Tag Archives: curiosity

Steve Jobs Took Things Seriously

Serious:  not joking or trifling; being in earnest


Here’s a simple truth about Steve Jobs.  He took things very seriously.

Every task; every word; every presentation; every-thing.  Though he made his presentations fun, you got the distinct impression that they were very important to him.  He took them seriously.

Where did this come from?  Where did this trait, and this practice, come from?

I have read the first couple of chapters of the new Steve Jobs book by Walter Isaacson.  (I hope to present my synopsis at the January First Friday Book Synopsis).  This paragraph grabbed me.  When he was six or seven years old, he told a girl who lived across the street that he was adopted.

“So, does that mean your real parents didn’t want you?”  “Lightning bolts went off in my head, according to Jobs.  “I remember running into the house, crying.  And my parents said, ‘No, you have to understand.’  They were very serious and looked me straight in the eye.  They said, “We specifically picked you out.’  Both of my parents said that and repeated it slowly for me.  And they put an emphasis on every word in that sentence.”  (emphasis added).

We will spend a lot of time, and read a lot of pages, trying to figure out what made Steve Jobs Steve Jobs.  But there is little doubt as to what he was.  He was a serious, curious, creative one-of-a-kind multi-hit wonder.  I’ve long thought that curious and creative were the critical traits.  I think “serious” might be the trait I had not yet grasped, or seen… It might be the true foundation for all the other traits.  (But, I’ve got a lot more to read…).

The Most Important Trait – Could It Be Curiosity?

I like curious people.  I think curiosity is the prelude to break-through thinking.  And my favorite authors are insatiably curious.

Here’s a quote from Bob Morris’ review of What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell:

In the Preface, Gladwell observes, “Curiosity about the inner life of other people’s day-to-day work is one of the most fundamental of human impulses, and that same impulse is what led to the writing you now hold in your hands.” He seems to have an insatiable curiosity about individuals, situations, and locations that are of little (if any) interest to most people…until Gladwell shares what he has learned about them.

And in The Big Short, in which Michael Lewis tells stories of the very few people who figured out the coming crisis on Wall Street before it happened, here’s one telling paragraph – about Steve Eisman, as stated by one of his cohorts, Vinny Daniel:

He (Eisman) entered private meetngs with the lenders and the bankers and the rating agencies probing for an intelligence he had yet to detect.  “He was in learning mode.  When he’s fascinated about a subject, his curiosity becomes far more important than being confrontational.”

I know of books that can help us become more creative, and books that can help us become more innovative.  But I don’t know any that are specifically about how we can increase our curiosity.  Maybe it’s simple – we should simply always be reading something that we know very little about.  This might feed our curiosity.

So here is your question for the day:  are you curious?

Curiosity is High-Test Fuel

Cheryl offers: A few months ago, we decided to create a new offering for women’s business topics. Since we regularly attend the First Friday Book Synopsis, and we read a lot of books on women’s issues, we thought it might be interesting to blend the two concepts. That’s how we came up with the idea of Take Your Brain to Lunch. What we have learned over the past months while working on SMU’s new women’s leadership program, Women in Motion, is both men and women are interested in understanding each other better. They both see the value of appreciating the other’s perspectives. In diversity, there is great strength. With women now occupying more jobs in the U. S. than men, graduating with more degrees then men and projected to do so for many years to come, it’s imperative we all work together to deepen our individual understanding of how things are changing, or not. In their book, How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work, by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, they tell us “Curiosity is the high-test fuel for the engine of learning.” Once we noticed the shared curiosity surrounding women’s business topics, all we had to do was build an engine. When we started we optimistically aspired to attract 40 people to our first event; we have more than 80 and pushing 100! Personally, I have been amazed and inspired by the interest that is apparent in all generations, across all industries for learning. Way to go Dallas!

Sara adds:  It’s good to talk about being curious; but how do you know you are doing “it” (being curious, that is)?   Here are some ideas.  If you are interested in the other person and their ideas, you are being curious.  If you aren’t trying to justify your own idea – you are interested in someone else’s, you are being curious.  If you get outside of your own thoughts and ways of doing things and consider new ideas, you are being curious.  Frederick Schmitt and Reza Lahroodi have written an article on “The Epistemic Value of Curiosity” and offer 4 important values of curiosity:

  1. Curiosity is tenacious: curiosity about whether something is true leads to curiosity about related issues, thereby deepening knowledge.
  2. Curiosity is often biased in favor of topics in which we already have a practical interest.
  3. Curiosity is largely independent of our interests: it broadens our knowledge.
  4. Curiosity jumpstarts learning and when you embrace curiosity, you become a lifetime learner

And when we think of successful leaders, they are almost always curious.  I guess the lesson here is to proactively look beyond what we know and believe to be true in order to find what is truly possible.

