Cultivating Curiosity Is What Drives Innovation – Entrepreneur

Posted: June 13, 2020 at 11:46 am


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June 10, 2020 9 min read

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Curiosity drives innovation. It is an impulse to pursue a thought, find a solution, seek new possibilities or keep on a path to see whats around the next bend. Driven largely by Elon Musks relentless pursuit of curiosity, SpaceX just became the first private company to send people in a spacecraft to the International Space Station and is on a path to making space tourism a reality in our lifetimes.

According to Mario Livio, an astrophysicist, and author of the book Why?there are two types of curiosity. During a 2017 podcast appearance forKnowledge@Wharton, Livio stated,There is perceptual curiosity. Thats the curiosity we feel when something surprises us or when something doesnt agree with what we know or think we know. That is felt as an unpleasant state....On the other hand, there is epistemic curiosity, which is a pleasurable state associated with an anticipation of reward. Thats our level of knowledge. Thats what drives all scientific research. It drives many artworks. It drives education and things like that.

No less than Albert Einstein once similarly, succinctly remarked,"I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious."

Curiosity has been a driving force for Ben Lamm, CEO and founder ofHypergiant, throughout his career, leading to massive success across multiple diverse disciplines.

As a child, Lamm traveled frequently to Africa with his family, and at an early age, he saw the stark contrast between life on that continent versus suburban Texas, where he grew up. He saw that the world operated in a multitude of ways and that within those differences, opportunities lay. This led him to question things that most people accepted, even his own thoughts and assumptions.

Self-exploration and questioning are part of perceptual curiosity, something many of us lose as we grow more stable and confident with our life decisions. Yet for Lamm, that self-exploration led to early successes in the form of personal growth.He became a better student, a better friendand a better hustler.

Now, five companies in, Lamm is on to his most ambitious startup yet with Hypergiant, a modern-day Stark Industries servicing the space-company industry with advanced AI, autonomous satellite command and control systems, Intergalactic internet, an Iron Man-inspired space helmet, an AI-powered bioreactor that converts CO2 into algaeand more.

For most people, these innovations sound straight out of a sci-fi movie, but with a tagline like Tomorrowing Today"and a leader like Lamm at the helm, these innovations are natural outcomes that come from a culture that encourages a passionate pursuit of curiosity in all areas of life and work.

Shoshin, also known as beginners mind, is a concept that comes from Zen Buddhism and refers to having a lack of preconceptions about a subject. That openness to new concepts is something children have naturally. Children exude curiosity in everything they do; they are the perfect embodiment of beginners mind because they are not yet corrupted with prejudice, assumptions or a historical framework that dilutes what they are observing.

Practicing beginners mind also means that even when we know enough on a topic to be considered an expert, we are constantly learning new things, and at any point, those learnings could create a tidal shift in what we believe.

Lamm practices Shoshin with all the subjects he pursues, learning by being as deeply curious as a wayward child, asking, Why?The question of why is always a focus, whether that is why a business decision makes sense, why there isnt a regulation in place or why is there a need for a certain tool. Asking those questions is one of Lamms keys to cultivating an attitude of beginning over and over.

Experiencing a vast array of cultures and customs around the world gave Lamm the gift of seeing things differently from the rest and an instinctual ability to spot market opportunities. Lamm believes it is important to look at diverse customs, cultures and ideas in order to ensure you are seeing multiple sides to every situation and spotting opportunities where others have not.

As someone with a natural inclination to question the norm, entrepreneurship for Lamm was not just a path, it was his destiny. As he puts it, I truly believe entrepreneurs are born and not made. I was always destined to be an entrepreneur. Lamm was fired from every job he had in high school and launched his first company with his college professor as a junior in college. Now on his fifth startup following four successful exits with three of those companies being sold to publicly traded companies, its safe to say entrepreneurship is in Lamms blood.

