Curiosity and why your survival depends on it

When I finished school I though I’d made it, many people on the cape flats consider matric to be the ultimate prize. One has to understand the culture and history of the people to understand why this is such and important milestone. But I had another goal, a goal of completing my degree, of becoming a chartered accountant and that would set me up for life but I was wrong. You see, what I was taught at school and university were solutions to problems that already exist. The examinations came with pre set solutions by the teachers and lecturers but that was a crippling mistake.

In the world of work I’ve had to solve problems where solutions did not exist, and this is where the real education lies. You see because I struggled at university I had to teach myself, and because I had to teach myself I was curious to find what the solutions were to my problems. It is a skill that came with me from school because in matric I had to teach myself math as we did not have a class teacher. Unbeknown to me I taught myself math from an engineering text but what did I learn. I learnt that with curiosity and perseverance any problem can be solved.

So in order to learn one has to be curious, because without curiosity you cannot solve problems and if you cannot solve problems you are not needed in the workplace. As a result a qualification does not equal employability and until we change that mindset at our schools and universities the problems in higher education will continue. Certain Business Schools in South Africa, who consider themselves the Ivy League of Business Schools still have their students write closed book exams with the emphasis on needing to regurgitate information. Knowledge is not information but comes from the application of that information to solve a problem, does regurgitation of information imply knowledge and the ability to solve problems?

Business will continue to question the value of Business Schools if it does not create graduates that can solve problems. Learning starts by asking questions, questions get asked by curiosity, or the need to know? My children are naturally filled with curiosity and somehow the world has attempted to suppress the curiosity in me as an adult.

Questions need answers and answers are attempted through theories and theories come through knowledge. Unfortunately Universities work on uninformed theories that has no business applicability other than to gain research grants to build the reputation of a faculty that teachers students to regurgitate information. Theories need to be tested and unfortunately at Universities theories are never tested other than under perfect test conditions with no real world applicability.

I can read as much as I want to about riding a bike but until I really get on one and attempt it I will learn nothing. I still need to understand the theory, test it and if I fall reflect on what went wrong but that is how I learn.

Organisations easily put a damper on curiosity, calling it time wasting and lacking focus, because other people’s questions are seldom comfortable to those in power. Organisations, like Universities, which insist on doing things by the book, which look for obedience and discipline without question, and which provide people with little discretion for testing are effectively stopping the learning.

Learning needs forgiveness , it needs the space and freedom to explore and make mistakes. Learning also needs selfishness and selfishness in this regard means:
– taking responsibility for oneself
– owning ones future
– having a clear view of what you want for your future
– believing that you can make that future happen.

Learning therefore requires relentless self confidence and being able to learn from ones mistakes

Learning is not just knowing the answers, studying (learning answers of someone else’s questions), It is more complex. Learning does not happen automatically and requires energy, thought, courageous self confidence, and support. Learning is not measured in examinations, which only test theories, but by experience as it is tested and understood. Learning is not finding out what other people already know, but is a process of solving problems. It occurs by questioning, searching, testing and reflecting until the answers become part of us. Learning is about being curios!!!

Organizations which encourage curiosity, question and ideas, which allow space to experiment and reflect, which forgive mistakes and promote self confidence are the true learning organisations and theirs is a competitive advantage which no-one can steal from them.

Individuals who have enough confidence to remain curious get the most out of life, even if at times uncomfortable and unpopular because they are taking charge of their destinies.

One comment

  1. Well said Jerome

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