Personal growth Curiosity Start-up culture


Knowledge becomes a lot more powerful when you start applying it. You learn even more when you put things into action. And you remember it better. Hopefully, that will give you some kind of positive feedback that will start you on an endless curiosity loop.

20 February 2023 • 5 min read

I’d like to start this article by admitting that I’m a complete idiot.

Actually, it’s worse than that. I’m an ignorant dumbass on just about any subject you choose. Including things I’ve written books about.

I’m an empty-headed, unenlightened thicky of the first degree.

And I think that’s worth celebrating.

The worst thing I can imagine being is an expert. Or even worse, someone who describes themselves as a guru, a thought-leader, an authority or a ninja.

That would be a sign of intellectual death.

Understanding where our knowledge gaps are is essential. It’s what leads to breakthroughs and discoveries.


Curiosity is a natural human state.

When a toddler drops a spoon from their high-chair, it demonstrates a law of gravity they may not have noticed before. That switches on a little discovery light in their developing brain. When an adult returns the spoon to them, they drop it again. And again. It becomes an experiment to the little learner because they’re curious about this new phenomenon. It may be a pain in the arse for the adult but it’s a vital part of the learning process for the little scamp.

As the child grows, their curiosity expands and they explore different things. You might find them poking at a dead insect with a stick or inspecting chewing gum on the underside of a table or seeing what happens when they mix orange juice and milk.

This is all important stuff. The child is trying to fill their knowledge bucket by asking questions that may seem ridiculous to the adults who either know this stuff or have stopped caring.

Sadly, for most people, their thirst for knowledge and discovery diminishes over time. And this loss of curiosity has a knock-on effect.

A study by NASA showed that 98% of 4-year-olds rank at a genius level for creative thinking. That figure falls off at a terrifying rate until the age of 30, when only 2% of people rank as ‘creative geniuses’.

By that age, people seem to think they can rely on the knowledge they’ve amassed. They think they know so much more than they used to. They compare themselves to others and are OK knowing more than the interns and less than the board directors. They get comfortable and stop asking “what if?”

Their inner child sighs its last rattling breath and gets buried in a business suit.

That’s a terrible loss.


Let’s pick someone we all consider to be an expert in a field. Professor Brian Cox would make a good example here. I might describe him as an expert on physics. But that’s because the gap between my knowledge of the subject and his is so vast. Really vast.

This diagram might help. Because waving my hands around as I type this, probably isn’t helping me communicate my point very effectively.

Image from ‘How To Get To Great Ideas’ by Dave Birss

I’ve greatly overstated my level of physics knowledge in this diagram. But I’ve also greatly understated the gap between Brian’s knowledge and the amount of knowledge the field of physics could one day contain. There’s just not enough white space in this publication to do it justice.

There’s far more physics knowledge outside of Brian’s brain than inside it. So in the grand scheme of things he’s pig-ignorant about physics – just a lot less pig-ignorant than me.

And his work with CERN is helping him chip away at that mountain of ignorance for himself and all of humanity.

As Thomas Jefferson put it: “He who knows best knows how little he knows.”


I’m going to do the classic, reductive thing of dividing the world into two binary categories:

  1. There are those who value what they know and those who value what they don’t yet know.
  2. Or to put it another way, there are people who aren’t curious and people who are.

If you look around at the world of business, you can see that the first of these tribes is far more populous. Most people are doing what everyone else is doing because they’ve been told it’s just the way you do things. Systems and processes have been created to stop people from going off track. And the malaise of corporate conservatism keeps people inside the confines of their comfortable system.

The rising appetite for the known-knowns has led to the popularity of case studies, white papers and best practices. Because copying others is safer than imagining something better.

Some individuals parrot whatever the echo-chamber is saying in an effort to sound smart. It gives the illusion of an enquiring mind but it’s a pretty lame imitation of curiosity.

Don’t get smug here and think that I’m talking about quantity surveyors and health and safety practitioners. The creative industries aren’t immune to this. They exhibit same-minded conservatism as much as any other industry.

Whether you’re talking about advertising, PR campaigns, digital, apps, content or whatever – 90% of it is crap. Sure, this crap follows all the conventions and looks like it’s supposed to but that makes it no less crap.

And that comes down to people relying on existing knowledge rather than questioning things and being truly curious.

Knowledge may be power. But it’s not a patch on ignorance.


I’ve worked with business leaders to help them develop curiosity in their workforce. I’ve developed programmes to increase curiosity in teams. It takes work. But it’s usually some variation of this:

  1. Identify areas of ignoranceThis shouldn’t be hard. Because as I showed in the earlier diagram, even if you know more than most in your industry, you know next to nothing in the grand scheme of things. Your challenge may be narrowing your ignorance down to one or two areas that you can address at a time. An approach I love to use is to question your organisation’s assumptions. Find some things that you think are worth unlearning, then set yourself the challenge to fill that newly-created gap with knowledge.
  2. Motivate yourselfLet’s be honest, you’re not going to act on this unless you really want to. Because it takes effort. I like crisps more than having a washboard stomach, which is why I look the way I do. The struggle of changing feels greater than the reward. However, there are simple ways to develop motivation. One of the best ways is to make yourself accountable. I recommend you find another colleague or two and create a learning group. Get together once a week and share what you’ve learned. If you’re competitive, this can work doubly well as you all try to out-learn each other.
  3. Put it into actionKnowledge becomes a lot more powerful when you start applying it. You learn even more when you put things into action. And you remember it better. Hopefully, that will give you some kind of positive feedback that will start you on an endless curiosity loop.

This isn’t complicated. It just takes effort.

But it’s how you stand out in the workplace. It’s how you feel like you’ve got a deeper purpose. And it’s how businesses build competitive advantage.

Don’t get complacent and rely on your knowledge. Ignorance is fucking dynamite. As long as you’ve got the spark to do something about it.

Curiosity Personal growth Start-up culture

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