Don’t you just love the expression: “Curiosity killed the cat”?

It is a phrase that I have heard so many times, especially as a child, trying to learn about things and maybe even trying to understand life a little better. As children we were told that curiosity killed the cat.  What on earth does this mean?


My first search for the definition was in the English dictionary of my primary school classroom and this is what I found:

  • “The desire to learn or know about anything – inquisitiveness”
  • “A desire to learn or know about things that does not concern one – nosiness”


The first definition was a positive affirming definition. The second was a negative condemning definition.  The second definition is usually the one we refer to when we use the word curiosity, it is as if somehow curiosity is not a good trait in a person. You are not supposed to be curios. We tell our kids not to ask questions all the time. Through all this we condition our kids to believe that curiosity is not an attribute to strive for.


I once read the following anonymous quote: “No curiosity is killing homo-sapiens.” There is this tendency with humans to fall into comfort zones.  We like what we know and we tend to stick with that rather than ask questions about the assumptions we live with.  Adult educators have found that adults lose most of their creativity after the age of 20.  At the age of 3 a child’s creativity is 100%.  By the age of 23 the young adult’s creativity is 5% or sometimes even lower.  Why is it that we lose our creativity?


Adult educators believe that we lose creativity, because we have lost our curiosity as adults.  They explain that when we reach the age of 20, we believe that we have worked out the world and that we know how the world works and is supposed to work.  We make up our minds about so many things and our thoughts get stuck in a comfort zone, which means we are comfortable believing what we have always believed about life.  I believe for adults to live full and meaningful lives, they need to ask questions again.   I believe that Business Professionals need to realise that the systems and structures of the corporate world will force them to conform to the norm.


Samuel Johnson said: “Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect.”  Business Professionals will have to constantly remind themselves that they need to keep their curiosity alive if they would like to make a meaningful contribution within their career space.   Albert Einstein once said: “I have no exceptional talents, other than a passionate curiosity.”  How profound are these words.  The most famous scientist in the history of modern humanity said that he did not have much to offer, but what he had was a passion to inquire, to learn and ask questions.   Einstein kept his curiosity alive.


During 2000 Reio and Wiswell did a study on curiosity which they published in the Human Resources Quarterly.  The focus of their study was to determine the relationship between curiosity levels of employees, workplace learning and performance of the individual.  Their study concluded the following:

  • The more curious the individual, the faster they learn and adapt in the work environment
  • The more curious the individual the better they perform and achieve in the work environment


Where does this leave the Business Professional?  How can we make sure that we stay curious?


A key to staying curious is to be more reflective.  Start thinking about your thinking!  A great tool for this as we have mentioned before is a personal journal.  The most curious people I know have journals and are always writing and reflecting.   Start with basic questions about yourself and those around you and also write about what you do every day.   Just make sure you begin writing.


Especially in our work relationships we need to stay curious.  Never believe that you have your colleagues figured out.  Never believe that you have learned all you can from your colleagues.  Always be prepared to listen.  Keep asking questions to make sure that you are not assuming anything.   Leonardo da Vinci had this motto that he taught to others and it simply was: “I question.” What in your career space have you stopped asking questions about?


As a Business Professional you need to stay curious about yourself.  Constantly grow in self-awareness by inviting colleagues to give you feedback.  The most successful leaders that I work with are open to feedback from those they lead and manage.  They don’t feel threatened, but empowered by the feedback of their teams.


As a Business Professional you can stimulate your curiosity by cultivating the habit of reading. The television has made us lazy.  I have seen many times how the habit of reading changes people for the better.  If you don’t read you won’t succeed.  This is the first thing I try to teach clients, to read.  Try and read books relevant to your career and the challenges that you face in your career space.


I believe in our country we have a need for leaders and citizens to become curious again about our problems.  Maybe we should be more curious about our differences.  Maybe we should be more curious about our similarities.  Maybe it should start with the Business Professionals.  May your assumptions be shattered and may your curiosity be rekindled.


Author and Contributor: Hermann Du Plessis – Founder & Director of Themba Thandeka Leadership Institute – LinkedIn Bio:

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