The Importance of Curiosity: Why Have a Curious Mindset?

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Transcend" by Scott Barry Kaufman. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What’s the importance of curiosity? How can having a curious mindset benefit you in life?

According to Scott Barry Kaufman’s book Transcend, one way to fulfill the human need for growth in life is to be curious. For personal development, he says, we must understand the importance of curiosity and how being curious can lead us to face and accept the inherent uncertainty of life.

Read on to learn about the importance of curiosity and how to foster a curious mindset, according to Kaufman.

The Importance of Curiosity

In Scott Barry Kaufman’s book Transcend, he creates a new hierarchy of needs, outlining three security needs as a foundation for self-actualization, or what he calls fulfilling your growth needs. Kaufman equates self-actualization with growth because self-actualization isn’t about meeting all your needs and then stopping; it’s about making constant progress. To live a fulfilling life, you need to always feel as though you’re developing as a person and reaching toward your fullest potential. Kaufman identifies three growth needs: the need to be curious, the need to love, and the need for purpose. In this article, we’ll specifically address the need to be curious and the importance of curiosity, according to Kaufman.

(Shortform note: The authors of Minimalism argue that what constitutes a meaningful life is different for everyone, but in general, a meaningful life is one in which you feel successful. However, they add that success is tied to constant improvement. Whether in your relationships, your personal health, your career, or any other area of growth you deem important, if you feel you’re improving on a daily basis, you’re likely to find happiness and meaning in your life. According to the authors, the key to living a more meaningful life is to find ways to enjoy positive experiences you dislike. In other words, find ways to enjoy the things that are good for your personal growth that you normally don’t enjoy.)

Fostering a Curious Mindset

According to Kaufman, the need to be curious, which he defines as the urge to seek out new and challenging experiences, is a fundamental human need. If you feel safe, connected, and sure of yourself (satisfying the security needs outlined above), you’ll likely then want to learn more about the world and the people around you. 

Given the importance of curiosity as a fundamental human need, how can we be more curious in life? The need to be curious is about facing the inherent uncertainty of life, and though this can be stressful, it allows you to learn more about yourself and your surroundings and make new connections. Each of these will lead to growth.

Kaufman also highlights the importance of curiosity for learning, which is essential for growth. When you’re curious, you try to understand yourself and the world around you. This puts you in touch with your wants, needs, and capabilities, which helps you know what you want from life and which areas of growth to focus on. If you seek to understand your environment and surroundings, you’ll develop useful skills and abilities as you learn more about the world. Also, you’ll be more flexible when you face a challenging situation because you’ll think about the different ways of solving the problem instead of shutting down or giving up.

For Kaufman, the importance of curiosity in making new connections is conducive to growth in several ways. First, when you get to know others and their stories, you learn from them. You not only learn from their mistakes, but you also gain insight into potential opportunities that may benefit you. For example, you may meet someone who teaches you how to paint, which becomes a source of lifelong joy and meaning for you. Another way making new connections benefits you is by increasing your ability to evaluate others. Research shows that people who explore socially can more accurately assess others. Since we’re such social creatures, accurately evaluating others helps us adapt to social situations and develop stronger relationships.

How to Foster a Curious Mindset

In Ultralearning, Scott Young argues that experimentation is necessary if you wish to learn and grow, which echoes Kaufman’s argument for the importance of curiosity and that it’s necessary if you wish to self-actualize. Young contends that experimentation helps you grow in three ways: you develop a more personal and effective learning style, you become more efficient, and you become more creative and original. 

Young also provides five different avenues of experimentation you can try:

Replicate others: This can be a good starting point, as you can copy someone else who you admire and learn how to approach whatever task you’re experimenting with. This aligns with the idea that learning from others can benefit you, even in an indirect way, like if you take up a hobby they’re already doing.

Compare separate but similar approaches: Try two different methods with slight variations so you can narrow down what works best for you. This approach is a way to better understand yourself in order to grow.

Set restrictions: By setting restrictions, you limit what you can do and force yourself to be more creative.

Experiment with a variety of skills: Sometimes seemingly unconnected skills can reinforce each other in unforeseen ways. 

Get out of your comfort zone: Fight the urge to get complacent when you master a skill. If you get out of your comfort zone, you’ll learn a lot about yourself and what you’re capable of. Getting out of your comfort zone is another way of learning through exploration, and you could do so mentally, physically, or socially. 
The Importance of Curiosity: Why Have a Curious Mindset?

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Here's what you'll find in our full Transcend summary:

  • An updated, modern take on Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs
  • An in-depth look into Abraham Maslow’s full body of work
  • How to simultaneously fulfill your needs while transcending beyond them

Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

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