How can intellectual curiosity lead to success?

Published Oct. 5, 2020

What is intellectual curiosity, and how can it lead you to success in your career and personal life?

How can intellectual curiosity lead to success?

At MentorCruise, a mentorship platform with a thriving community of mentors and mentees, we encourage mentees to pursue their intellectual curiosity and use it as a driving force to achieve their goals and conquer their obstacles. Moreover, mentees can learn how to nurture their intellectual curiosity from mentors who have used this to become successful in their endeavors.

When used effectively, intellectual curiosity can positively affect every aspect of a person’s life. How? Here, you’ll learn:

  • What do we define as intellectual curiosity?
  • How most learning takes place outside the classroom
  • The link between intellectual curiosity and professional success
  • The importance of good mentors and role models in shaping intellectual curiosity
  • How intellectual curiosity can help break the vicious cycle

What is intellectual curiosity?

To say we had no special advantages … The greatest thing in our favor was growing up in a family where there was always much encouragement to intellectual curiosity.”

This was Orville Wright’s response after a friend mentioned how he and his brother were an example of how far ordinary people can go in life. Orville is the other half of the Wright Brothers, aviation pioneers generally credited with creating, building and flying the world’s first successful motor-operated airplane. Orville argues that developing intellectual curiosity, in itself, was a unique advantage that helped the brothers become innovators in their field.

We generally think of intelligence as somewhat of an unchangeable element within each individual and is often meant as a synonym to competence, talent or success.

But there’s a growing sentiment that intelligence may not be the end-all, be-all to a person’s intellectual journey. Some researchers argue that intellectual curiosity can be an equally strong predictor of success, and the capacity to innovate across different industries may stem from intellectual curiosity.

Intellectual curiosity is essentially the drive to learn and the thirst for knowledge. It is generally associated with these traits:

  • Analytical and outside-the-box thinking. Intellectual curiosity fuels the passion to innovate and taps into unconventional ways of thinking. This allows people to solve age-old problems in unexpected ways.
  • Creativity and synthesis of thought. Intellectual curiosity helps people see the whole system and its individual pieces. Through intellectual curiosity, people can employ a systems-based approach to thinking and find links between different types of information.
  • Initiative and drive. Intellectual curiosity motivates people to come up with fresh and novel ideas that they want to complete into fruition. Intellectual curiosity encourages people to be driven by their interests.

These traits, led by curiosity, are extremely important for many jobs and highly-favored across innovation-led industries, such as tech and science.

Most learning takes place outside of formal establishments

Intellectual curiosity doesn’t end once you’ve finished formal education and continues well into adulthood. From your career path to your personal choices, intellectual curiosity takes place from the very moment that you allow yourself to be led by your interests.

Many entrepreneurs, academics and intellectuals contribute a large part of their success to their intellectual curiosity and their desire for growth.

At the same time, they’ve also had their friends’ support to help them get where they are today. Think of interest-based communities with members that hold each other accountable to succeed.

Sabba Keynejad, co-founder of VEED, a bootstrapped company that has 2 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR), states how being part of Indie London, an entrepreneurship group in the UK capital, has helped him develop meaningful bonds with fellow bootstrappers who have informally mentored him as peers to success.

Effective learning takes place within a collaborative environment, where others can help you figure out how to separate the signal from the noise. Intellectual curiosity is a developed trait that can be better improved through better learning mechanisms and knowledge curation.

Within the workplace, intellectual curiosity keeps people from flatlining in their skills and helps them adapt to the rapid pace of change in every industry in the last 30 years.

As Harvard Business Review notes,

cultivating curiosity at all levels helps leaders and their employees adapt to uncertain market conditions and external pressures: When our curiosity is triggered, we think more deeply and rationally about decisions and come up with more creative solutions.

Intellectual curiosity gives employees the flexibility of action when it comes to different kinds of pressure. Instead of giving into decision paralysis and being unable to act in the face of a new threat, intellectually curious non-specialists seek novel ways to surmount this threat and grow.

This doesn’t mean that intellectual curiosity is being actively encouraged in the workplace. In a survey conducted by behavioral scientist Francesca Gino of more than 3,000 employees across a range of companies and industries, only 24% reported feeling regularly curious about their jobs, and 70% felt that they experienced barriers to asking questions.

However, many companies are beginning to buck the trend. For example, in its hiring process, Google asks questions about inquisitiveness (“Have you ever found yourself unable to stop researching on a certain topic for hours on end?”), and IDEO hires based on a candidate’s curiosity and empathy skills.

The importance of good mentors and role models in shaping intellectual curiosity

As we’ve mentioned in an article, every mentorship is based on the mentee’s desire for self-improvement. At MentorCruise, when we asked about the qualities of a good mentor, mentees mentioned how their intellectual curiosity was reignited by great mentors that believed in what these mentees can achieve.

Intellectual curiosity can be learned. It’s honed when people have role models that they aspire to, and mentors that are rooting for them to get where they want to be.

But intellectual curiosity can also be fostered within a company-wide level through mentoring programs. These programs can improve team collaboration, give more insights to improve productivity and efficiency and allow more growth opportunities to minorities, who may feel as if they don’t have a voice in the company.

Overall, team mentorships encourage intellectual curiosity through this exchange of ideas, wisdom and lived experiences.

Intellectual curiosity can help break the vicious cycle

Finally, intellectual curiosity prevents you from repeating the mistakes over and over again.

Intellectual curiosity can essentially be a form of liberation, a disruption to the vicious cycle of life that places otherwise promising people into poverty and other forms of hardship.

While it may not necessarily guarantee change, intellectual curiosity equips people with the right knowledge to be able to overcome their current situation and achieve something greater.

On the other end, ignorance often renders people complacent and unaware of other possibilities for them. In the film Groundhog Day, Phil (played by Tom Hanks) is an arrogant TV weather broadcaster who covers an event called Groundhog Day. At first, everything seems normal, until he realizes that as soon as he wakes up, it’s the same day all over again.

Over time, aware of this repetition, Phil gets into depressions and kills himself by suicide, which fails because the time loops to a reset. But after this attempt, Phil has a moment of clarity and realizes that he couldn’t keep living his life by looking down upon others. He starts taking piano classes, helping people and just being an all-around good person. And then suddenly time goes back to normal.

Moral of the story: time loops alongside progression. Intellectual curiosity might not be a direct enabler of change, but it allows people to overcome negative patterns in their lives and strive to become better.

Grow your intellectual curiosity with MentorCruise

Intellectual curiosity is not about being the smartest person in the room. It’s about having the humility to think of yourself as an individual who’s still in the process of growing and is not afraid to admit not knowing the answer to every question.

A journey of self-development and growing your intellectual curiosity should never be taken in isolation. At MentorCruise, we believe that intellectual curiosity is fostered, rather than something innate.

If you want to learn how to become a better learner and overcome your professional obstacles, pick through our hundreds of world-leading experts that are keen to relay their knowledge, expertise and wisdom to you.