Radical Survival through routine curiosity

Know that feeling where you know a thing, but then some (other) thing comes along, and “woomph”, you are in a whole new depth of knowing that thing (the first thing)?

I think you call it an epiphany.

Let me tell you what I have just deeply re-realised about curiosity and asking great questions.


What I thought I knew about curiosity

I have always placed great stock in the power of the question. Striving to really listen and ask great questions is what I do in my work with groups and clients and try to pass on to others in my

Extraordinary Facilitation courses. As Einstein said:


If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper Question, I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes

Albert Einstein

And curiosity is pretty much always one of the key values and behaviours that I encourage with groups. Because, if facilitation is about bringing about a change, then you need a powerful

tool to overcome all the uncertainty, fear, discomfort and cynicism that change can unearth.

It is often a good idea to hang out in


that slightly uncomfortable “In between” place where you don’t know the answer for a while:


“Because the best path out of the messiness is rarely the quick fix that first rushes to mind.”

Heather Plett

Sometimes you have to “live the question” to enable you to see what actually is, what is emerging of its own accord, or what creative opportunity there really is.  Sometimes as a facilitator you manage to embody and share the courage that the group needs.  Perhaps by:

  • Listening and being there – letting them know that you are not going to give up on them
  • Encouraging Curiosity


Here are some behaviours that I think help a group “do” curiosity:

Curiosity Behaviours

  • We maintain an open mind
  • We seek diverse and new information so we don’t get stale
  • We share information so our reasoning can be understood
  • We suspend judgments until we find out more
  • We play in the face of adversity (try out new things – even for fun!)


And in my Outdoor experiential work, paying attention and noticing is a core behaviour that leads to great connection with nature and yourself.

“It’s like you ask your body and the world around you – “what is really going on?” And you patiently wait for an answer.”


A story of a girl’s unconscious habit of paying attention to birds

But this week I read some thoughts from 8 shields, an organisation that promotes nature connection, and that’s when it all came together.  Matt tells a story:

My daughter developed an impressive awareness of the birds in our neighborhood [sic] without trying to… [She had] no special interest in birds and she never carries binoculars… Despite this, over the past few years she has managed to find several rare birds that even dedicated birders might struggle to find…

I believe it’s partly due to the power of routine questions asked over time.

…[I’ve received] mentoring from Jon Young. One of the first things he did was challenge me to regularly listen for the quietest sound.”  It seemed natural to bring my daughter into this routine as well. “…Upon hearing something I would ask, What was that I just heard?  In the beginning she often hadn’t noticed the sound, so we would stand quietly for a moment to see if we could hear it again.”

But over time, …“I was regularly surprised at how much she noticed, even when it seemed like she wasn’t paying any attention at all.”…I don’t think she ever realized the significance, but “…a simple question asked routinely over months and years led my daughter to develop an unconscious habit of paying attention to birds.

She cannot really explain it, but I think the look and sound of our regular birds form a baseline she now recognizes at a subconscious level. When an unusual bird shows up, it stands out as different and draws her conscious attention.”


A routine question for Leaders

So, routine questions are obviously a powerful way to cultivate a deeper nature connection. But,

what if this power was applied to other area of your life – to your emotional intelligence, for example?


What if a boss developed a routine question: “What is the smallest voice in this workplace?”

What if a facilitator asked a question: “what is the least heard emotion in this gathering?”

Over time you could cultivate unconscious superpowers!


Nerd Alert: A story of a girl in re-imagined Africa after a future ice age

This way of learning reminded me of one of my favourite Books, Doris Lessing’s Mara and Dan.  Doris tells us the story of how Mara learns in a reimagined Africa after a future ice age. In the absence of formal schooling, a game is used in which children are asked repeatedly, “What did you see today?”  The child learns to observe and tell stories about her world.

This is the basis of her Mara developing the knowledge and skills she needs in her post-apocalyptic world.

This “pedagogy” has been written about by scholars and this game is compared to Henry James’s use of a child’s perspective in “What Maisie Knew”, to strategies for unveiling and “naming” the world in Paulo Freire’s ”Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, and to ideas about teaching in Idries Shah’s “The Sufis” and “Learning How to Learn”. (Lessing herself was brought up around Sufi thinking).

One article argues that radical and anticolonial approaches to learning are figured in Lessing’s fiction, and in her Nobel lecture, as essential for human survival.

The “woomph”

That was the “woomph!”. Cultivating curiosity is an act of radical survival!  It’s not just about noticing birds, or being a better facilitator.  It’s about a better humanity.

I hope you get this and go out and curiously experiment with the action of routine curiosity.


Aroha Nui