Curiosity: Bad for cats, good for business

If you’re reading this (and you are), you’ve probably already seen the video titled “Did you know?” about the explosive growth rates of information and people. The video and earlier versions of it received more than 10 million hits on YouTube.

The fascinating thing about it is not the information you did or didn’t know, it is the simple question the authors pose at the video’s conclusion, “What does it all mean?” There isn’t a simple answer. In fact, it gets increasingly complicated as every possible answer breeds a new set of questions.

And herein lies the rub. As information and our knowledge about that information expand, the universe of what we don’t know also grows. If we are to say, conservatively, that every answer spawns two new questions, then what we don’t know is expanding at twice the rate of what we do know. Yikes.

This paradox of growing knowledge while growing ignorance is what keeps life interesting. It keeps us curious. It keeps us young. It keeps us naturally inquisitive. And it had better, because if we lose our curiosity, our knowledge can quickly turn into hubris and do bad things.

Good reporters, good marketers, good economists, good doctors are all curious. While curiosity may be bad for the cat, it is critical to progress, to finding cures, to creating peace, to discovering the next big thing. Human beings (especially kids) are naturally good at curiosity. However, business seems to have a harder time with it. Curiosity lacks structure, rigor, and discipline. But curiosity is the key to growth—to discovering unmet needs, finding a better way, creating a new product—and often starts with just the simple question, “I wonder ____?”

Enter your customers—the link between business and human beings. Your customers (i.e., human beings that buy your products/services) provide the ultimate sandbox for curiosity. They are quirky. They are unique. They can’t walk past a mirror without sneaking a glance. They can’t be “solved.” The more you know about them, the more questions you have.

At Communispace, we ask lots of questions. A little back-of-the-envelope math says an average Communispace community poses ~200 different questions to a client’s customers each year. With ~125 different client communities—from Best Buy to Godiva, MTV to HP (and ~90 others)—that’s 25,000 different questions we are asking 125 different communities of people this year alone. That’s a lot of curiosity.

So what does it all mean? I don’t know. But don’t stop asking. Be curious about your customers. Ask them lots of questions. They’re not metrics. They’re human beings. Explore new ideas with them. Involve them in your business and they just might involve you in theirs.