Curiouser and curiouser: How scientific thinking feeds creativity
Curiosity will be drilling into rocks lining the bottom of what looks like an old river bed, searching for signs of microbiotic life. Whatever the robot finds, the mission perfectly embodies the importance of being bold enough to ask big questions, and the core scientific principle – assume nothing and question everything.
Being curious enough to interrogate what many would take at face value is not only the food of better understanding, but also the gateway to creativity. As creatives we can learn a great deal from Nasa’s bold mission and from the enduring curiosity at the heart of all scientific endeavor.
Curiosity is defined as ‘a strong desire to know or learn something’. And, in that well-known destination for the curious-minded – Wikipedia – it is described as ‘…a quality related to inquisitive thinking such as exploration, investigation and learning, evident by observation in human and many animal species’.
Great thinkers with an extreme inquisitiveness of mind have made history time and again.
Take Richard Feynman, Professor of Physics at the California Institute of Technology, who won the Nobel Prize in 1965. He was well-known for the remarkable sense of curiosity that drove him to phenomenal success in all kinds of areas of innovation.
Feynman called fascination his ‘disease’ – everything was about ‘not making history repeat itself’ and ‘trying different methods’. He was an original thinker because his curiosity drove him to move beyond anything that had previously gone before. ‘History is fundamentally irrelevant,’ he once said, ‘Look for ways of looking at something anew, as if you didn’t know anything about it.’
In many ways, the purity of this approach is almost child-like. It’s an overwhelmingly positive outlook, unsullied by the pessimism of experience.
Research by Mitchel Resnick of MIT dovetails with this. He argues that ‘a kindergarten approach to learning is ideally suited to the needs of the 21st century, helping learners develop the creative thinking skills that are critical to success in today’s society’.
The qualities of imagination, spontaneity and playfulness can all aid creativity, and are all fuelled by an inherent sense of curiosity.
There are several theories about how curiosity works. One theory – the ‘Curiosity-drive’ model – states that experiences that are novel and complex create a sensation of uncertainty in the brain that is perceived to be unpleasant. Curiosity acts as a means of dispelling that uncertainty. But different theories contradict this line of thinking.
The truth is that the nature of curiosity and what motivates it is still relatively unknown. And there is something rather nice about that. Not knowing allows for unhindered thinking – as Feynman said: “I was born not knowing and have had only a little time to change that here and there.”
The important thing is to never close the hatches: at all times the possibilities afforded by the new and adverse can lead to unexpected pathways into new landscapes.
As creatives it’s that single spark – that moment of inspiration that can illuminate a concept through the darkness of marketing clutter. And to arrive there, an inherent sense of curiosity to explore the unknown can sometimes be the most powerful guiding factor.
Where can we take this thought? What can we do with it? You can almost hear the twang of the idea’s elasticity being stretched into every possible shape while people explore how it can be expressed. How / where / why / when? The only limiting factors are budget and time.
As Feynman once said: “To decide upon the answer is not scientific. In order to make progress one must leave the door to the unknown ajar.”
Jeremy Garner, executive creative director, Weapon7