The Curiosity Formula

If you could choose one word to describe you, distill your essence down into or aspire to – what would it be? This question was put to me a couple of years ago and after ‘umming’ and ‘ahhhing’ I settled on Curious. I am curious. While many of us stop asking questions or trying to understand a challenge or problem – I run wholeheartedly at it. Not to be the best or brightest, not driven by something external to me, but from an internal desire to dive down the rabbit hole and see where the inquiry leads. I want to know why.

And being curious, I wanted to to understand the components of curiosity and why this word resonates with so many people. So I am taking a complete liberty and using this blog to test out thinking on curiosity; which is simply this – that curiosity has behaviors that go with it, can be distilled into a formula and is essential to all organisational health and well being.

The elements of Curiosity

From the reading and research, there are some things that can help us understand core components of curiosity. Lets start with the what we can see before distilling a formula.

Curiosity is:

  • More team sport than not – whether on your own – only brushing shoulders with others at the periphery or collaborating as team- co-operation is valued more than competition. Curious minds have a goal of answering questions.
  • Being a life-long learner. Curiosity without more knowledge, drains resources from emotional strength to mental energy. The curious recharge through personal learning and development and its not limited to just one area.
  • Failure – to be curious is to be brave and risk failing. Curious people take on varying degrees of risk in trying new things. From abject failure to the least worst option of a possible delay in getting to a realisation – the curious risk esteem, reputation, finances – in their quest. Of course the upside is success, more anon.
  • Seeing the connections – this is an ability to taking learning from one area and apply it in a different way to a different problem. Curious minds makes leaps constantly to understand things in new ways, often building on prior knowledge with a twist.
  • An action word – curiosity without action is just… well, its just a thought. Curious people do stuff – sometimes mad, sometimes seemingly not connected to the task at hand but overall they put thought into action. Curious souls work in the world of ambiguity, working many things out as they create, investigate and develop.

There will be more I’m sure, but as a starting point and assuming that curious people tend to exhibit to a degree all of these things; is there a formula that pulls this all together?

The Curiosity Formula

If behavior is the outer manifestation of internal drives I think that we can can make a few assumptions on what our potential internal state could look like and therefore what a curiosity formula* may look like:


  • Curiosity is a strong desire to know or learn something
  • Ingenuity is the quality of being clever, original and inventive
  • Creativity is the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness
  • Action is the fact or process of doing something, typically to achieve an aim

To my mind ingenuity + creativity come together to invent something new which is then amplified by the action taken. Curiosity is this new thing brought to fruition.

Ingenuity and creativity have almost similar meanings and possibly could be substituted. However they have very different connotations; I would make the case that creativity is aligned with the arts; both visual and performing. It is often used to express emotions and the intangible. It is associated with the artists, poets, writers; and often those working in associated fields are called ‘creatives’.

Ingenuity tends to be associated with process, progress and productivity. As Douglas Arnold, The Ingenuity Guru suggests ‘the outcomes of ingenuity is always weighed by society as having beneficial social, industrial, financial, or governmental products or processes’.

And what brings curiosity together is action. We all know great thinkers who develop the big ideas, but I am taking a punt and suggesting that without a whole heap of action to covert an idea into a different form, it will never be that valuable to anyone else except the big brain that thought it.

Curiosity is not solely the domain of societies best or brightest either. Thomas L. Friendman came up with a formula for the curiosity quotient: curiosity + passion > intelligence. Whilst its a leap to say that curiosity and passion outweigh intelligence; I rest easy in the knowledge that there are people doing amazing things with or without formal educations; and the later isn’t always a barrier to curious mind.

Also, I have not used passion (defined as ‘strong and barely controllable emotion’) in my formula. It seems sensible to me that strong emotions may be an indicator of how you exhibit curiosity, but you could also be quietly curious as we as passionately curious. Be curious in your own way.

Why care about Curiosity?

Simply put curiosity is best friends with innovation. Industry talks about the ability to be innovative and why innovation will help old companies survive new times, new companies develop niche markets and everything in between. But, and here is the kicker – without allowing people to be curious – namely following a desire to learn or know about something new – then innovation gets stifled before it starts. Organisations that innovate have a baked in culture of curiosity; they support collaboration and learning, see failure as road map to success, allow people to make connections and take action. They see curious minds at work, and provide avenues to let the inner ingenuity and creativity out to play.

Developing Curiosity

Personality traits have been studied and the consensus seems to be that there is a wax and wane affect; whilst changes in intelligence over a life time seem mixed. My reasoning is that curiosity falls squarely in the personality / character trait basket and its affect over time will vary depending on other factors. Its hard to follow the rabbit when you are tired or stressed; the brain needs its ponder time. However, with that said, there is room to consider that organisations that want to develop curiosity will look to find ways to incorporate this into their organisational culture.

* The formula aims to show that product of ingenuity and creativity come first and are multiplied by action. Happy to have feedback on my foray into formulas from those that know more in this area

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