As a startup founder you need to know more than you ever anticipated. All the marketing, business planning, networking and product developing that you though you knew enough about, never is.
If you’re a solopreneur there’s one characteristic, one trait that separates successful entrepreneurs from all the rest. It’s not resilience, it’s not smarts, and it’s not perseverance (although if you don’t have any of those I’d venture to say you have an uphill climb). It’s curiosity.
To be curious is to hunt for answers to the seemingly mundane questions such as “what’s this?” or “how does this work?” in hopes of placing the last piece of the mental puzzle. Perpetual learners continually seek new answers because they realize curiosity starts us on the path that leads to new discoveries. If you don’t believe me (don’t worry, you’re not the only one), take it from Walt Disney who said, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
But, what if curiosity isn’t a natural strength? How can curiosity be built to the point that asking powerful questions becomes second nature while not annoying others? Glad you asked. If you want to generate greater curiosity, here are four ways to spur the perpetual learner inside you (and not get on people’s nerves in the process).
Make an “opposite list.”
I’m pretty sure I just made this name up, but hey, it works. On a piece of paper, draw a vertical line down the center. In the left hand column write “ordinary” and fill in all the routine behaviors you do daily. This could be waking up at 6 am to walk the dog, eating a fat, juicy, disgusting-yet-tasty burger for lunch, or going to the gym after work (yes, there’s always time to exercise). Now, in the right hand column write “extra-ordinary” and think of the (yup, you guessed it) opposite of what you wrote in the left column. If walking the dog at 6 am is ordinary for you, an opposite might be to run the dog instead. The opposite of that yummy fat pill, I mean, burger for lunch? A healthier choice or a packed lunch. The beauty of this exercise is twofold: it stimulates creativity in conjuring up new ideas; it generates the curiosity needed to problem solve those new creations.
Ask powerful questions.
It’s amazing to me the power a single question has to unearth new perspectives and insights that would have otherwise gone undiscovered. The best part about questions is they’re free. Questions serve as the fuel for creativity; creativity leads to innovation; innovation turns into making products that make you the next mega-millionaire. Boom. To ask yourself powerful questions, stick with open-ended questions that begin with “how” or “why.” This way, you force yourself to explain the answer rather than the simple one-off response of “yes” or “no.”
Redefine the unknown.
Get outside of your normal routine by learning a new hobby, reading a different book genre, or striking up a conversation with a complete stranger (exercise judgment on this one). At the end of your newfound adventure, ask yourself, “what did I learn?”
Broaden your mental boundaries.
Unknowingly, we allow our experiences to create boundaries for our thinking. The Hopi Indians, for instance, live primarily in the dry climate of Arizona and thus have only one word for snow. However, the Inuit of Alaska have many words for snow, an indication of how many ways snow impacts their lives. A Hopi would have a difficult time surviving in Alaska with just one concept of snow. The point is, our beliefs are governed by experiential parameters and it takes effort to expand those mental guardrails for thinking outside the box. A couple ways to do so are to consider opposites and compare and contrast new and old information.
Curiosity is the bread and butter of every entrepreneur. If it wasn't, then starting a new venture would have less appeal. However, curiosity can wane over time. Stay curious with the above exercises to stay at the competitive edge.