No idea, curiosity gap, idea.

The Lost Art of Curiosity

by Meghan Moran, Senior Vice President

Curiosity is like metabolism:


A force that's fast and free-flowing during childhood but dwindles with each passing year. And even if your curiosity can survive the aging process, there are other hazards that threaten curious thinking, like over-scheduled workdays, looming deadlines and multi-tasking. There is little time to get done what must be done, let alone time for questioning and wondering.

Losing our curiosity is a big problem because curiosity delivers significant benefits in work and life. Harvard Business Review defines a curiosity quotient (CQ), which is like IQ or EQ, but measures how inquisitive someone is instead of how smart or empathetic. Curious people, research has found, are more likely to have good relationships, do well in school and make healthy choices. And they come up with better solutions to hard problems.

Curiosity is a precious resource. So, how might we preserve and regenerate it for ourselves, our clients and our teams?

The key is understanding the catalyst for curiosity and supplying the raw material needed to light the flame.

Thanks to researcher George Lowenstein, we know where curiosity comes from: the “information gap.” An information gap is formed when we know enough to know what we don’t know. We have a little bit of information and the sense that there is something more on the other side of the unknown. The gap is what lies between, and the human brain can’t stand to leave that gap unfilled. Curiosity is created by the urge to close it.

If you’ve ever been in a disorganized brainstorm, particularly one without much advance work by the facilitator, you’ve likely experienced the not-so-great thing that happens when there’s not enough information to create a gap. Lack of information causes curiosity to stall out; or rather, the engine never turns over in the first place.

Imagine you’re asked to develop an ad campaign to convince young women to purchase an SUV. Anything come to mind?

Fig 1. No Information Gap

Now imagine the same challenge is posed, along with research finding that the target audience is 20 percent more likely to own a pet, 30 percent more likely to drive daily but still 10 percent less likely than other audience segments to purchase an SUV. Those are the knowns.

Fig 2. Information Gap Created

The unknown is why this woman isn't buying the SUV and what could change her mind. Now a gap exists, and the rush to fill it can begin.

Fig 3. Information Gap Closed

While I know curiosity is no panacea, I do believe it can bring new energy, perspective and possibilities to our work. We can train and coach curiosity by asking questions, harnessing the power of the information gap and placing more value on exploration and less on the volume of tasks completed in a day. Now, I’m curious to know what you think?