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Into the Unknown

Curiosity - a Gift from Childhood

I believe the future belongs to the brave, to the explorers, the learners, the dreamers, the doers. They are the reason we are here today; a moment in time when ideas are the pollen waiting to flourish where anything is possible. A time when incessant curiosity followed by innovation has never been faster in replacing outdated products and processes.

Take for example the automobile; it’s been nearly 210 years since François Isaac de Rivaz designed the first car powered by an internal combustion engine. The general premise of the car hasn’t changed much since its inception; a fossil-fuel burning motor propelling four wheels forward.

Now compare that with the past five years. The rapid evolution we are seeing in the automobile industry is not coming from the industry itself, but instead, from outsiders questioning what is possible. Questions that are audacious in nature and not beholden to the past. Questions that start with curiosity; the wonder that we all had as children.

It’s this curiosity that has been preserved in a few of us to follow through even if we know the probable outcome is failure. It’s the wonder in the unknown, in the discovery of something new, that drives creativity and innovation. It’s the questions that move us forward. 

Eighteen years ago, Larry Page and Sergey Brin followed their curiosity and came up with the answer that would become Google. Nine years ago Steven P. Jobs followed his curiosity and introduced the world to the iPhone. And just today, Elon Musk unveiled the result of his curiosity in the form of a film showing us his vision for an interplanetary transport system. All because of the transformative power of curiosity.

This inherent curiosity is quite common among “T-shaped” people; the vertical bar on the T represents the depth of skill of a person while the horizontal bar represents a broad understanding of many disciplines. For example: My vertical bar in the T is creativity and design, while the horizontal bar represents my interest in making things, coding and above all my insatiable curiosity. And as I know from experience, following through on curiosity can lead to unforeseeable greatness.

Connecting the Dots

Over four years ago, when I had my own design studio and was focused on building connectivity into everyday objects (now known as the “Internet of Things”), Google commissioned me to build two projects for an event using any Google application programming interface (API) that was available. As I have two young children at home and travel quite often, my goal with one of the projects was to create a sense of presence while I was away. It was with this in mind that I formulated the question: How might we feel a sense of closeness when we are away from one another?

The answer would be embodied in a kinetic lamp that hangs above our dining room table. By default (when I’m home) the lamp hangs low above the table. As I move further away from home, the lamp changes its vertical distance to the table, slowly raising itself ever higher. For a sense of my direction, the lamp rotates like a compass pointing in the direction of wherever I am located. This sense of presence creates an ambient awareness; the feeling of being nearby even when not physically in the area. A feeling that started with a question and the transformative power of following through on one’s own curiosity.

A few weeks after the project I did for Google was over, I had lunch with my contact at Google. That led to a position being appointed their Creative Evangelist; a role that had me inspiring, creating and innovating alongside their top clients such as Adidas and BMW. Ultimately, my role was to bring back a sense of wonder, amazement and discovery to those that had forgotten what it was like to move out of their comfort zones.

When I think back to being a child, and observe my own children, it is with an innate sense of curiosity that ignited the spark to where I am today. It’s been said that the creative adult is the child that has survived; as we grow older, we get more set in our ways of doing things. In contrast, the young are constantly learning and discovering the world around them. No matter how old one is, the youthful spirit is about curiosity. It is about curiosity and the will to want to know more – the will of discovery.

About

Jeremy Tai Abbett believes creativity and a bias towards action are the catalyst for shaping the future.

Jeremy Tai Abbett is an American designer, entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, and the former Creative Evangelist at Google. Voted as one of the 100 most influential people in the European digital industry, his mission is to elevate creativity in all its forms through inspiration, collaboration and creation.

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