I’ve done this work for years’. However, in order to change the policies, programmes and services we design and deliver, we need to stay ever curious, challenge our current knowledge and thinking, and assume we always need to ask more questions. In this way, we stay curious about the world, the views and need of others, and about ourselves; and we remain willing to open our ears, minds and hearts in an effort to always learn more. Creativity and innovation, vital to social innovation, are born out of curiosity.
What does curiosity ask of us?
Curiosity asks us to be willing to:
Be here now
Question and listen intently
See and hear it it all
Slow cook in uncertainty
Redefine our understanding of ‘expert’.
1. Be changed
Normality and the status quo are the arch-enemies of social innovation. If we’re to harness curiosity, we have to be open to being changed by what we see, hear, feel and experience - our values, assumptions, beliefs, attitudes or views. Curiosity cannot work if we’re closed, dogmatic or holding tightly to the need to know.
2. Be here now
Curiosity recognises we live in a world that is constantly changing. An exciting and novel product or service yesterday may be a basic expectation today and altogether irrelevant tomorrow. Being here now requires us to suspend what we’ve learned and understand in order to entertain the possibility those things aren’t true anymore. Curiosity relieves the burden of the past and gifts us fresh senses.
3. Question and listen intently
The easiest way to work with our curiosity is to continuously practice asking open questions and listening deeply to the responses. We love this explanation of asking open, deep questions. We used the following curiosity questions to explore home and wellbeing during our event that explored this mindset:
"If 'home' was a cake, what would the ingredients be?"
"Where does 'home' exist for you? One place ? Multiple?"
"If you could have any animal's 'home', which would you have? Why?"
"What does 'wellbeing' look like for you?"
"If an alien judged your 'wellbeing' what would they think?"
"What common 'wellbeing' practices do you think are rubbish? Why?"
To really listen, curiosity requires us to remain an empty vessel: removing assumptions and preconceptions that prevent us from learning more.
Curiosity is damn courageous. It requires that we ask hard questions, listen to difficult answers, and risk looking stupid or losing friends by asking questions that need to be asked. Questions that we we are often afraid of asking.
4. See and hear it it all
When designing policies, services or products we often seek feedback after we’ve already made one or many decision(s). This limits what we’re able to see as we naturally ignore feedback that doesn’t fit with the plan or hypothesis we’ve already developed. We must be willing to start with curiosity instead of certainty and see what we don’t like, what doesn’t immediately appear to make sense or what we’d hoped not to see.
What are you not seeing? What are you unwilling to see?
5. Slow cook in uncertainty
Curiosity often requires us to stay in the ‘not knowing place’, waiting patiently for something to become clearer as we gather more and more insight from people and the world around us. Richness emerges as we slow cook in not knowing, resisting jumping to conclusions prematurely.
Curiosity and our mindset Being in the Grey go hand in hand.
6. Dig deeper
With the prevalence of buzzwords in our customer feedback culture like ‘user friendly’, ‘efficient’, ‘culturally relevant’ or ‘personal’ we can become deaf, we’ve heard it all before, right?
Disregarding something because we feel we’ve heard it before is a surefire way to suppress our curiosity. We have to dig deeper than that, to be curious about what something like ‘personal’ really means to someone. It can mean wildly different and often surprising things to people if we take the time to dig deep by asking “why?”
7. Redefine our understanding of ‘expert’
Finally, curiosity asks that we redefine our understanding of what ‘expert’ means for us or our expectations of others. In an increasingly complex world, we cannot and should not expect ourselves or others to have all the answers. People and culture are constantly in flux. What if we celebrated and encourage experts who bring curiosity, in all its forms, to their practice?
Are you willing to look at the world and your work with fresh eyes? What might you see if you gave up the need to be ‘right’ or the ‘expert’?
Above all, curiosity asks us to stay curious. Curious about the world, about others and their views, and about ourselves. It asks we enter into a love affair with it and stay interested - resisting the temptation to run off with the status quo, normality, or ‘the way things have always been’.