Intellectual curiosity is often believed to be the key to better academic performance, career success, and general life satisfaction. So what exactly is it? And how do we develop more of it? 

Read on to find out what intellectual curiosity is, what it means to be intellectually curious, and why it’s an essential skill to develop. 

Intellectual Curiosity: Definition

Intellectual curiosity is the drive to learn something new about how the world works. Intellectually curious people are genuinely interested in and have a love for learning, not about anything in particular, but about a variety of subjects, such as math, science, languages, or history. 

The way we define intellectual curiosity is different from how we define curiosity in general. What is curiosity? It’s simply a drive to learn something. This something can be where your neighbor is going for vacation or how much your friend paid for her new dress. General curiosity doesn’t necessarily help you acquire new knowledge about the world. A better intellectual curiosity synonym might be epistemic, cognitive, or scientific curiosity. 

Is Intellectual Curiosity a Skill? 

While many people think of curiosity as an innate trait, intellectual curiosity is absolutely a skill that can be nurtured and developed. 

Think of young children—everything they learn about how the world works is a result of them asking questions. Somewhere in the process of growing up, many of us lose the habit of asking questions. We decide that our lives and minds are already busy enough as they are.

The good news is, you can easily bring back this habit at any point in your life and see for yourself the benefits of being a life-long learner.

Why Is It Important?

Intellectual curiosity is the driving force behind scientific discoveries, medical breakthroughs, and innovative new technologies. Without it, our world would not progress and evolve as it has been. 

This doesn’t mean that you have to be a scientist, doctor, or engineer to reap the benefits of intellectual curiosity. Training yourself to ask important questions and seek answers to them can help you solve problems, think outside the box, and be more creative in your everyday life. 

In fact, many employers have recognized the importance of intellectual curiosity in the workplace and actively look for signs of it during the interview process. Demonstrating intellectual curiosity can help you not only land your dream job—but also do the job exceptionally well. 

How Do You Demonstrate Intellectual Curiosity?

There are countless ways to practice and cultivate intellectual curiosity. Here are just a few habits of intellectually curious people:

  • Allow their interests to lead, making time and space to research, explore, and participate in things they find interesting. 
  • Seek out connections between every piece of information they come across, aiming to discover patterns and systems. 
  • Look for a solution to every problem, no matter how unconventional or outside-the-box it may seem.
  • Understand that learning doesn’t stop with formal education and are acutely aware of things they have yet to learn.
  • Are constantly asking questions about how to make their lives and their jobs more effective, more efficient, and more impactful. 

Intellectual Curiosity Examples

An overwhelming number of today’s most accomplished CEOs, entrepreneurs, and change-makers attribute their success to intellectual curiosity. Gone are the days when a good leader needed to be charismatic—we’ve entered an era where one of the most valued traits they can have is their curiosity and hunger for knowledge. 

Whether you’re hoping to become a leader yourself, or you simply seek opportunities for personal development, here are a few examples of how we can all practice intellectual curiosity in our lives:

When We Face a Something We Don’t Know the Answer To

In the early 2000s, Google created a billboard in Silicon Valley with the text “{first 10-digit prime found in consecutive digits of e}.com”. The people who took the time to figure out the answer found themselves on a  website with another equation to solve. Those whose curiosity led them even further were invited to submit their resume to Google. 

It’s an unconventional approach to finding job candidates, to say the least, but it does make an excellent example of how following your curiosity can land you a job at one of the world’s most prestigious companies. 

When We Ask “Why?”

Children play this game all the time (sometimes to a point where it drives their parents a little insane). Sadly, adults don’t ask the question “why?” nearly as often. 

When you don’t know how something works, or you’re wondering if there’s a better way to do something, ask the question and see where searching for the answer takes you. 

Thousands of inventions that we rely on in our everyday lives were created because someone somewhere asked the question “Why?”. Take the Polaroid camera, for example. Edwin Land, its inventor, came up with the idea after his three-year-old daughter wondered “Why do we have to wait for the picture?” 

When We Say “I Don’t Know” 

Saying “I don’t know” in response to a question is a valuable opportunity to learn something new. Unfortunately, many people have a fear around admitting the limitations of their knowledge. 

Instead, use “I don’t know” as a reason to dive into a question, expand your mind, or your skillset. Every great answer to a problem started out with someone acknowledging that they didn’t know yet, but were eager to find out. 

Bill Gates famously said, “‘I don't know’ has become 'I don't know yet’” and admits that much of what has propelled his career is a sense of wonder and curiosity. 

Cultivate Curiosity to Become a Better Leader

Creative Leadership Toolkit: Curiosity, History, and Discovery

Written By
Sayana Lam

Sayana Lam

Sayana is a musician, writer and graphic designer based in Toronto, Canada.

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