How Curious

Doug Wilwerding –

I’ve been in business full time since I graduated from grad school in 1986. Over the years I have observed a number of commonalities that differentiate those who are distinctly successful from the adequate and the unsuccessful. Drive, attitude, endurance, durability, perspective, creativity, courage, self-discipline, practicality, and tenacity all play big roles in determining the outcome of a business career. Of course a little good fortune never hurts. A working combination of a handful of these traits will serve anyone well. Differentiating success requires something more.

Arguably the sharpest relief separating the top rung from all the others is their insatiable quest for ideas and information. The best of the best are intellectually metronomic: perpetually observing, thinking and learning ~ observing, thinking and learning.

We all come to understand early in life that the best students, the intellectually curious, get the best grades. That never ends. Curious, nimble, open minds employed as funnels constantly feed the mill of creativity. Creative and challenging thinkers are interesting to be around. Interesting people tend to find their way to lucrative and rewarding opportunities, which are the ‘grades’ of adulthood. The less curious students are left to toil in the predictable, the tried, and the common.

In 1977 I thought I was a ‘student’ in Fr. Charles Kanne, SJ’s freshman Latin class. Fr. Kanne informed me during class that I was in fact not a ‘student’ because in order to be a student I had to study. The evidence I was not studying was indisputable. I had lousy grades. As a result of my embarrassment and a modest competitive streak spurred by Fr. Kanne’s not so subtle and completely appropriate guidance I gradually became a better student. A funny thing happened on the way to the diploma, the more I studied the more curious I became. Even nearly forty years after high school I have never stopped appreciating him for challenging me to work my mind.

Robert Frost concludes his poem, The Road Not Taken with, “two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference”. Most people choose the well-worn road of the known, predictable and comfortable. They think what they thought yesterday and the day before. They stick to the tools and techniques that have served them well, the handles and methods worn smooth from constant use. Many people wish for better tomorrow’s but the effort it takes and the risk involved to think different thoughts, learn different things, to be a student and act on the learning is more than they are willing to invest. I still find myself in this camp more often than I like to admit.

And then there are the others, those whose curious appetite cannot be sated. Those who just need to know a little more, to peer down one more rabbit hole to see what may be there, for these people conventional wisdom is unacceptable. These are the people I am interested in. These are the inventors, the disrupters, the agitators, the lifelong students who constantly ask ‘why’ not just to ask the provocative question, but also to joyfully take up the burden of finding the answer, frequently leading to a better answer than they started with. The philosopher, the outsider, the heretic, the madmen dig and poke and prod the current version of reality until the cubicle collapses and the illumination of a new version floods the space between what is and what can be.

As you look at your team, starting with yourself, ask; who are the students? Who is curious? Who is constantly hungry to know a little more? And who has the ability to take what they learn and put it to work differentiating themselves and the team in the process?

Thank goodness for the doers whose hands know today’s tools and use them deftly. We need all the doers we can get. And thank God for the curious, the insatiable, the restless, who cannot be satisfied and need to know ever more.

What are you curious about? Is now a good time to satisfy that curiosity? Who knows where your studies may lead.


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