As we grow older we become accustomed and familiar with the reality surrounding us and with ourselves. Past experiences shape our perception of the world and teach us lessons that we carry around for most of our lives.
We make assumptions based on those experiences and lessons, indiscriminately sometimes. When we’re faced with an unfamiliar situation or a problem, our minds perceive it as a gap; a place of confusion or conflict. To resolve this discrepancy our mind naturally tends to fill in the blanks with information obtained from the things we know (experiences), so we assume things, most times without even realizing it.
We make assumptions about other people’s behaviors and even make predictions about the future without question; many times we make important life and career decisions based on those assumptions and when we fail, we look externally for the reasons of those failures without considering the part of us that assumes.
If creativity is a process where new, original, and valuable ideas are developed, then operating on a foundation of assumption is likely to take us into the opposite direction of creativity. Assumptions kill curiosity because curiosity lies in questioning the world around us and our selves.
The case of curiosity in children
The relationship between creativity and curiosity is a symbiotic one and is necessary because without one (curiosity) you can’t have the other (creativity).
Think about children under 5 or 6 years old and the early phase in their lives when everything becomes a question. Assumptions are not common in kids so young because their mind is like a blank slate; without prior experiences they cant assume but still they must make sense of the world around them and of themselves in the world and they do so, through their curious nature. Kids ask so many questions and learn fast because they are curious. Curiosity is what keeps them interested and wanting to know more.
While curiosity is theoretically a desirable trait in children (adults too), in practice it isn’t. In a number of studies teachers were given a list of common child traits that they found desirable and almost all checked curiosity, but when asked to list desirable traits without a prompt (a written list) almost none mentioned curiosity. Busy parents and overworked school teachers eventually put a stop to the wondrous nature of children and eventually they stop asking questions, they stop being curious.
The role of curiosity in creativity
Creativity demands an open mind, one that is not satisfied with recycled experiences, theories, and assumptions. The advances and innovations throughout our history are born from challenging what we thought we knew at any given time and questioning the familiar. Why and how are questions that stem from an unwillingness to stagnate and a desire to go deeper, to find out more, and come up with creative alternatives.
Painters experiment with colors and techniques pushing the boundaries of what they already know out of curiosity for potentiality. Would we be able to enjoy Voronet, the one of a kind color painted on an medieval monastery, if the artist wasn’t curious and didn’t push the boundaries of the color blue?
New and creative ideas are made possible because someone was curious enough to experiment and to ask questions that led them in that direction. The beauty of it is that when we’re curious we’re also less afraid. We learn a new bit of information that intrigues us, so we want to know more; its an internal need that ought to be satisfied regardless of the fears of failure, rejection, the unknown or that what you know might be challenged and that you may have been wrong all along.
Curiosity is a thirst that has to be quenched, an impulse that has to be satisfied, oftentimes no matter the price; its something that even if forgotten can be brought back and cultivated.
How do you cultivate your curiosity?
Photo credit: noir