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Mental Models
Featured Models

Curiosity Zone

There are few that would deny the power of curiosity. Just consider how: being curious about yourself will help drive self-awareness and growth; being curious about others will help drive empathy and collaboration;   being curious about ideas will help drive learning and understanding; and being curious about challenges will help drive problem-solving and innovation.  Given all of that, you'll want to explore this model that helps you better understand and tap into the power of curiosity.  The Curiosity Zone describes your tendency to be the most curious when you know something about a subject. And the most incurious when you are completely ignorant about it or view yourself as an expert in it.  BEWARE IGNORANCE - CURIOSITY NEEDS PURCHASE. The Curiosity Zone is inspired by George Loewenstein’s 1994 Information-Gap Theory, although it was effectively distilled in Ian Leslie’s highly recommended book Curious — thus I’ve co-attributed this model, even though the two did not work together directly, see the Origins section below for more.   Loewenstein’s Information-Gap Theory argues that initial information acts as a 'priming dose' or purchase for increased curiosity. Loewenstein explained: “There are many things that people don’t know and that don’t bother them, but awareness of specific pieces of missing information can prompt an unreasonably strong desire to fill these gaps.”  The takeaway here is that initial knowledge in an area builds your potential of developing information gaps, which in turn drives curiosity for more knowledge to bridge that gap. EXPERTS BEWARE - OVERCONFIDENCE KILLS CURIOSITY.   “By the time we are adults we have fewer questions, and more default settings.” — Jean Piaget When he became CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella discovered that Piaget’s observation applied doubly to the gap between novices and experts. Nadella famously inherited a toxic culture where countless experts had fixed ideas, methods of practice could not be challenged, and innovation was limited as a result. One of Nadella's first actions as CEO was to highlight the lack of learning and curiosity at Microsoft, arguing that “the learn-it-all does better than the know-it-all”, as part of a broader campaign to embrace a Growth Mindset and culture of curiosity.   Rather than being an indictment of expertise, the Curiosity Zone exposes the inverse relationship between high levels of perceived expertise and curiosity, so can act as an important cautionary tale against complacency. It warns against 'settling' into your existing ideas, no matter how well-formed they are, especially when you live in a complex, fast-changing, and unpredictable world.  The challenge then is for experts to remain open and curious about the mysteries of their familiar domain — no easy task! USE IT ON YOURSELF AND TO ENGAGE WITH OTHERS. Your first instinct will likely to be to apply this model on yourself, supporting yourself to develop curiosity even when you're new to a topic or are an expert on it. And that's great! As I said up front, there are countless benefits to doing that.  But don't leave it there. Consider how you can use this model to boost the way you communicate, persuade and present. Ask yourself, how can I give my audience enough information to develop the curious tension that comes with an information-gap?  LESLIE’S CURIOSITY TIPS. In Curious, Leslie outlines several strategies to boost your curiosity:  Stay foolish - have the courage to ask the ‘stupid’ questions and be honest about your information gaps.  Build the database - understanding the Curiosity Zone, Leslie argues for the power of building knowledge as a purchase to grow further knowledge.  Forage like a 'foxhog' - similar to the T-Shaped People , Leslie advocates for the combination of deep knowledge with a cross-disciplinary breadth.  Ask the big why - considering the big questions and challenging accepted assumptions.  Be a 'thinkerer' - combining thinker and tinker, this term combines the micro and macro, or the practical and theoretical in playful cycles of experiment and thought.  Question your teaspoons - looking at the ordinary and every day but challenging the way that you view and use them. This has much resonance with challenging Functional Fixedness.  Turn puzzles into mysteries - Leslie points out that puzzles have a defined answer and can be solved, while mysteries are open-ended and are more enduring as a result. He points to our cultural obsession with puzzles — on getting an answer, particularly in our internet age. However, he advocates for the power of embracing and exploring mysteries. This quick summary doesn’t do justice to Leslie's calls to action but, hopefully, it’s enough information to provide an information-gap in your mind that drives your curiosity to buy his book.  IN YOUR LATTICEWORK.  The Curiosity Zone is a conceptual cousin to the Zeigarnik Effect, particularly in terms of creating a tension between an unfinished task or, in this case, a body of incomplete knowledge. It's important to note that the Curiosity Zone is not the only consideration when understanding levels of Curiosity (see Limitations for more). For example, you might also explore Psychological Safety when aiming to shift a team or organisation's culture of curiosity.  I’ve already cited T-Shaped People in reference to Leslie’s ‘foxhog’ tip. In addition, I’d argue that his call to ‘build a database’ will be boosted by focusing on building a Latticework of Mental Models to actively scaffold and build understanding rather than just accumulate factual information. And ‘asking the big why’ will be assisted by models such as the 5 Whys. Activation Energy can help you understand the difficulty of starting to accumulate knowledge in a new and unexplored area. On the other side of the spectrum, when considering experts, you might better maintain humility with models like Map vs Territory. Continuing the expert theme, consider leveraging models such as First Principles, Framestorming, and/or Idea Sex to challenge your existing expert assumptions and rekindle your curiosity in an area that you might have developed some complacency in.  Finally, use curiosity to better challenge the Confirmation Heuristic, by exploring your existing beliefs and mental models.

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