Curiosity Killed the Cat – And Could do the Same to Innovation

curious cat looking at stuffed animalIf necessity is the mother of invention, then curiosity is the father, according to Kendall Thiessen (@ideasurge).

But it is unstructured, “freewheeling intelligence. Sometimes you go off-road,” said Angela Dunn (@blogbrevity).

The comments came during this week’s #innochat, a curious, freewheeling, weekly chat by innovation experts from around the world. This week, the topic looked at how we can exploit curiosity to spur innovation.

Moderated by Andrew Marshall, founder and principal of Primed Associates, his framing post was on tapping in to, and exploiting curiosity for innovation.

Pitfalls to Curiosity in Innovation

All agreed curiosity was good. But when asked if there were any pitfalls, the experts cited plenty. “At some point you have to go with what you know … If you’re always looking for perfect, you’ll never get to great,” said Harvey Briggs (@OBX_Harvey).

“Lack of focus, sometimes daydreaming, losing sight of the execution in place of the big picture,” said Thiessen. “Lack of focus,” agreed Bruno Coelho (@bcoelho2000) in Portugal. “You need it to go from idea to ship it.”

“We need framing, direction, focus,” said Cathryn Hrudicka (@CreativeSage). “The only boundary curiosity has it our own imagination, which can lead to lack of scope and focus,” said Kelly Burroughs (@KellyBurroughs).

The issues of curiosity vs innovation was summed up nicely by two participants. Colin Hope-Murray (@CHopeMurray) noted that “curiosity reminds us that we know so little of what we can know.” It “can be one of the instigators of scope creep or the propeller of perfectionism,” he added. “It needs appropriate control.”

Bradley Woody Bendle (@wbendle) said, “Curiosity can be unbounded — innovation requires actually making something and getting it to market.” Both can be in conflict, he added.

“Curiosity that is endless and boundless leads to less,” said Marshall. It needs “purpose and sometimes a sense of urgency. Without those two it can be a sinkhole,” said Joe Sanchez (@sanchezjb).

It “can cripple you if you don’t know how to turn if off and focus sometimes,” said Gregg Fraley (@greggfraley).

However, not all agreed. “I’d say that real curiosity can motivate us to concentrate or drill down into the matter,” said Ben Tremblay (@bentrem).

Curious Innovators

The next question was to ask for examples of curious innovators.

Steve Koss suggested watching children discover. There is “nothing more magical. If that does not inspire imagination within you, nothing will,” he said.

John Lewis (@JohnWLewis) cited the work of David Allen (@gtdguy) “who developed his radically GTD [Getting Things Done] approach almost unaided and based mainly on self-experimentation.” He also cited Godfrey Hounsfield, developer of CAT scanners “who was extremely curious to see inside his own head.”

“… trying to resist the impulse to answer Steve Jobs …” Coelho quipped.

“Reid Hoffman @quixotic must be up there for most curious innovators,” said David James Ball (@davidjamesball).

Other examples were:

  • Edison by Wanda McClure (@WandaMcClure)
  • Albert Einstein by Bendle
  • Nikola Tesla by Brenda Young (@4byoung)
  • Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking Fast & Slow, by Marshall
  • Scott Cook of Intuit by Bendle
  • Clayton Christensen by Paul Hobcraft (@Paul4Innovating) and
  • Paul Simon by Briggs with an endorsement from Renee Hopkins (@Renee_Hopkins)

And where would curiosity be without its mascot, the cat? It wasn’t mentioned until almost three-quarters of the way through by Steve Koss (@SteveKoss).

“One of the downsides of curiosity: all those dead cats,” Thiessen joked.

“It only took 38 minutes but we got there: Curiosity killed the cat!,” Marshall said, adding, “(Note – No cats were harmed in this tweet.)”


Image of curious cat courtesy of ClawzCTR on Flickr.