Get curious

An exhortation. When I find myself lost in tiny details, focused on execution over wondering and big-picture questions, I try to remind myself to get curious. My default mode, having spent so many years as a technologist, is to focus on tasks, on doing, on accomplishing. That’s often necessary to meaningful intellectual creative work, but it’s certainly not sufficient. Too much doing-focus will crowd out the expansive mindset which generates new insights. It’s hard to hear yourself think.

For example, when writing about how to formulate spaced repetition prompts to represent list-like knowledge, I noticed that I was working in a fairly dull-minded, execution-oriented fashion. The work felt lifeless. I realized that there are lots of open questions in what I was writing about, and reframed my work from “write down what I know fluently about this topic” to “try to answer: how is list-like knowledge learned, cognitively speaking? how should that type of knowledge be developed via spaced repetition systems?” I experienced a “flip” like the classic vase/face swap, and suddenly the work felt vital again: I was curious about the answers to those questions, and I pushed my understanding of the topic forward.


That rote process of science we’re taught in school—to start with a question, generate hypotheses, test with experiments, draw conclusions—it’s a good tool, but it doesn’t capture the most important element: {actually wanting to know the answer to the question}!

Last updated 2024-01-15.