“I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.”
That’s Steve Jobs describing how he dropped out of Reed College years ago. He talks about how the decision to drop out was scary because he didn’t know what would happen next, and how he felt guilty because his parents were completely devoted to the idea of sending him to university, so much so that they were spending every dime of their savings to do so.
But Jobs is a naturally curious person, and after he dropped out, he started taking classes that might have seemed strange and pointless, but for some reason caught his interest. One of these was a calligraphy class. He took the course and didn’t use the knowledge for 10 years, but eventually that training in aesthetic design would play a critical role in creating the first Macs.
Curiosity is being attentive to the world around you. It is about trying things out, and researching them, and being intrigued about life in general. Curiosity doesn’t mean looking into something because you have to, and it doesn’t mean learning how to solve a problem under orders from your boss. It means wondering how something works, simply because you don’t know how yet. It means having fun learning about the world, even though your new knowledge might have no immediate application to your life right now.
Business success is not all about perfect planning, excellent strategy and brilliant execution. It is also about spotting and exploring opportunities, and you can’t always do that from the comfort of your living room. You’ve got to go out into the world. You’ve got to step out of your comfort zone, and curiosity allows you have fun while you’re doing it.
Here’s one example of what curiosity can do for your business: Most career coaches spend their spare time reading books about coaching and psychology. Those books seem close, familiar, relevant. But what if, instead, you spent that time learning about art, and how painters think and work? Chances are pretty good that after a while, you would be the only career coach who understood the art world, and you could form a new niche for yourself offering art therapy as opposed to regular counseling sessions. You would stand out, you would have something special to offer the world, and your customer base and popularity would grow as a result.
Or look at the real-life example of Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay. One night Omidyar’s fiancee was talking about one of her hobbies, collecting and trading Pez candy dispensers. Pez is a candy that comes packaged in colorful plastic dispensers designed to look like classic cartoon characters. There was already a large community of collectors spread across the United States, but there was no simple way for them to buy and sell their wares. Omidyar set up a simple website these people could use for their person-to-person auctions, the business grew quickly, and by the time eBay went public in 1998, it was hosting hundreds of thousands of auctions per day, and the company was worth over $3 billion.
Omidyar’s success began with simple curiosity. It began with him asking, “What are these Pez dispensers,” “Who are these people who trade them,” and “What would help them trade more with each other?” At the end, Omidyar was a multi-billionaire. But at the beginning, he was just a curious guy who wanted to know more about some candy dispensers.
When people with an entrepreneurial spirit see something interesting, they dive right in and start learning. They don’t know where it will take them, but they understand that that’s part of the fun. So the next time you find yourself thinking, “I wonder how…”, have some fun with it. Go down the roads you’ve never traveled before, because you never know where they’ll take you.