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WHY IS IT SO DIFFICULT TO ASK “WHY?”

August 9th, 2010 · No Comments · Blog, Business Ethics, Business Management

Curiosity is Fast Becoming a Lost American Trait

The nature of a human is to be curious. No living being exhibits more curiosity than a young child. The most often used word in the vocabulary of the young is “why.” Without curiosity there is no way to learn and no way to make things better. America is in trouble today because we have lost our love of curiosity. A society that succeeded based on the celebration of curiosity seems to have become impatient with it and is structured to smother this crucial desire to know and learn.

It starts early. The most often heard answer to a child’s desire to know why something is, is “because.” In school, attention is given to those who have “problems,” but the one who exhibits curiosity is considered a problem. The structure of schooling is “rote and repeat” not “question and challenge.”

Once out of school and into the job market the effort to suppress curiosity is accelerated. There are rules and regulations for all activities. Those who have the temerity to ask “why” are told, “Because that’s the way we have always done it.” The attitude is that lumps are much more easily managed than bumps. The way to get by (even to advance) is to show compliance and complicity with “the way it is.

Those who question and challenge – and become bumps in the road – are viewed as a threat to the status quo and maintaining the status quo is the ultimate objective. The greatest detriment to getting better is the belief that what is, is already the best. Change is feared more than innovation is valued and since curiosity stimulates change, it must be eradicated. Too often the curious worker is told, “Don’t rock the boat.” Sameness is celebrated, while different is despised.

It has not always been this way. America was built on the benefits of curiosity. We always wondered, “What was over the next hill?” America came about because of our desire to escape the “old world” and create a “new world.” With this attitude – in a time shorter than any country – America grew to become a world leader.

The bitter truth is that America no longer leads the way with new ideas, innovation and creativity. America no longer makes the best, we simply buy the best. This transposition of American leadership in all areas – political, economic and cultural – is a direct result of an American society that no longer views curiosity as a virtue.

And look what we’re missing. According to the experts at the website Stepcase Lifehack:

Curiosity makes your mind active instead of passive. And since the mind is like a muscle it becomes stronger through continual exercise, but atrophies with disuse.

Curiosity makes you mind open and observant of new ideas. When you are curious about something, your mind is like a signal-seeking missile that expects, anticipates, and welcomes new ideas related to it. That’s how good ideas grow and blossom.

Curiosity produces excitement into the lives of the curious, as well as those who associate with them.

Best of all, curiosity opens new worlds of possibilities for everyone. Newer, faster, stronger, smarter, cheaper, and more efficiently are just of few of the keywords in the lexicon of the curious. All they all, of course, lead to creating even more new ideas.

And the Moral of the Story . . .

We bemoan our problems and challenges, but are increasingly deaf to the  value of curiosity. Sure, curiosity can be troublesome – even a pain – because it demands validation of what is being done or forces a change to do things better. But only by being curious can we determine what needs to be done to be better.

And this starts with all of us. If we allow others to suppress our natural curiosity, we are as much at fault as they. Our success as individuals – and ultimately our society – will be determined by our ability to question and challenge what is and seek what may be. It may not be easy, but it is ultimately the best way to achieve leadership and personal success.

As Albert Einstein once said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning . . .  Never lose a holy curiosity.” America will move forward again once we understand the value of asking “why?” Tomorrow, start asking that question more often yourself. You’ll be amazed at what this subtle shift of thinking can produce.

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