While Lamms career path may look erratic, his commitment to a path of curiosity and fluid thinking means he is constantly shiftinghis observations aboutthe worldand how he works in it. Every time I create my career anew," he explains, "Im doing it as someone who is peering out to the world as a beginner and again asking how I want to see the world. I often say one of my superpowers is admitting what I don't know, which is weird in this world. I am fine with saying I don't know or don't understand something with the goal to be open and continue to learn.

That vulnerability allows Lamm to be open to new insights and to be taught by his peers, employees, experts, friendsand the world on a variety of topics. Lamm practices being a beginner by never being afraid to begin again, and with an openness to being shown other ways. This manifests itself through another tenet of Buddhism that Lamm embodies, which is the lack of a possessive attachment to any of his ideas.

He recalls a line from the movie Heat, which he saw as a kid, in which Robert De Niro waxes poetic about what to do when the pressure gets too hot: You should be able to walk away from anything in less than 30 seconds if you feel the heat coming on.

Lamms not running from the law, and the mafia isnt turning the heat up on him, but his practice of non-attachment by way of not forming ties too deeply with any idea means that he can shift his thinking when presented with overwhelming evidence that contradicts what he believes to be true. The ability to accept ones own fallibility thatcomes with a curious mind also propagates a spirit of courage and fearlessness.

With age and wisdom comes a belief of having figured things out. That sense of security tends to reduce our curiosity about how things work. Curiosity is in part a biological response to fear. Having a willingness to ask about things you dont know or fully understand can be an act of courage. For Lamm, that fear drives him to look deeper for answers, to push into those areas of discomfortand willingly engage in difficult conversations.

To cultivate a curious mindset is to live with a comfortable amount of fear," he offers."I believe curiosity lives somewhere between fear and wonder.

Lamms ability to live in fear and wonder and balance his perceptual and epistemic curiosity is a a powerful tool for an entrepreneur, and he credits it as being the single most important aspect of his career success.

Lamm can dive deep into ancient aliens one day and into cutting-edge nanoscience research the next. Hell spend an entire day learning about NASAs plans for lunar living and the next day all about rewilding theory in Scotland. Knowing a lot about a lot of subjects helps to spike his curiosity further. He can then ask questions like: How can we cultivate within lunar bases a sense of the wild worlds around us? How can we use nanotechnology to challenge the idea of ancient aliens?

His insatiable curiosity means he never stops learning and consuming new ideas. Lamm believes you should pull inspiration from as many sources as you can. His search for knowledge never satisfied, he avidly consumes documentaries, science fiction moviesand non-fiction as well as art, philosophy, music and pop culture. Some of the visionaries Lamm is particularly drawn to include people like Matti Suuronen, who built the Futuro houses, and photographers like David Yarrow, who creates intricate worlds.

Im really drawn toan aesthetic perspective," Lamm confirms.I find Kanye [West]s work to be interesting and astounding in its diversity and drive. And, yet, I also am really drawn to the work of people like Livio. who is examining how and why humanity works.

While there is no doubt that curiosity is a driving force for Lamm, he clearly knows he can not come up with all the ideas needed to build a successful company. For Lamm,cultivating curiosity in the workplace is the most important thing. He relies on a team of people around him who are also smart, curious people capable of bringing new insights to the world. To cultivate that curiosity, Lamm actively encourages people to engage in and pursue outside passions. Hypergiant frequently brings in a lot of speakers, thinkers and activities into the workplace and doubles down on culture. The idea is to create a soup of ideas, stories, beliefsand insights that will naturally spur people to be curious about why and how these ideas impact their work. Creating an open-floor plan for ideas, the company pushes a variety of things into the ether of its culture, with the knowledge that the intersection of those ideas will result in novelty.

Lamm'slifetime of curiosity and openness to receiving inspiration and new ideas from any source, along with theability to be a vulnerable and empathetic leader, has fueld his success in bringing the future to today. Where will your curiosity take you?

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Cultivating Curiosity Is What Drives Innovation - Entrepreneur

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June 13th, 2020 at 11:46 am

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