This week, we begin a series on curiosity. You might wonder what role curiosity plays in the workplace. To get us started, we decided to interview someone who we believe may actually require curiosity to fulfill his role. The following is an insightful interview with journalist, Jim T. Ryan.
What role does curiosity play in your job?
Being curious or inquisitive is extremely important in journalism because it leads you to ask a lot of questions. You have to ask a lot of questions of your interview subjects because sometimes they assume you know something, or they gloss over important facts. Curiosity helps you ask those questions so you can better understand a subject, policy, business deal or conflict. You have to understand what it is you’re going to write about so you can most accurately and clearly describe what is happening in the world around you to your readers.
Those who are curious generally end up gaining more knowledge about a situation, relationship, or event. Do you find that people are more inclined to speak with you when you show a genuine curiosity in their business?
Yes. Certainly. Like anyone else there are subjects that interest me more than others. I’m an outdoorsman, so I tend to find companies that are passionate about the environment and are conscious of their impact on it to be really interesting entities to write about. But, I’ve always had a natural curiosity for new people, places and things, so it’s not a great leap for me to be genuinely curious and inquisitive about the people and companies I write about. Even if you’re talking to someone about something that isn’t of intense interest to you personally, it’s important to be invested in the conversation. On a professional level, that helps you be a better listener so that you can understand the person you’re talking to. On a personal level, well, even if it doesn’t move you passionately, it’s still possible to detach from that disinterest to learn something new. That’s important to continue growing as a person. I may never start my own company, but I understand how they and economies work.
Some think that curiosity is a form of nosiness. Yet, people admire those who are authentically curious. What’s your take?
I think there’s a distinct difference between being nosy, and being curious. Curiosity implies that you’re not only inquisitive for your own sake, but that you’re also interested in listening to the other person. Nosiness is generally a selfish act, in which you’re only listening to the other person to gain status, money, power from them. Any good journalist, or even any good business person, is inquisitive to learn, to use the information for something better. Like telling the public they were lied to about something that affects their health, well-being, financial stability. Someone who is nosy gains information without concern for others. Sometimes people say you’re nosy just because they don’t like that you found truth they were trying to hide. But if it has value to your audience to help them form a more responsible government, build better businesses, expose a crime or truthfully details the life of an influential personality, then I think you’ve likely done a good job. You’re not going to please everyone all the time, but if you were honest people will respect your curiosity.
In your opinion, what’s the relationship between curiosity and creativity? Is there a difference?
I think curiosity can help one be creative, but there’s definitely a difference. They’re not synonymous. You can have extremely creative people who are not curious in the least bit about the world around them. On the other hand, you can have curious people who lack creativity. In some fields, you can likely get along just fine without developing that other side. But in most cases, I think truly successful people are both curious and creative. They explore the world around them to understand it, and then use that knowledge to build an imaginative solution or art. Writers are a good example. There are fiction writers who spend months researching people and places and issues so they can write a better book. You see it in business too. An engineer might spend years tinkering with mechanisms and electronics before they dream up a better manufacturing process or the next big gizmo to speed communication and commerce.
About Jim T. Ryan
Jim T. Ryan is a an award-winning journalist covering manufacturing, technology, transportation and workforce issues for the Central Penn Business Journal in Harrisburg, Pa. He also writes a blog called Riverside Hooligans focusing on outdoor recreation and America’s wild places. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking, camping, fishing, rock climbing, boating, mountain biking and soccer. Ryan lives in Dauphin, Pa. with his wife and sons, a grouchy cat and a trash-nosing beagle.