Curiosity is an endangered species. But curiosity and imagination are the sources of the solutions for the crises we are currently facing. That is the starting point of “Radical Curiosity: Questioning Commonly Held Beliefs to Imagine Flourishing Futures”. I tend to agree. We are not spending enough time thinking and exploring ideas. Business is uncomfortable with curiosity as a way of living, leading, and doing daily business. We are trained to move swiftly toward solutions. So fast that, too often, we leap straight into answers before knowing the questions.
The combination of inquiry and invention is the culture of curiosity that has become endangered and on the verge of extinction. And this costs us dearly, both as individuals and as a society. Our roles have been reduced to administrators of predetermined solutions rather than interrogators of the unknown.
We are no longer participants in our own lives
Governments are supposed to be a reflection of who we are. However, most of us do not see ourselves in government. We are experiencing alienation. The social contract is in breach, rendered null and void, not explicitly but implicitly, through a sense of indifference and disengagement among the very participants whose well-being is intertwined with that contract. The plug has been pulled on being engaged, interestedness has been severed.
Operationalising solutions is now more important than authoring new wisdom. But the crises of our time are not commercial, technological, or scientific; they are fundamentally humanistic. We need an inquiry into the assumptions and the inherited design of the modern human experience.
I loved the book. A bit like “Know this”, it is a dip sauce book. A book you read one chapter a day and then let settle in. It makes you think about concepts such as “legacy narratives”. How language has a stronghold over (public) imagination. Legacy narrative vs challenger narratives. How you should learn by questioning (in Bookbuzz, we use question storming), how you should challenge commonly held beliefs, apply rigorous imagineering and ultimately create an optimistic future. A bit like the message in “Imaginable”.
Whistle stop tour of the book
But also concepts such as “outsiderness”, work as a set of moments, how neural addiction is destroying our ability to think (read Pancake people), interruption, distraction and lack of flow (read Deep work), innovation for good, awe, Peter Pan, gastronomy (Read “Gastrophysics”), quiet solitude, humility, the experience economy, happiness, the power of conversations, fourth places, languishing and active rest, aliveness as a moral responsibility, joy, spontaneity, purpose, the comedian as a gladiator, humour as a language for curiosity, Willie Wonka and designing of the workplace, employee experience, nature, Eastern philosophy, walking as a radical act, transcendentalism, rural versus urban, the degradation of our planet’s soil, flourishing, eudaimonics, the field of dreams, utopia, hope, slow flow, moonshots and stories as social infrastructure.
Become a serendipity machine
The world is exponentially more diverse than we know, and we are so much more than a sum of data or an algorithm. Read “Sensemaking” . So go travel, meet people, read books, expose yourself to new impressions and embrace the extraordinary and infinite wisdom of the human experience. Become a serendipity machine (Read “Antifragile“). Throw yourself at living. Make life your classroom and your tremendous bundle of experiences your curriculum.
Our education system
The book asks questions about our education system. Is the purpose of education to prepare a workforce or is the purpose of education to nurture critical thinking? If you are a Ken Robinson fan, you know the answer. Education is a pipeline for young people to enter the economy rather than their lives or the conversation the world is engaged in. When ChatGPT can pass a Wharton MBA exam, we have to really rethink our education system (I am a fan of the Finnish education system). Human beings are not savings accounts or production units. We are originators of value creation—one of the key attributes of curiosity.
Funny enough, the word “school” derives from the Greek scholē, originally meaning “leisure.” Success could make every man and woman like a citizen of ancient Greece, honing bodies and minds with sport, philosophy, and art. The expansion of the notion of leisure as the freedom to be an active and accountable agent of change in the world is an empowering redefinition. This is precisely why leisure and curiosity are fundamentally linked. Intentional leisure is not the absence of labour but the presence of purpose—the freedom to practice active rest that heals as an exploration that cultivates meaning. When we blend education and vacation as an integrated lifestyle, it generates exponential value.
Stories as regenerative catalysts
It is time for a new narrative. In uncertain in-between times, the stories we tell ourselves are powerful frameworks that help us work out who we are in the present moment and what we value. Humans aren’t aware that we are constantly moving through stories. From novels to films to religious myths, dreams and fantasies, jokes, pro wrestling, and children’s make-believe…. When the uncertainty is too much to bear, we turn to storytelling to try to imagine and articulate emerging narratives that give us hope. Unfortunately, surviving the twenty-first century requires the ability to discern which stories are true and which are forms of selling or marketing. Whose story are you? If you want to control you have to articulate the world you want to live in first.
Radical curiosity begins with first-principles thinking. It requires breaking down ideas, assumptions, and narratives to their most essential components and then reconstructing them anew. It always starts with asking the right questions and the right frames. Asking essential questions, imagining what achieving the desired answer to that question might look like. Creativity as a dialogue of questions and answers, a kind of unfolding dance.
But what makes a good essential question? Essential questions embody several characteristics.
- Essential questions invite us to revisit ideas we have taken for granted.
- Essential questions strip away the veneer and seek to get closer to the core motivations.
- Essential questions allow for a wider array of contributing variables.
- Essential questions focus on longer time frames, looking further out into the future.
- Essential questions shine a light on our biases, making them transparent.
- Essential questions resist the personal but embrace the empathetic.
- Essential questions contain absurdity, celebrating an inversion of expectations.
- Essential questions are intimate. They challenge us to forge trusted social contracts with colleagues, collaborators, and partners.
- Essential questions break disciplinary, sector, and departmental barriers. They challenge us to see holistically.
- Essential questions empower critical thinking.
We have a sense of responsibility
The main task in the coming era is a radical renewal of our sense of responsibility. The question can no longer be “What can I expect from life?” but can now only be “What does life expect of me?”Now, imagination is the most valuable natural resource on earth. More than any other skill traditionally associated with business, the number one quality CEOs cited was creativity. We need to become fluent in the languages of the imagination in order to unleash it. Our ability to understand imagination, unlock its value, and adopt it as a leadership and daily practice is what we call creativity. The MFA is the new MBA. Maybe it’s time we looked to artists, creatives, and all professional wielders of imagination to take a serious crack at these intractable challenges.
The book uses the story about climate change as an example. The narrative that is unfolding is a case study in complexity. It has become more urgent to anchor our understanding of future climate scenarios, recognising that climate change will be a significant threat in our children’s lifetimes. We need to change the story we tell ourselves. The wicked challenges we face are, for better or for worse, outcomes of our own success. Considering that we’ve imagined the current state of the world, we can reimagine our way out of it. See imagination as a renewable natural resource.