Nutshell: What kind of curious are you?

Written by
Future Talent Learning

28 Oct 2020

28 Oct 2020 • by Future Talent Learning

Take our self-assessments to find your own curiosity baseline – and also your curiosity persona. 

The trouble with curiosity is that we don’t often think about it. We may be more or less naturally curious, but then life tends to get in the way. So, rather than stopping and wondering why we keep churning out those monthly reports, asking whether there might be a better alternative, we just keep ploughing on, gritting our teeth and getting more and more frustrated. It’s not surprising, when we’re busy or feeling stressed, that it’s hard to take the time to reflect and consider, to think outside the box and try to see things from new and different perspectives.

But there are very real benefits to working that curiosity muscle, making a conscious choice to develop our curiosity quotient (CQ), investing the time to wonder and learn about the world around us.

To help, we’ve devised two self-assessments that will help you to find out how curious you are – and also your own curiosity persona. And, of course, we’re going to encourage you to take part by asking some open and curious questions.

What’s your curiosity baseline?

Our curiosity baseline questionnaire is inspired by the ‘Need for Cognition Scale’ used by psychologists to understand more about our inherent motivation to explore and reflect on new things when we don’t need to.

It’s designed to make us think about our typical level of curiosity at work, and as an aid to reflecting on that baseline and how we can develop our curiosity as a result. It’s also a great precursor to the curiosity personas self-assessment outlined below.

Simply complete this short set of true/false questions to start to understand more about how curious you are.

Bear in mind that a person’s baseline curiosity can vary enormously. A high baseline (anything from a score of 16 upwards) means you are actively seeking and enjoying effortful cognitive activity. Having a lower need for cognition isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 

Many things impact on our baselines: the length of time we have been in our current roles; our level of expertise in what we do; our age, and the level of stress or pressure we might be under (back to those monthly reports). All these elements can affect how and to what extent we are curious about what’s around us. 

The key thing is that understanding our baseline will give us some clues about when, how and why our curiosity varies. And that will help us to identify any patterns and reflect on the things that might be getting in the way now or might have been obstacles in the past.

What kind of curious are you?

Researchers have been studying curiosity for decades. Defining it has proved tricky as it’s made up of a range of thinking processes, but it is often also a feeling – that itch you have to scratch to satisfy your curiosity. What they can agree on is that curiosity has several types. And we each have a natural type that we tend to default to.

As with similar diagnostics, knowing our type helps us to go beyond our natural tendencies to build a better understanding of what’s around us. And, as leaders, it also allows us to build diverse teams who explore and see the world differently.

To understand your own curiosity persona, start by completing this self-assessment.

There are, of course, no ‘right’ answers; the assessment is all about potential preferences rather than hard-and-fast traits.

Once you have your scores, the self-assessment explains how to plot them on the four-by-four persona key grid shown below, which looks at your curiosity type in terms of four variables:

  • Ideas/concepts
  • People/empathy
  • Depth/expertise
  • Breadth/novelty

What does it all mean?

By plotting your score on the grid, you will identify a preference for one of four curiosity personas:

  • Polymath
  • Expert
  • Empath
  • Connector

No one type is better or more preferable than any other, but they all tell us something about ourselves and how our curiosity might manifest itself – for good and ill. As with all similar preferences, there is light and shade in each persona: the positive characteristics for each are balanced by some common thinking traps each persona is more likely to fall foul of.

Here’s an outline of the four types, including some exemplars that might be familiar.

The Polymath

A polymath is desperate to understand the world around them. Unsatisfied by any single idea, they build broad knowledge across numerous interests and passions, constantly on the look-out for the new and the interesting. They are alert, decisive and determined. 

Their focus on ideas leads them down many a rabbit hole and allows them to make connections between ideas that others haven’t. Polymaths prefer to engage with many ideas at once and can quickly build high-level expertise, before moving on to the next topic.

Three words to describe the polymath:

  • Knowledgeable
  • Resourceful
  • Eclectic

The polymath’s thinking trap

Their ability to make quick connections might put them far ahead of their peers. As a result, others might struggle to see how the polymath’s ideas connect. They also risk moving beyond curiosity to becoming ‘distractable’ and need to learn how to focus when it matters.

