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Curiosity Killed the Cat, But Satisfaction Brought It Back

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“Face it. Curiosity will not cause us to die – only lack of it will.”

In Alastair Reid’s poem, he related felines to human beings in terms of curiosity. His arguments seemed quite contradicted to the old cliché “Curiosity killed the cat”. Instead of questioning the positiveness in curiosity, Alastair Reid said lacking of the desire in exploring whether it’s “idyll” or “hell” at “the other side of the hill” will prevent us to live our life to the fullest, in his opinion, only those curious people are the ones who will be able to live worthy lives and tell intriguing stories.

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When we try to live our life to the fullest, what do we want the most from our life? The majority of more than 10,000 survey participants from 48 countries answered: happiness. This is where I get confused with the relations between curiosity and happiness. A study conducted in 1974 still remains true nowadays: when talk about pleasure-related activities, people will naturally have preference for familiarity, stability, and simplicity rather than unconventionality. For example, enjoyment motivates us to pick our favorite restaurant which normally will please us, while curiosity encourages us to explore newly opened restaurants. However, that doesn’t mean curiosity completely distinct from happiness or other positive emotions, it depends on the scope of happiness. Curiosity has greater effect on creating growth-oriented pleasure than hedonistic pleasure. The benefits caused by growth-oriented pleasure is more sustainable and continual, on the contrary, hedonistic pleasure may indicate less initiatives in searching the meaning of life according to Todd B. Kashdan’s research.

I embrace the idea that curiosity brings us higher well-being and greater life satisfaction. In psychology, curiosity has been proved that it’s central to well-being, since it’s the core motivational mechanism of reward sensitivity and intrinsic motivation. With greater curiosity, people are more open to unknown experimentation and prone to intentionally seek novel, uncertain, and complex activities. As discussed in the class, openness to experience is the “leading predictor in creative achievement”. In that word, being curious leads to not only learning but also understanding and preferably creating, forming a closed loop from inputs to outputs. Edward Necka and Teresa Hlawacz did a research on bankers and artists comparing their differences in creativity, it turned out that artists are generally more creative than bankers because artists have a tendency of participating in numerous and various activities that provoke considerable external stimulation. Inevitably, the openness to experience brings artists diversified and rich inputs which will shape their creativity and personal trait, just as Steve Jobs noted, “the bigger your bag of experiences, the more varied the connections you can make between things”.

Entrepreneurial Curiosity

Curiosity and creativity are undoubtedly crucial for artists, then how are they correlated with the business world? According to Jeraj’s study, entrepreneurial curiosity is entrepreneurs’ interests in societal novelties and their tendency in finding as well as serving unmet demands, as a conclusion of Jeraj’s research, entrepreneurial curiosity is positively related to the emerge, openness, and growth of a corporation.

In 1978, James Dyson got frustrated and infuriated at his vacuum’s diminishing performance, thus he dissembled the vacuum to figure out why. After inspection, James discovered that the bag clogging dust is the major reason for dropping suction. He wondered if his newly built industrial cyclone system for his factory can be applied to a better vacuuming mechanism, then he spent 5 years building 5,127 prototypes until he invented the first bagless vacuum in the world. Today, Dyson grew from one man and one hypothesis to a $3 billion vacuum empire which is still continuously finding ways to make electronics perform better. James Dyson said: “I try to recruit everybody as a graduate, because they have no baggage, they have curiosity and enthusiasm,” curious Dyson people are leading an engineering revolution and striving to add both scientific and artistic values on conventional tools.

“Curiosity killed the cat,” many entrepreneurs steer away from being curious because no one wants to be that cat, nevertheless the less-known second half of the proverb is more significant to entrepreneurship: “Satisfaction brought it back”. Staying curious makes entrepreneurs more sensitive to uncharted territory and more passionate about discovering solutions. Even if failure is the outcome, entrepreneurs can still learn from their mistakes, because finding out what doesn’t work is as important as knowing what works. Seeing pitfalls and failure as a part of learning, entrepreneurs will find more satisfaction and sense of achievement when they come up with the right answer.

On the Dark Side of Curiosity

From a perspective of dialectical materialism, everything can be a double-edged sword. A pilot study manifested that curiosity is associated with both positive and negative effects.

Personally, curiosity is art and the pleasures of knowing, but at the same time, it often distracts my attention to unrelated domains and always arouses unsatisfaction even if I’ve spent the whole week absorbing “useless knowledge”. The information or knowledge as a reward of being curious makes me desire to dig more. Researchers also began to discuss the negative sides inherent in curiosity and regard it as a potential “curse”, as it may result in aversive stimuli, such as overspending, food addiction, and other indulgent behaviors. Recent studies have revealed that curiosity diverts people’s attention away from the focal tasks and makes their working process more complicated as well as profound than normal ones. In conclusion, being curious sparks passion and creativity, but in the meantime, allocating too much emotional and attentional resources to curiosity is detrimental to one’s efficiency and creation.

Here are some other questions to be answered. There is an inside joke of law school, “The most lucrative business models are all written in the criminal code”. Should we be curious about forbidden activities as well? Should we put up a stop sign for being curious at some point? Under what situations curiosity should be restricted? For next steps, I’d like to learn more about positive and negative sides of curiosity in terms of psychology as well as philosophy.

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