By Tom Morris ’74
Recently, I wrote in praise of curiosity (“The Secret Source of Creative Success“—to be found about a dozen blogs below). Today, I have an addendum. A friend yesterday sent me a link to a New York Times article on a 76-year-old mathematician who happens to be a billionaire, and a good deal richer than others in the world of business whose names are nearly household words. Plus, he’s a really nice guy who gives to worthy causes.
In the article, Jim Simons gradually reveals the key to his success. It’s tenacious curiosity.
Curiosity can sometimes be like a bubble, forming quickly and popping just as fast. I wonder, we think, and then something interrupts us, ending our momentary intrigue. And the fleeting interest results in nothing. But in some people, curiosity can be like a plant, or a tree, springing forth from a seed of wonder, and then continuing to grow, and becoming strong. It’s more like persistence, and dogged pursuit in this state of attention and concern that can lead to something great.
Clearly, curiosity won’t help us much if it has an ephemerally short shelf life. It’s tenacious curiosity that gives rise to patient investigations and what Simons credits as his ultimate secret weapon to seal the deal in his investigations – the proclivity to ponder.
Now, let’s face it, pondering is not high up on the list of activities we’re encouraged to engage in at the current cultural moment. To many people, it would seem as practical as yodeling, but without all the noise. And yet, it’s behind breakthrough creativity, in math, science, business, art, and life.
Philosophy, Aristotle said, begins in wonder. Philo – the love of. Sophia – wisdom, or insight. All creativity begins in curiosity, or wonder, and the highest creations then come from sustaining that state of mind and heart, while also putting to work the power of pondering – turning ideas around in our thoughts, contemplating various aspects of them, consulting our deepest intuitions, and opening ourselves almost meditatively to greater insight.
So, my augmented recommendation today is to cultivate in yourself a tenacious curiosity, coupled with the profound power of pondering.
And when people question you for simply sitting still, staring out the nearest window, in silent consideration of the thoughts that your curiosity has sparked, you can tell them your philosopher recommended it as your key to the next great thing you’ll do.
Ponder the possibilities.