"Neugierwesen" - Open, Humble, & Restless
A renowned ethologist (one who studies animal behavior), Konrad Lorenz coined this term in Austria, which means “curiosity creatures”. He noted that people have an insatiable curiosity to learn. Psychologists (those who study human behavior) have noted that in their healthiest states, people are inquisitive, curious, playful, active creatures. We are prone to analyze, comment on, and attempt to influence our outer world, and your perception of that world in our inner world, our brains. Unique amongst all animals, human beings have a protracted period of dependency followed by a lifelong capacity to learn, adapt, and grow consistent with being the quintessentially curious species on the planet.
While a monkey may learn to use a twig to draw insects out of their nest humans are directing electrons to power a vehicle that is driven by an artificial intelligence. For at least the last 5-10 years I have been fascinated by this idea of being curious. I like it. I like it because it incorporates some traits or skills that I believe are essential for human beings, for business, and for society at large. Those include openness, humility, and restlessness.
Openness is perhaps a synonym for curiosity but is fundamentally unique in that it indicates one is open to learning and new ideas. If one is not open, one is closed. Being closed does not sound good for a person, is certainly bad for business, and indicates a level of stagnation in society. So, I prefer to be open, not closed. If I have all the answers, or am committed to pretending that I do, I am closed.
If I am so prideful that I either do not care for or do not have time for others, other’s ideas, other’s wisdom than I will not be curious. If I am humble enough to recognize I am a blip on the radar of humanity with vastly finite understanding, wisdom, and knowledge than I am going to be curious. The ideas are consistent and feed each other.
Restless leg is an annoying condition that afflicts millions of people, and a restless mind can keep one from sleeping well – not good. Being restless in general, however, indicates a desire to improve, to move forward to not quite be satisfied. There was an adage that became popular “It is not broke, so don’t fix it!”. Another developed from that one which I like better, “It is not broke, so let’s break it!”. If it is not broken that does not mean it could not be improved. If your restlessness is managed thoughtfully and avoids perfectionism, being restless is a good thing.
Starting about 5 years ago I added a line in every job description of those who reported to me, and every job posting for those positions. It was a small change, but I made it clear that I was looking for people who are curious. A curious co-worker is going to be less set in their ways, more open to feedback, more innovative, and more inclined to listen to others even if those “others” are different in some way. A curious co-worker is going to look for better ways to do things, seek expanded awareness, and likely have more productive dialogue. I want to work with curious people.
Even though I am late into my chosen career, and might typically be quite set in my ways, I strive to remain curious, open, humble, and just a bit restless. I believe that I must be the same person at work, home, church, community – even on social media. Being consistent helps me maintain sanity, I do not have to remember which face I am putting on for this call, meeting, or written communication. I am who I am, and I do not try to hide it. In this regard, I try to remain curious at home, church, and community. I strive to be consistently curious, and most enjoy being around other curious souls.
Are you curious? Do you look with wonder at the stars, or water that seems to go in two directions at the continental divide, or why this thing worked, and another did not? It reminds me of being a child, who until 12 or13 was amazed and curious at their newfound world. Then something happens, and for a few years they figure they know more than they do, and that is usually a rather tough time for a child. I ask myself, am I 13 again? Have I become closed to new thoughts and ideas? Has hubris crept in? I am not talking about having to redecide my core values or truths I hold dear, but being open to even better understanding, light, and clarity from any source.
Even though inequity still exists, life is unfair, and fear and discouragement abound, we know more than at any time in history. In most places’ life is fairer and freer than at any time in history. You and I are indeed curiosity creatures living at a time when the curious can and do thrive in openness, humility, and some restlessness.