Have We Lost Our Curiosity? Here’s How To Find It

Researchers at the Netherlands Cancer Institute recently announced that they have discovered what they believe to be a new organ in the human body: a set of salivary glands deep in the upper part of the throat. This small region behind the nose was thought to only host microscopic salivary glands, but the newly discovered ones are 1.5 inches long on average and are believed to moisten and lubricate the upper throat.

The discovery came by accident when researchers for the institute were examining CT and PET (positron emission tomography) scans to study prostate cancer.  

“So, imagine our surprise when we found these,” Netherlands Cancer Institute radiation oncologist Wouter Vogel said in a statement.

The discovery is expected to help cancer patients who have trouble eating, swallowing, or speaking as a result of treatment and is the first significant finding on the salivary glands in three centuries. 

Hiding in Plain Sight

Around the same time and on the other side of the world, scientists discovered a new animal figure in the “Nazca Lines,” a UNESCO World Heritage site comprised of geoglyphs created more than 2,000 years ago by a civilization in Peru called Nazca. Artists created the figures by manipulating the desert floor and leaving the darker earth below exposed. 


One of the many animal figures from Nazca.


Although other recent discoveries of geoglyphs have occurred, this one almost slipped under their radar. It wasn’t until Peru’s culture ministry was planning a new viewpoint for visitors that they discovered the ancient etching. 

In a statement the ministry said, “The figure was scarcely visible and was about to disappear, because it’s situated on quite a steep slope that’s prone to the effects of natural erosion.”

Are We Positioned for Discovery?

These twin discoveries got me to thinking: As disruptors, we are all in on the idea of asking “What if?” and “How might we?” But are our minds primed to dig deeper into what people need? And to understand why they need it? Have we lost our curiosity? Are the answers hiding in plain sight?

Sometimes, I find an Easter egg hiding in an online video and think I’m the next Galileo. But to think like Galileo, I have to remind myself that I still have a lot to learn and discover.

And maybe even a lot to forget.

Genetic researchers have a mantra: “‘Half of what you learned in school is wrong. We just don’t know which half yet.” I like that approach. It suggests that we need to hold lightly to what we think we know and to assume that there’s a lot we don’t. 

And curiosity is more important than ever. Consumer behaviors and expectations have shifted more in the last year than the entire previous decade. Technology is ever-evolving. If we consider that existing solutions solve a problem for good or that King Tut’s tomb shouldn’t be reopened to examine it in another context, then we won’t find game-changing solutions.

So how do we position our minds to maintain curiosity? 

1. Eliminate fear that you’re asking the wrong question.

As the Harvard Business Review stated in a study about curiosity, “Fear of asking questions is misplaced. When we demonstrate curiosity about others by asking questions, people like us more and view us as more competent, and the heightened trust makes our relationships more interesting and intimate. By asking questions, we promote more-meaningful connections and more-creative outcomes.” 

Takeaway: Ask more questions, and take time to listen to the replies.

2. Be humble.

Pepperdine University researchers conducted five studies to measure the link between intellectual humility and knowledge acquisition. The results were published in the Journal of Positive Psychology. 

The researchers found that “those with several cognitive traits associated with intellectual humility promote knowledge acquisition,” including a tendency to participate and enjoy challenging cognitive tasks, a motivation to seek out knowledge and new experiences, the ability to think reflectively, possession of more general knowledge, a mastery in academic settings, and avoidance of exaggerating what they knew.

“Simply put, learning requires the humility to realize one has something to learn,” said study author Elizabeth J. Krumrei-Mancuso.

Takeaway: If you want to stay curious, stay humble. Assume you don’t know it all, and be willing to go look for the answer.

3. Play with kids.

In the movie Big, Tom Hanks plays Josh Baskin, a child stuck in a man’s body. Josh lacks all the practical skills and knowledge that an adult needs to succeed in business, but his childlike mindset for imagining the impossible lands him a job developing toys for a large company.

Not surprisingly, Josh’s insights are way more valuable than those of his more mature colleagues. In one scene, for example, a toy exec is busy making a presentation on a proposed new toy—a building that turns into a robot—when Josh interrupts and asks him what’s fun about playing with a skyscraper. Josh then suggests something like a robot that turns into a bug, and the room suddenly starts buzzing with excitement and energy.

Spend some time learning from and playing with kids. (If you don’t have any handy, spend some time watching a kids’ movie or researching how kids interact.) You’ll discover that they’re fearless and that they aren’t bound by adult expectations of what’s possible.

“For young children, curiosity is as organic as breathing. They breathe in the world around them, process it, and breathe out understanding,” Ellen Booth Church, an expert on childhood education, told Scholastic Magazine. 

Takeaway: If you or someone else you interacted with today hasn’t asked, “Wouldn’t it be fun if we….” or “Why is it done that way?”, find some kids—or kids at heart—to hang around with.

Demolitionists Wanted

I don’t have to tell you that the world is full of status quo people, people who are afraid to ask questions, show humility, or get in touch with their inner child. But there are also people who look at the problems around them and say, “Why not?”

If you’re in that latter camp, I hope you’ll join us in Disruptor League Plus. Created for disruptors who want to go bigger and deeper, this is your tribe for linking arms and blowing up the obstacles that get in your way.