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Curious Book Summary – Ian Leslie

What you will learn from reading Curious

– Why curiosity will give you a competitive advantage in the 21st Century.

– How to get peoples attention by arousing their curiosity.

– An appreciation for how the internet and schools’ are damaging peoples curiosity. 

Curious Book Summary

Curious Book Summary is a fantastic primer on Curiosity and the role it plays in society and human progress. Author Ian Leslie differentiates between different types of curiosity and explains why Google and the internet has become such a big issue for curiosity.

If you want to be more curious or want to know the role it plays then read on. 


The Curiosity Secret:

Ian Leslie begins by telling you into potentially the biggest secret that most people fail to grasp. 

Ian “I was suddenly seeing that the world is incredibly interesting. If you’re paying attention, everything in the world – from the nature of gravity, to a pigeon’s head, to a blade of grass – is extraordinary.” 

“The close you look at anything, the more interesting it gets. But nobody tells you this.”


Difference between animals and humans:

‘Pure curiosity is unique to human beings. When animals snuffle around in bushes it’s because they’re looking for the three other things. It’s only people, as far as we know, who look up at the stars and wonder what they are.’

Why it’s hard to be curious — you are punished:

Curiosity is deviant. Pursuing it is liable to bring you into conflict with authority at some point, as everyone from Galileo to Charles Darwin to Steve Jobs could have attested.

Remember – A society that values order above all else will seek to suppress curiosity. Therefore evening questioning the norm is an act of dissent. 


Curiosity is what the world needs:

The world is in need of more curious learners.

Computers are smart. But no computer, however sophisticated, can yet be said to be curious.

Curiosity leads to breakthroughs, insights and improvement. Without it everything would remain the same.


What is NFC rating (need for cognition):

The need for cognition (NFC), in psychology, is a personality variable reflecting the extent to which individuals are inclined towards effortful cognitive activities. 

It was once argued that curiosity was a form of high NFC in individuals as low NFC people are ‘cognitive misers’ who seek to expend as little mental effort. 

The scientific literature on curiosity, while it disagrees on many things, agrees on this: a person’s curiosity is more state than trait. 


Diversive Curiosity:

This attraction to everything novel is what the scientists who study it call diversive curiosity.

In adults, diversive curiosity manifests itself as a restless desire for the new and the next. The modern world seems designed to stimulate our diversive curiosity.


Empathetic curiosity:

You practise empathic curiosity when you genuinely try to put yourself in the shoes – and the mind – of the person you’re talking to.

Diversive curiosity might make you wonder what a person does for a living; empathic curiosity makes you wonder why they do it.


The Internets impact on curiosity:

It is making knowledge more widely available than ever before. But its amazing potential is undermined by our tendency to use it merely to stimulate diversive curiosity.

Theres a difference between the practice of curiosity with ease of access to information such as searching on Google and the real curiosity requires the exercise of effort.


Human Instincts and Curiosity:

Self-preservation is our most deep-rooted instinct. But curiosity is powerful enough to override it.

Epistemic curiosity represents the deepening of a simple seeking of newness into a directed attempt to build understanding. It’s what happens when diversive curiosity grows up.


The Paradox of curiosity:

The reassuring presence of something we know is good for us gives us pleasure. But so does the promise of what lies beyond, the information we don’t yet know.


Curiosity in Children: 

Crucially, their level of curiosity is acutely responsive to what’s around them – to their physical environment, and, above all, to their adult carers. Infant curiosity is co-dependent


Great Analogies /Metaphors related to Curiosity:

A magnetic current of curiosity.

Babies use curiosity like a rope to pull themselves over its battlements – and adults throw the rope down to them.


How Curiosity is Destroyed:

Curiosity is a feedback loop. If we learn from the feedback not to be curious and there is an answer, we loose possibility of other better answers.

What do children think pointing is for? That depends on how they see adults react when they do it. ‘If they just get given the object they’re pointing to, they learn that the function of pointing is getting things,’

Technology is a great aid in getting parents off the hook of their children’s curiosity; we can drop them in front of the TV, give them a cellphone to play with.


