Curiosity Everywhere

Finding Your Inner Sherlock

“Much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turn out to be priceless later on.” - Steve Jobs

While we at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany have been studying curiosity in the workplace, including its relationship to innovation, ideation, and pioneering in companies, it is important to remember where we got our inspiration from—everywhere.

Curiosity has long been paired with the achievements of artists, inventors, and philosophers. From innovators, such as Steve Jobs, to scientists like Marie Curie, the most prominent figures of our culture have attested that curiosity is a key trait that led to their success.

So how has society sought out curiosity and how can it continue to be incorporated into all aspects of life? 

Our State of Curiosity Report explores the relationship between curiosity and innovation in a bid to define curiosity and then measure it. After extensively reviewing academic literature on curiosity, we partnered with experts in the field, including Todd Kashdan, Ph.D., professor and senior scientist at George Mason University to break down curiosity into four definitive and measurable dimensions: inquisitiveness, creativity in problem solving, distress tolerance, and openness to other ideas.

As we became more immersed in the world of curiosity outside of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, it became apparent that these dimensions are all around. They are in the books we read, the music we listen to, even in the knowledge we seek. Our pop culture can act as the inspiration we need to incorporate curiosity into our daily lives.

In literature and the arts, the curiosity of others is a form of entertainment. Beloved characters such as the notable, British private detective Sherlock Holmes have portrayed this curiosity by possessing a key trait: inquisitiveness.

Defined as “exploratory behavior like freely asking questions and thinking and acting beyond one’s own job requirements,” we believe inquisitiveness is a dimension of a curious person. Author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle engages his readers with the adventurous tales of Holmes who uses fierce inquisitiveness to ask the right questions and solve crime mysteries; it is Holmes’ curiosity that creates exciting narratives.

Curiosity is also commonly associated with creativity in problem solving; and when thinking of these ideas, artists such as, Dali, Kahlo, and Picasso immediately come to mind. However, inquisitiveness and creativity are not the only catalysts of curiosity. The element that bridges it together is distress tolerance—or the ability to meet the unfamiliar with bravery rather than anxiety. 

  The blurry silhouette of a person writing on a pad seen against a purple background   The blurry silhouette of a person writing on a pad seen against a purple background

Those who are bravely curious take risks to be that way—and they are rewarded for it. At the end of 2016, Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Swedish Academy celebrated Dylan "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition." While it has been a controversial choice to award the musician a prize often reserved for authors, it is a testament to the creativity required to redefine genres and go against the status quo.  

Technology has also allowed for a shift from admiring curious individuals to becoming curious individuals. With outlets, such as the popular TED conferences people are open to a variety of experiences and ideas without global boundaries. Over 100 countries have independently hosted TEDx talks on “ideas worth spreading” allowing for communities of curious individuals to explore topics ranging from music to food, both in person and online.

Dr. Todd Kashdan, a curiosity expert, says that, “when we close ourselves off, we lose opportunities for creativity and innovation.”

Therefore, by being more open and seeking new experiences and perspectives, individuals can cultivate their curiosity through online outlets that have allowed for a spread of knowledge. Now, an exploration of infinite topics is encouraged and accessible.

Curiosity surrounds us not only through the figures in history who have embodied the four defining traits to create great literature, art, and music, but in how each person can prove to be curious. 

Dr. Kashdan says, “There are two questions that you ask to determine if someone is curious. Everyone misses the second one. The first thing: ‘Is this something new or mysterious?’ Yes, or no? If you say ‘yes,’ it doesn’t mean you’re going to be curious. The second is: ‘Do I think I can handle the anxiety that comes from confronting the new, the mysterious…’ If the answer is ‘yes’ to both, then you’re going to be curious.”

How curious are you? Take the self-test and read our State of Curiosity Report

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