What Is It You Are Curious About?

Last night, I participated in an event at “the Family“, a startup incubator based in Paris, which is aiming to form an “unfair advantage” for startups in France. A “revolution” of sorts, by bottoms up actions.


One question I was asked was what I’ve learned in my 20+ year career of working with some of the best and brightest in Silicon Valley. I started with the idea passion, because you cannot have an innovation advantage without also having a passion advantage.  And I added that passion has many dimensions. It is to be so insanely curious that you are willing to “not know” something long enough to know more.

This morning I read one of my favorite management professors’ blog, where Henry Mintzberg shared this story:

In 1928, Alexander Fleming was researching anti-bacterial agents in his London laboratory. Returning there after vacation, he noticed that mold had killed some particular bacteria in one of his petri plates. “That’s funny” he said. Standard practice was to discard such samples and carry on, which Fleming in fact did. But following a conversation with a colleague, he took that sample out of the trash, asking himself if this mold could be used to kill destructive bacteria in the human body. That was the critical moment, the key little switch. What was trash to other researchers suddenly became opportunity for him.

Fleming studied the mold and published an article about it a year later. But not much happened for a while, and then it took years of effort, by him and others, before what he initially called “penicillin” was used in the treatment of infections. Looking back on this, he said: “When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer.” But that is what happened, and it changed the world.

What made all this effort possible was that one little switch by one person—from the trash to the bench, and, in his mind, into the human body. It was a simple switch really, even if its consequences were monumental.

The piece was titled creativity. And I wonder if that does the underlying nugget a disservice. After all, creativity is more often linked to the arts than to the “Every Day Joe”. And that might leave the capacity each of us, onlyness, untapped.

I wonder if, behind creativity, the question is one of curiosity. That is, to ask yourself a question you find interesting, even if that question is one others deem unworthy or unnecessary and in doing so, you pursue a new idea; potentially an idea that is powerful enough to dent the world. It is curiosity then that fuels the drive, and enormous effort, to turn something into reality. BlogIcon_Right copy

It is in the question itself, that the quest starts. So let me leave you with that question itself.

What is it you are curious about?

4 Replies

  1. So, this is really quite relevant to me in the sense that I’m rather selfish in my writing process, in that I only ask the questions of myself that I want to answer – those in which I am the most curious. As a writer, answering any other question feels futile and leading me down a path that will not allow me the ability to create my best work.

    Too often, those of us who are creatives feel like we have to pigeonhole ourselves in order to be successful. By this, I mean tailoring our thinking to match what is cool, hip or viable. However, for me, it’s never about that. I mean, what I’m thinking and what I create may occasionally intersect with popular opinion or the most viable of concepts, but it’s far from intentional.

    Curiosity should be nurtured and the answers it brings always expressed. Indeed, becoming and/or remaining curious (and expressing it) is an intrinsic part of discovering the path to discovering one’s best onlyness.

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