Curiosity: The overlooked quality necessary to get ahead in today's world

By Mike Cook 
For The Bellingham Business Journal

I am not sure if it is unique to me or maybe a function of my 71 years, but I seem to be more able at this time in my life to accept my limitations. In discussing limitations, I am not referring to height or the fact that I long ago lost all my hair, those are basic facts of life that given my heredity I was fully prepared to accept early on. My father and my father’s father were both bald by their early thirties so that was a fait accompli well before occurring in my life. My height, that was a bit of a struggle.

When I shot up to 5’8” by the time I was in eighth grade it seemed logical that I begin practicing my hook shot in the driveway every evening. Certainly I would continue to grow and that would allow me to play either forward or center on a basketball team. After having grown just one inch by high school, I accepted the fact that I was going to be playing guard if I wanted to continue to play competitive basketball. My comfort with my very average stature was a bit difficult but, high school behind me, I muddled on. Though, to be perfectly honest the fact that all three of my sons are well over 6 feet tall has been a bitter pill, made only more so by their limited interest in basketball. After all, what is height for if not to reach and jump higher?

These physical challenges have seemingly not limited me in any way throughout my life, my profession does not depend on either characteristic nor has my choice of life partner or hobbies been in anyway shaped by them. So, all in all it has been a pretty good life, despite being bald and short. But I am finding out later in life that these issues were not the whole story.

In the past year, I have noticed two areas in particular where I am feeling constrained.

On the one hand, I have been blessed with above average intelligence. That gift, for which I can take no credit, has allowed me to choose my own profession and make an above average income for most of my adult life.

However, there has always been a sense that I was in some way different from many of the people that I enjoy spending time with. This sense of unease can be traced back to the advent of the internet. Honestly, I missed the implications of the creation of personal computers, but I lived with that oversight for a decade without significant pain. I did not have keyboard skills, typing, etc., but there was always someone around to do that for me if I was willing to pay for it. But then I went off to work on my own about 10 years ago.

Ten years after the internet entered our lives, twenty years after personal computers, I had to come to grips with the fact that I was ill suited in many ways to participate in business effectively. Personal computers always just looked like fun to me, a way to entertain myself if I wanted to play a game or two, certainly not essential.

Little did I know that advances in technology would eventually begin to catch up with me, and by stalling the adoption of the necessary skills I was, whether I realized or not, limiting my prospects for the future.

So where am I going with this meandering piece? I am at this point realizing that I have something of a handicap, being in this world of rapidly changing requirements for economic viability.

Though intelligent, I am neither ambitious nor curious. I have nothing driving me to learn. What I am recognizing is that smartness, raw intelligence, is no longer sufficient for economic viability. To be sure, intelligence is and will always be important, however, I am beginning to believe that the other two components, ambition and curiosity are equally or possibly more important for success in the future. Leaving aside ambition for another time, I am rapidly concluding that curiosity is as important as the other factors combined.

I was struck by a single sentence I read yesterday, in an article about blockchain technology, “If people can’t understand, they cannot participate.”

Many people, if not the majority of our current workforce lack curiosity. That’s a real problem destined to cause people to fall further and further behind. Also, if this condition is unidentified, there will be an increasing tendency for the uncurious to become embittered, as their condition leaves them less and less likely to keep up.

Is there a cure? I am not certain. Personally, I am addressing my own curiosity shortage by forcing myself to spend more time reading to learn rather than chatting with friends on Facebook. Is there any hope for me? I think so, as I have recognized and am beginning my responsibility for becoming curious.

What can you do with your own workforce? Well, you are the one with the need, decide what you need for your workforce to be learning and provide the occasions and resources for them to get going.

Mike Cook ‘s columns appear on every other Tuesday. He facilitates a CEO peer advisory group in the Whatcom/Skagit area. He can be reached at He recently published ‘Thriving in the Middle: Why Managers Need to Be Coaching Each Other

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