The Miracle of Questions:

  1. We’re so used to the idea of being able to ask questions that we’ve forgotten what an amazing skill, or set of skills, it is. First, you have to know that you don’t know – to conceive of your own ignorance.
  2. Second, you have to be able to imagine different, competing possibilities; when a child asks whether ghosts are real or made-up, she is already imagining alternative explanations.

Great quote — “By the time we are adults we have fewer questions, and more default settings.” Jean Piaget


Missing information piques interest:

How to pique curiosity –  a person’s curiosity is provoked when he/she perceives an incongruity between what he/she expects and what happens. According to Loewenstein, curiosity is a response to an information gap.  

We feel curious where there is a gap between what we know and what we want to know.

You have some incomplete information – there is a box, there is a man crying, there is a crossword clue – and you want to find the missing part.

In order to feel curious – to feel the desire to close an information gap – you have to be aware that there is a gap in your knowledge in the first place.

Crucial distinction – the point here is that it’s not simply the absence of information that creates curiosity, but a gap in our existing information.

Therefore, curiosity rises in tandem with knowledge.


Great curiosity quotes from the book:

Daniel Kahneman puts it like this: ‘Our comforting conviction the world makes sense rests on secure foundation: our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance.’

Mike Parker: ‘A lot of bad leadership comes from an inability or unwillingness to ask questions.

“The only reason people do not know much is because they do not care much. They are incurious. Incuriosity is the oddest and most foolish failing there is.” Stephen Fry

In McKee’s words, ‘Curiosity is the intellectual need to answer questions and close open patterns. Story plays to this universal desire by doing the opposite, posing questions and opening situations.’

‘Actually,’ Singhal replied, with a weary sigh, ‘it works the other way. The more accurate the machine gets, the lazier the questions become.’

Questions are places in your mind where answers fit. If you haven’t asked the question, the answer has nowhere to go. Clay Christensen

“Machines are for answers; humans are for questions.” Kevin Kelly


Asymmetries in information:

After all, not all information is equal – sometimes, new information adds only a little to existing information; other times, it will throw light on an entire problem.

Example of this — Finding out your partner cheated on you months ago will make you rethink all their actions since. Think about it.


The common habits:

We have a tendency to prioritise puzzles over mysteries, because we know they can be solved. The question ‘Where is Osama Bin Laden?’ was a puzzle.

We are obsessed with the apparent solvable and stop when we think something has been solved. Not to mention – Google can give us the powerful illusion that all questions have definite answers.


The Struggle:

Learning – Skills come from struggle. With Google there is no struggle.

Human curiosity, which depends on friction, on the struggle to close information gaps, on uncertainty, mystery and the awareness of ignorance.


Issues with Google and Internet:

Curiosity is sustained by unanswered questions, and Google has all the answers; it never says ‘I don’t know’.

Larry Page described the ‘perfect search engine’ as one that would ‘understand exactly what I mean and give me back exactly what I want.’ But what if I don’t know what I want?

This leads toA serendipity deficit makes innovation harder, because innovation relies on unexpected collisions of knowledge and ideas. 

A broadening of available information had led to ‘a narrowing of science and scholarship’.

Online research was more efficient, predictable and tidy than library research, but precisely because of this it had the effect of shrinking the scope of investigation.

The future belongs to those who choose curiosity.

In ancient Athens, curiosity, or curiositas, meant the pursuit of knowledge purely for its own sake.

Novels offer us a kind of mental simulation of real life encounters, giving us useful practice in how to interpret the intentions, motives, longings and frustrations of friends, enemies, neighbours and lovers.


How to fix global challenges: 

Today, more than ever, we need to harness the power of billions of enquiring minds if we are to overcome our global challenges.

The problem today is rooted in an abundance, rather than a scarcity, of information, and of ease rather than difficulty of access to it.


Knowledge Silos – Zuckerman

‘In finance, everyone reads Bloomberg, so everyone sees the same information,’ said Zuckerman. ‘What they’re looking for are strategies for finding inspiration from outside the information orbit.’

‘Information may flow globally,’ says Zuckerman, ‘but our attention tends to be highly local and highly tribal.’


Curiosity as a success predictor:

von Stumm thinks that curiosity may be the best single predictor of individual success, because it incorporates intelligence, persistence and hunger for novelty in one.


Computers and internet are tools not masters:

When we search for information on the web we are deploying that blunt and limited instrument, working memory.

