click to enlarge Curiosity creates an innovative cat.
Curiosity creates an innovative cat.

"Are you curious?" I often ask this question in workshops and almost every hand is raised. I think many of them are mistaken. We often confuse curiosity with problem solving. Curiosity is a fascination with anything novel and... everything is novel.

Being truly curious is difficult. We have routines, opinions and beliefs that limit our inquisitiveness. Being open to and interested in what is happening around us is, I believe, a rare skill.

But curiosity has two powerful advantages: It leads to innovation and helps us resolve conflicts. So many inventions and discoveries came from a moment of curiosity. Walt Disney invented Disneyland when taking his two young daughters to an amusement park; he was feeling bored and wondering how a family could share the park experience together. The credit card was invented by two businessmen who realized that after finishing a restaurant meal, neither had any money to pay the check. (One of their wives had to come to the restaurant and to the rescue!) On the walk home they wondered if there was an easier way to deal with restaurant charges, and the credit card was invented that day.

Albert Svent-Gyorgi, who won the Nobel Prize in 1937 for his groundbreaking work in biophysics, said, "Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and seeing something different."

Apply this notion to our common disagreements and consider that conflict can only be resolved when one gives up fighting to be right and, instead, makes an effort to understand the other's point of view. This is a challenge when the adrenaline is flowing and we are certain we are right. Imagine, in an argument, pulling back from the vitriol and instead, asking, "Help me understand. What could I have said or done differently?" The authors of one of the best-selling books on negotiation, Getting to Yes, wrote: "The cheapest concession you can make to the other side is to let them know they have been heard."

It may be "cheap," but it is also the most important skill we need for a full and successful life.

Robert Maurer is a Spokane psychologist, founder of the Science of Excellence consulting firm and the author of several books including One Small Step Can Change Your Life.

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