© Copyright 2017, Ian Cackett

The Long-Term Value of Regular Curiosity Over Obligation

Looking back, some of the most pivotal, beneficial and rewarding things I’ve ever done in life were driven entirely by curiosity, rather than by obligation or necessity.

But, at the time, their future value wasn’t apparent. It only came through following my curiosity over and over again through the years.

As a software engineer, now in my 40's… I didn’t learn to program in BASIC, aged 7, because it was set as a homework assignment; I did it because we had a home computer (one of the first), it came with a book, and I was curious. I didn’t learn many of the other software-related things I did that decade because they were set as part of my Computer Science degree; I did them years before, because I was curious about those topics, and because each one led onwards to others.

At the time, the future benefit wasn’t apparent. But the cumulative effect of all those activities, driven purely by curiosity, turned into a career in software that I am passionate about. If you’d told me, as a child, to do specific things towards that future career, you would probably have been met with disinterest and may even have destroyed my curiosity… and hence the potential outcome.

A few years ago, I didn’t quit my job and work on my own projects because I felt driven or obliged to become an “entrepreneur” (whatever that term even means anymore). I did it because I was curious about what I could achieve by working full-time on software projects, without being driven by the expectations of a paying job.

Neither of the projects I built during that period paid off commercially, but they benefited me hugely in terms of rounding out my business experience and taught me how to validate potential ideas for commercial projects. For me, the true benefit from that “entrepreneurial” period may be yet to come.

It seems that curiosity doesn’t always guarantee success, but it does guarantee the chance to learn… if you’re open to the lessons. And those lessons can lead us in unexpected directions.

As adults, we seem to neglect curiosity in favour of obligation. Which is sensible: Obligation has a more guaranteed upside. Obeying that obligation often puts money in the bank and food on the table.

But I wonder, what the opportunity cost of forgetting to regularly follow our curiosity is?

What are we missing out on, down the line, that retaining a degree of curiosity, remembering to explore, remembering to just play and being less interested in guaranteed outcomes might have led to instead?

Entrepreneurs know that curiosity is usually what leads to unexpectedly good outcomes based on ideas that didn’t initially seem promising. You wouldn’t follow those ideas unless you were curious and open to experimenting with topics beyond their surface value or obvious reward. Just seeing where things go; pursuing curiosity and observing. Pure obligation, logic and routine certainly don’t lead to entrepreneurial success.

Hobbyists sometimes discover that curiosity leads to a new career. But they’d never have found out if they assessed every potential hobby from a career perspective up-front. Most hobbies would seem too unlikely to “succeed”.

Artists know that curiosity, in the face of creative blocks, can lead to unexpected new inspiration. Continuing to sharpen your pencil, practice your craft, seeing what happens and being curious can be precisely the action needed to inspire your subconscious, to take you to work that is unexpected and worth pursuing further.

So perhaps curiosity can unblock you, creatively, and get you moving again. Whether you’re an artist or not.

Perhaps it can take you to places that obligation and more obvious paths to rewards might never lead.

Perhaps, without curiosity, we’re following a map to some rather self-limited outcomes.

Maybe it’s time we scheduled some curiosity into our busy lives: Some play. Some exploration. Some lack of mere obligation.

Who knows where it might lead?

Building software to solve hard problems (Software Engineer / Lead / Manager) — Opinions are my own.