Some Reflections on Malcolm Gladwell, Atul Gawande, Curiosity, Story-Telling, and Complexity

I have spent the morning reading Atul Gawande.  For those who are already fans, forgive my lateness to the party.  But I’m now fully hooked.

Atul Gawande is a surgeon, an associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, the director of the World Health Organization’s Global Challenge for Safer Surgical Care, a MacArthur Fellowship recipient (nicknamed the Genius Award), and a staff-writer for The New Yorker.  (He either has many clones, or simply never sleeps!)  He’s in the news lately for his article that is now mandatory reading in the White House on the cost of health care in McAllen, Texas (close to my old stomping grounds.  I’m from Harlingen).

I could not stop reading.  Like Malcolm Gladwell, his New Yorker articles are linked on his own web site.  As I read, I learned more and more about health care and the current health care crisis.  He tells story after story – and all the stories are well-told, from a master story-teller, and each story is carefully selected to stimulate our curiosity and educate us about something important.    Stories of doctors failures, of doctors successes, of amazing breakthroughs from very simple steps taken — like the “lists,” and the story told in his June commencement address at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine , “Money,” about the work of Jerry Sternin and malnutrition problems in poor Vietnamese villages.

So reading these provided quite an education, and a lot to think about.  The more I read, the more the feelings I had while reading seemed familiar.  Then I realized – reading him makes me feel the same way I feel when I am reading Malcolm Gladwell.  Though they write in different fields, they share these traits in column:  they are both insatiably curious, and they have found a way to tell their stories and present their ideas in ways that make me want to learn more – a lot more!  And, it seems a pretty safe bet that that Gawande has put in his 10,000 hours and is a genuine Outlier himself.

This blog is about insight from business books.  But really it is a blog about our hunger and thirst for knowledge.  The world is getting more complex by the day, with the amount of data/words/knowledge increasing geometrically.  At the same time, it is ever more independent.  What Gawande and Gladwell seem to be able to do is to pull insight from multiple areas, from multiple disciplines, and help us connect it all.  Gawande the journalist is both surgeon and generalist, and both are critical.

You can find Gawande’s articles here, and Gladwell’s articles here.  I’d carve out a little time for both authors — it will be worth every minute.  I’ve read nearly all of Gladwell’s articles, and have just started Gawande’s list (though I made a pretty good start this morning).  And, yes, his two books are now on my reading list.

(To purchase my synopses of Blink, The Tipping Point, and/or Outliers, all by Malcolm Gladwell, with handout + audio, go to our 15 Minute Business Book site).

Malcolm Gladwell’s Enduring Appeal — Consider Outliers and The Tipping Point

I just checked, for the fun of it.  And Outliers:  The Story of Success,  is the second highest non-fiction book on the over-all list of bests sellers on Amazon.com.  The Tipping Point, after nearly nine years, is still in the top 50.  And his second book, Blink, is still in the top 100.  This is one well-read (or at least well-purchased) author.  

Outliers has generated a lot of conversation.  On his own blog, Gladwell links to a column by David Boooks.  In fact, Outliers very much takes the idea of a meritocracy which Brooks wrote about in his Bobos in Paradise, and then says that meritocracy of itself is not sufficient to explain success.  

The Wall Street Journal provided a significant ctritique of the book, and even The Onion (in its AV Club) has a terrific article by Donna Howard.  

You probably know the essence by now.  Athletes born in the first few months of the year have a great advantage.  It takes 10,000 hours to get really, really good at anything. Culture really does shape behavior, which is why Korean Air had more plane crashes and Asian culture created behaviors that provide advantages in math.  To Gladwell, the story of success is work ethic + other factors, and it is the pursuit of these other factors that intrigues him.  

Don’t misunderstand, work ethic still counts for much.  In fact, here is my favorite quote from Outliers:  “The people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else.  They work much, much harder.”  (p. 39).  

It is true that Gladwell builds on research and findings from others.  He is a great “popularizer,” letting us in on the insights of more original thinkers.  

But what explains his enduring appeal?  Here are my two thoughts:

1.  Malcolm Gladwell is a very curious man.  Even a casual look at the titles of his archived New Yorker artices (available on his web site) reveals a great breadth of curiosity.  I remember reading that his agreemment with the New Yorker allows him to write about anything that interests him.  His curiosity has created a gold mine of wisdom and insight.

2.  Malcolm Gladwell is the best story-teller in print.  For a non-fiction writer, I know no one who rivals Gladwell as a story-teller. His books are books that I simply can not put down, and Outliers is one of the few non-fiction books that I have read more than once.  I realize that I am describing a matter of “taste” — but a whole lot of people share my enthusiasm.  Gladwell is a very popular story-teller.

So — if you haven’t read Outliers yet, it is worth a read.  (And, yes, my synopsis, with handout and audio, is available at our 15minutebusinessbooks site).