The case for being curious – in spatial decision making (and life in general)
The proverb ‘Curiosity killed the cat…’ is no doubt full of wisdom as proverbs are, but I frequently despair at the lack of curiosity people display. Who would discourage anybody from being curious? Being curious is the key to being creative. Not being curious is a dull way to approach life.
Curiosity in the workplace
Can you imagine saying in a job interview, “I rarely display any curiosity.” “Why?” the interviewer may ask. “Well because it wastes time when I could be knuckling down and doing my job!” But the thing is, I suspect, one of the reasons people do not display levels of creative curiosity is because they simply don’t have the time to be curious. This is especially the case in the workplace where I doubt ‘being curious’ is a KPI in any organisation (except for .id of course). We are being discouraged from being curious in our workplaces – we don’t have the time!
The need for curiosity in research
I regularly deal with Research people and I am frequently dismayed at the lack of curiosity people in the Research game display. Researchers are frequently defensive and feel like they have to at least appear to know the answer to everything. This means that they frequently resist being curious – because they already know! Asking a simple and fundamental question out of curiosity is worth 1,000 jargon-filled challenging ‘clever’ statements. Not knowing everything is normal; admitting not knowing things is reasonable. I once worked for a guy who chastised me for telling a client that I didn’t know the answer to something. He said that I should at least make out that I knew the answer. I suppose he figured that was good business. Personally I don’t think it is because it is not honest. It’s also an attitude that is akin to not being curious.
If you are a Research or Policy person then being curious is right up there with being able to write and is at least as important as being numerate! How about that coming from a demographer steeped in the quantitative paradigm?!
Curiosity and story telling
I believe that policy and research people are empowered in their work if they can build a narrative around the work they present. Story telling is the most powerful way to persuade and influence decision makers. .id’s work is all about understanding places. This is why we specifically convert data to information and knowledge – so as to use it to build a narrative about a place. Building an evidence-based narrative about a place in order to work out how you are going to distribute your resources is the most powerful way to confidently make your decisions and to convince others that you are making good spatial decisions.
However, it is difficult to effectively build a narrative about a place from data and information unless you are curious. Curious thinkers are explorers and are driven to look at relationships between factors. “This is renowned as a wealthy area, but the data is showing significant declines in household income occurring….. Is this place declining in socio-economic status? OR Is that because the population is uniformly ageing here and reaching retirement age (and therefore declining income levels)?” If that’s the case then you can’t necessarily rely on household income data as an indicator of wealth – but, of course, you don’t need to because your curiosity-led examination of the data for the area enabled you to build an evidence-based narrative to answer meaningful questions.
To all you researchers, planners, consultants and policy analysts out there, this means that we should ask questions (of others and ourselves) based on our curiosity. They don’t need to be clever questions, just honestly curious. And when you are using .id’s web applications for your work, you’ll get maximum value out of them if you are curious. Click on all the buttons and options available because you can’t break websites – the worst you can do is waste a little work time being curious. And you can be sure that that won’t be time wasted – as Albert Einstein said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning… Never lose a holy curiosity.”
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