Curiosity vs. Skepticism

I have been a skeptic most of my life. I’ve been trained by my profession to be skeptical — to question assumptions, to explore corner cases, to poke holes in ideas, to pick apart arguments, and to find fault!

Don’t get me wrong — skepticism served me well as an engineer! But as a leader, I ran into a problem — my skepticism was not allowing me to see what ELSE was true.

Leadership is almost entirely about resolving conflicts and reconciling differences. It requires being able to hold two seemingly contradictory ideas as true at the same time.

How do you continue being able to question assumptions — a useful skill to have — without getting stuck on your side of the argument?

Imagine you’re a curious 6-year-old, and you’re really into… oh, I don’t know… let’s say birds? You read every book about birds you can convince your parents to buy. You get a library card and spend weekends at the library, reading about birds. You grow up a bit and go to college, where you spend years continuing to learn about birds.

You hear one day that maybe the way birds can tell which way is the North has something to do with quantum physics? So, you sign up for physics classes. You’re having so much fun that you decide to continue after graduating. You join a lab, form a hypothesis, and do the fieldwork to collect the data — you get to go to some breathtaking places and observe the rarest of birds, and you collaborate with others passionate about birds and now also physics…

You end up disproving your first hypothesis.

But not to worry, you form another hypothesis based on everything you now know about birds and physics — and you know an awful lot! You continue the work, and finally, you have good results you can defend, and that proves your new theory with considerable certainty.

You publish your work and it gets reviewed and confirmed by many others passionate about birds and quantum physics. A journalist comes across your findings and publishes a lengthy article in a nationally syndicated magazine, inspiring countless other researchers-to-be to explore the mysteries of the universe we live in!

Then a skeptical guy on the internet sees the title of the article and says, “This is bullshit!”

Which of these people would you rather be — curious or skeptical? Which mindset is more likely to keep exploring until you find the truth, and which would get you stuck?