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Curiosity has gotten the short end of the stick in history.

For the most part, when history's biggest thinkers have made breakthroughs in their respective fields, it's intelligence that got the marquee. However, without curiosity, the ability to to want to explore, to take apart, and to experience new things, these new discoveries wouldn't have been... well, discovered, because we would have been looking for them in all the "normal" ways.

Curiosity is the strong desire to learn without constraint and is the driving force behind new discoveries in not only technology and science, but across all fields.

Why Isn't Curiosity Valued?

Curiosity's problem isn't that it has a reputation for killing cats; it's that curiosity hasn't been traditionally treasured as a critical attribute of success. With curiosity, there's risk, and with risk comes  a potential loss of time and money.

We live in a rules-based society with personal responsibilities that make habits and routines necessary, and we work jobs that have processes to follow. After all those filters, our curiosity becomes very much muted as we get older. A famous, snarky quote from Einstein summarizes this: "It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education."

The Bond Between Intellect, Emotion, and Curiosity

Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Dr. Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor of business psychology at University College London, identifies curiosity as the third of three qualities that enhance our ability to manage complexity. The other two are IQ (one’s intellectual quotient) and EQ (emotional quotient or emotional intelligence). A proportionate healthy mixture of all three can make you very successful in business.

Most good businesspeople will tell you that curiosity is one of the best qualities a salesperson can have. Asking questions is both a way to learn and a way to endear yourself to the people you work with and sell to. And a great byproduct is that in the process of asking, you increase your knowledge.

Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic believes that “people with higher curiosity quotient (CQ) are more inquisitive and open to new experiences…they tend to generate many original ideas and are counter-conformist.” They have nuanced thinking and they’re good at producing simple solutions for complex problems.

It’s not enough to be smart

Higher IQ levels enable people to learn and solve more problems. Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic notes that intelligence “is a much stronger predictor of performance on complex tasks than on simple ones.” But to uphold your smarts and get buy-in, you will also need some good EQ, the quality that helps us control and express our emotions. In other words, the soft, interpersonal skills that bring us success with other people on the job and make us good mangers.

Consider how many people you know who are really intelligent, really curious, and socially savvy – it’s not always easy to master all three. 

Life is More Interesting for the Interested

Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic might be right. It’s probably best to be intelligent, as your intelligence will guide you to making better decisions about how you treat other people, and it will also drive you to want to know more. 

When you show curiosity about what someone else is doing, something curious happens. Spend an extended time asking questions of someone, and after that conversation, they’ll think you’re more interesting, more intelligent. They interpret your interest as intelligence and they’ll welcome your company.

In a great sales call, if you stop selling and start asking, you’ll only learn about pain points if you ask the right probing questions, you’ll find out what motivates them to make decisions, and, by listening, you’ve now endeared yourself to her. It’s a win-win-win.

Your curiosity should be embraced and nurtured. We all can't be Galileo, Da Vinci, Admiral Hopper, or Einstein, but each one of us is born with curiosity.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing,” said Einstein.