…or why it is so hard to ask why.
By Rasto Ivanic, Co-founder and CEO
“When did I stop being curious?” I wonder every now and then, staring at this realization in the face in an uncomfortable rush of panic. The possibility of being content with the way things are scares me deeply. Probably more than most anything else outside of bad things happening to my children. Why is that? To me, staying curious is equivalent to feeling present and relevant. To accept the outside world as is (as zen as it may sound) and simply move along the path of least resistance, makes me feel like an irrelevant cog in a big machine set on its course, taking me along for a ride. Asking questions and discovering new ideas nourishes my always-awake drive to build new things. That’s why when I chug along for a few days just executing, I panic and wonder if I have gone too far down the path of least resistance and if I still have it in me to pursue answers to the question of “why.”
I am lucky that I work with like-minded inquisitive people. Some eight years ago, I co-founded GroupSolver to build a customer insights technology that allows everyone who cares to get answers to the questions that matter to them. To understand why things are the way they are. My job description commands me to work with people who have the same nagging drive to challenge the way things are, to be unafraid to dig deep into the unknown. Fortunately, there are plenty of curious minds out there which almost guarantees that I get my daily fix of curiosity.
But as is the case with any virtue, curiosity is not cheap or easy. I remember when my kids were very little, every sentence out of their mouths was a question. “But why, daddy?” It is easy to let your mind wander when the only care in the world you have is whether you get ice cream after dinner. As I watch my kids grow, I realize how as the human mind gets filled with information and rules, and we organize facts in our heads to build guardrails for our own well-being, the questions we ask are less frequent and less open-ended. We look for confirmation of our hypotheses and open-ended “why” questions become less important. Life pushes us toward execution, knowing that there is comfort in following the natural flow of things. It is hard to wonder why a platypus has a rubbery beak as you are driving home from work, sprinting through dinner so you can answer emails before getting into bed. Staying curious requires an investment, and there are trade-offs.
So, how do I stay curious… and why do I choose to invest in it? To answer the “why” question is probably easier: curiosity is partially baked into my sense of self and partially, staying curious is my job right now. The question of how I stay curious is harder. It requires me to stop at times when all systems say “go, go, go.” I have built times when I don’t do anything into my daily routine. If I want to go for a run, I will run. If I want to watch TV, I will watch TV. If I want to build an IKEA closet, I will build an IKEA closet. I do this to disrupt the routine and give myself a chance to notice silly little things like a line of ants marching up a drainpipe (why are they going up there?) or a man sitting on a park bench, smiling (what is making him happy?). I make conscious trade-offs to feed my curiosity: I accept the uncertainty that comes from breaking and then rebuilding my system of beliefs and the guardrails around my mental health. I don’t hang out much with friends in order to give myself more “me” time to think. I often get into arguments trying to dig for answers.
To me, all of this is worth the effort and makes me a part of something bigger, something that defines our human civilization. Curiosity is the drive that makes invention and feeds progress. It also keeps me sane. Just like a two-year-old can never run out of reasons to keep asking “why?”, neither can I. That is the reason why I stay curious and keep looking for answers to the question of “why?”