But increased access to the internet isn’t, in itself, a social good; what matters is how it is used.

With computers, the reality is that their use for education … is minuscule compared to their use for pure entertainment,’ said Vicky Rideout.

Writer Kevin Drum, ‘The internet is making smart people smarter and dumb people dumber.’

Dialogue with children seemed to be conceived of in almost exclusively functional terms, as a means of instruction and organisation rather than as an exchange of information, ideas or jokes.


Ignorance as a protection strategy (playing dumb):

A policy of deliberate ignorance is often adopted by those who wish to protect their own power. Large organisations are particularly prone to it because they have layers of managers whose priority is not innovation or improved effectiveness, but the retention of their positions.

Success isn’t good for curiosity. Like the Chinese in the seventeenth century, the managers of consistently profitable companies tend to look inwards, ceasing to be interested in ideas from beyond their own borders.

James Clerk Maxwell once remarked that ‘thoroughly conscious ignorance is the prelude to every real advance in science.’


Why we don’t ask questions:

Michael Marquardt identifies four reasons that we don’t ask questions when we ought to. 

First, because of a desire to protect ourselves from the danger of looking stupid. 

Second, because we’re too busy. Good questions require time to germinate and grow.

Third, because the culture discourages questioning. In authoritarian countries, questions that spring from genuine curiosity are discouraged.

The fourth reason we don’t ask questions, says Marquardt, is that we lack the skills required to ask them.


Schools and Curiosity:

Our schools are good at producing efficient administrators capable of running an empire, but less good at cultivating curious learners.

The three most powerful teacher factors – those most likely to lead to student success – were feedback, quality of instruction and direct instruction.

Until a child has been taught the basic information she needs to start thinking more deeply about a particular subject, it’s hard to develop her initial (diversive) curiosity into enduring (epistemic) curiosity;

The real difference is that one of them triggers a set of associations with knowledge stored in our long-term memory.

The fatal flaw in ‘curiosity-driven’ approaches to education is that knowledge drives curiosity as much as curiosity drives the acquisition of knowledge.  I can confirm this is true.


Power of broad knowledge:

The more broad-ranging your general background knowledge, the stickier you are likely to find any new information. The wider your net, the more gets caught in it.

Steve Jobs – A university tutor remembers his ‘very enquiring mind … he refused to accept automatically received truths, and he wanted to examine everything himself.’


How to be more creative:

James Webb Young knew, there is little accidental about such insights. They arise from the gathering and the working-over – the slow, deliberate, patient accumulation of knowledge.

‘Curiosity about life in all its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.’ – Leo Burnett, founder of the global ad agency network

This involves taking the facts you have gathered and looking at them again from different angles, bringing them into unusual combinations with other facts, constantly seeking interesting new relationships, new syntheses.


Curiosity and negotiation:

‘But,’ Powell said, ‘if you ask what people’s underlying interests are – what do they need – then you’re more likely to get to find an imaginative solution.’

The psychologist Philip Tetlock has called this effect ‘the taboo trade-off’. When parties in a negotiation are asked to trade something they consider sacred for something secular or material, they become angry, inflexible, and deaf to dry cost-benefit reasoning.

Choosing The Right Question – “And then we realized that wasn’t the right question, and we asked, ‘What’s the enemy doing or trying to do?’ And it wasn’t until we got further along that we said, ‘Why are they the enemy?’”

As a culture, we have a persistent tendency to pretend that asking ‘what’ can be substituted for ‘why’.


The argument for knowing the bigger picture:

Thiel suggests, people find it hard once educated to integrate their micro knowledge with the macro needs of the workplace and world.

Unless we make an effort to be thinkerers – to sweat the small stuff while thinking big, to get interested in processes and outcomes, tiny details and grand visions, we’ll never recapture the spirit of the age of Franklin.

Boring conference – It is dedicated to ‘the mundane, the ordinary and the overlooked.’

Ward says that when he refers to boring things he is thinking of things that only seem boring, because we’re not paying attention to them.

When all our interest is directed at the future, we get easily bored with the present.

“And if we make the choice to learn, and to be curious about the things around us, then we are essentially making the choice never to be bored again.” – Kenyon College’s graduating class of 2005 the novelist David Foster Wallace


Meditate on this – Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.