Famous polymaths include:

Sherlock Holmes: A walking Google search, Sherlock knows about everything from mud composition to train schedules to Herefordshire. His broad knowledge, attention to detail and reluctance to see things at face value help him crack the case.

Barbie: She’s been an astronaut, a computer engineer, a presidential candidate and more. Over the last 60 years, Barbie has explored more careers than most of us can name. Undaunted by tough challenges, she’s built a broad set of experiences across dozens of industries.

The Expert

An expert is often fascinated by a few specific topics, looking to uncover everything they can about them. They are resourceful, knowing how to find exactly what they’re looking for.

While they may have other interests, these subjects tend to seize their full attention. They are single-minded in their research and tend to leverage many sources to deepen their understanding. Their passion for their chosen topics helps them to speak on the topic or issue with a grasp of the nuance and detail involved.

Three words to describe the expert:

  • Analytical
  • Reflective
  • Diligent

The expert’s thinking trap

Their intense and sudden interest in a topic might cause them to lose sight of the bigger picture. If they aren’t careful, they can pursue the wrong ideas, losing time and resources because their intense curiosity got the better of them.

Famous experts include:

Hermione Granger: Despite coming from a non-magic family, Hermione has long shown an ability for magic well beyond that of her fellow students. Relentless in her passion for the topic, she is well known for spending countless hours studying.

T’challa: Born to a prestigious family, T’challa (the King of Wakanda in the Marvel Universe) carries a heavy responsibility for the safety of Wakanda. He is diligent about following the rituals and traditions of his kingdom, even when it is tempting to ignore history in favour of an easier path.

The Empath

An empath has an intense interest in people and spends time examining others to understand what drives them. They focus on the human aspect of any problem, navigating emotions to help them connect better with others. Empaths are masters at communication and like to form meaningful relationships and typically strengthen these bonds over time.

They thrive by maintaining close connections with a small group of allies. They use their deep insights to support others’ needs, even if they haven’t voiced them yet.

Three words to describe the empath:

  • Intuitive
  • Empathetic
  • Thoughtful

The empath’s thinking trap

Their deep interest in understanding what motivates others can make the empath slow to assimilate into a new group until they have connected with all the members. They may also feel a higher need to resolve conflict compared with some of the other personas.

Famous empaths include:

Mahatma Gandhi: Gandhi felt the pain of the Indian people so strongly that he became a civil rights activist. He devoted his life to non-violent civil disobedience that created a positive change. He constantly paid attention to the needs, fears and desires of others. 

Mulan: Disney character Fa Mulan’s understanding of those around her runs deep. For instance, she was able to see through the overt-machismo around her. Neither her father pretending he was well enough to join the war nor Captain Li Shang hiding his sensitive side keep her from getting to know who they really are.

The Connector

A connector is a savvy observer of group dynamics, gaining energy from their interactions with others. They love picking up information and passing it on as they connect and network with people and will often seek out opportunities to do so.

Connectors form links easily and pride themselves on the breadth and diversity of who they know. They prefer to work in social settings and often lean on their network when approaching a problem. 

Three words to describe the connector:

  • Extroverted
  • Amiable
  • Conversational

The connector’s thinking trap

Their tendency to focus on building their network can lead them to favour raising their profile over solving the problem at hand. They can also expend a lot of energy maintaining their connections as they need to make sure they check in regularly.

Famous connectors include:

Dorothy: Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion are only a few of the many connections that Dorothy made in Oz. Across the duration of her journey, the amiable Dorothy builds a strong network – one that helps her defeat a witch and travel all the way back to Kansas.

Madame de Pompadour: Famously remembered as the mistress of Louis XV, Madame de Pompadour was a powerhouse behind the crown. Her connections, her knowledge and her influence were extensive. She built supporters in the French court, replacing anyone who stood in her way.


Test your understanding

What does it mean for you?

  • Once you’ve identified your curiosity persona, reflect on its strengths and likely thinking traps. How might you build on those strengths while avoiding the traps?


Download greyscale versions of the curiosity baseline questionnaire and curiosity persona diagnostic.


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