All great work starts with a question, according to author Todd Henry in his newest book Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day.
But in the midst of daily chores and tasks, our curiosity can dampen. We focus more on what needs to get done and less on trying new things or pursuing new projects.
And yet, as Henry writes, “…while a curious, questioning mind-set may seem insufficient when we’re under pressure to deliver quick results, it actually makes us more effective in everything we do.”
For instance, having an inquisitive approach to life can help you be more effective at work, producing unique ideas and solving stubborn problems. Curiosity can propel you to engage in fascinating hobbies and create an absorbing environment for your kids.
It can propel you to create meals with novel combinations and travel to new worlds. It can propel you to build deeper, more meaningful relationships, and simply lead a more interesting and playful life.
So how can you cultivate your curiosity? Create the structure and time to do so. In Die Empty, Henry includes these valuable tips:
1. Keep a log of questions.
Many of us worry when we don’t know something. We see this not knowing as a disappointment or failure. Henry sees it differently.
“Give yourself permission to not know things. Some people see ignorance as a point of failure, but successful people see it as acknowledgement of reality and an opportunity for growth.”
Asking questions leads to aha! moments, he says. Pretending to know something usually does not.
So before you read a book, attend a meeting or experience something new, write down several questions you’d like answered. Also, when you don’t understand something or want more information on a topic, turn it into a question, and jot it down.
As Henry writes, “’How do squirrels know where they’ve buried nuts?’ or ‘How does a touch screen work?’ are on the same footing here.”
Compile a list of “must-read books or articles, must-have experiences or must-learn concepts.” Ask someone in your life or field to help you create the list. Note the questions that come up.
2. Carve out time to answer those questions.
Make time for immersing yourself in the resources that ignite your curiosity – anywhere from an hour a week to an hour a day. Henry keeps a “Stimulus Queue,” a list of interesting books, movies and articles he comes across during the day and wants to revisit later during his “study time.”
He also suggests leaving extra time after your study session for reflection. Consider how that book, article or movie relates to your own work.
At the start of your day, consider what you’d like to learn. At the end of the day, consider what you did learn.
3. Dedicate a space for your curiosity.
Henry suggests finding a space “where your only job is to pursue the things that evoke your sense of wonder.” This can be anything from a separate office to a specific chair at a coffee shop to a bench at the park.
“Wherever (and whenever) it is, make it your place to escape, think, pursue your deeper questions, and stoke the fire of your curiosity.”
4. Shift your perspective.
It’s easier to find creative solutions when you’re able to see problems from different angles and perspectives. For instance, Henry suggests considering a current project, “and ask yourself what the project is aspiring to become.” Then list three or four keywords that describe these aspirations.
Another strategy is to compare your current problem with past challenges. See if you can find similarities among products on the market or other people or experiences. Start with “How is this like…” and note all the similarities and patterns. As Henry says, the goal here is to nudge your brain in a novel direction.
Also, consider if you’re putting artificial limits on the project by making assumptions. Challenge those assumptions. “If assumptions weren’t challenged, innovation would cease. We wouldn’t have jazz, the personal computer, or the entire field of quantum mechanics.”
Think of your problem’s attributes, and describe them in concrete terms. Use each word to spark a new question.
Being curious is key to creativity. It’s a powerful way to do your best work and really to live your best life.