On cultivating curiosity


I love curious people and enjoy spending time with them, conversing with them. Their excitement for knowledge and learning is contagious. I often wonder why more people aren’t curious. So many people seem to be indifferent. Why don’t they ask why? Are some people simply born without the desire to learn? Are some people just mentally lazy? Or does life become so routine for some people that they don’t mind living in a rut, doing the same things day in and day out? Can such people “wake up” their minds and become more curious so that growth becomes more natural to them?

I certainly hope so. I believe so. It’s why I wrote my most recent book, The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth. And it is why I recommend following these suggestions for cultivating curiosity:

1. Believe You Can Be Curious

Many people fill their minds with limiting beliefs. Their lack of personal confidence or self-esteem causes them to create barriers for themselves and put limitations on how and what they think. The result? They fail to reach their potential—not because they lack capacity but because they are unwilling to expand their beliefs and break new ground. We cannot perform outwardly in a way that is inconsistent with how we think inwardly. You cannot be what you believe you aren’t. But here’s the good news: you can change your thinking and as a result, your life.

Give yourself permission to be curious. The single greatest difference between curious, growing people and those who aren’t is the belief that they can learn, grow, and change. As I’ve explained before, you must go after growth. Knowledge, understanding, and wisdom will not seek you out. You must go out and acquire it. The best way to do that is to remain curious.

2. Have a Beginner’s Mindset

The way you approach life and learning has nothing to do with your age. It has everything to do with your attitude. Having a beginner’s mindset means wondering why and asking a lot of questions until you get answers. It also means being open and vulnerable. If your attitude is like that of a beginner, you have no image to uphold and your desire to learn more is stronger than the desire to look good. You aren’t as influenced by preset rules or so-called acceptable thinking. Management expert Peter Drucker said, “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.” That’s having a beginner’s mindset.

People with a beginner’s mindset approach life the way that a child does: with curiosity. They are like the little girl who kept asking her mother question after question. Finally the mother cried, “For heaven’s sake, stop asking so many questions. Curiosity killed the cat.”

After two minutes of thinking, the child asked, “So, what did the cat want to know?”

3. Make Why Your Favorite Word

Albert Einstein said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.” The secret to maintaining that “holy curiosity” is to always keep asking why.


In my early years as a leader I thought I was supposed to be an answering machine. No matter what someone asked, I gave direction, exuded confidence, and answered questions with clarity—whether I really knew what I was doing or not! As I matured, I discovered that growing leaders focused on asking questions, not giving answers. The more questions I asked, the better results we got as a team. And the greater my appetite to ask more questions. Today I have a compulsion to pick the brains of the people I meet. I have become a questioning machine.

Speaker and author Brian Tracy says, “A major stimulant to creative thinking is focused questions. There is something about a well-worded question that often penetrates to the heart of the matter and triggers new ideas and insights.” Most of the time, focused questions begin with the word why. That word gets to the heart of matters. And it’s important how you ask the question. People with a victim’s mindset ask, “Why me?” not because they want to know, but because they feel sorry for themselves. Curious people ask the question to find solutions so that they can keep moving forward and making progress.

Scientist and philosopher Georg Christoph Lichtenberg observed, “One’s first step in wisdom is to question everything – and one’s last is to come to terms with everything.” Those are the bookends for continuous growth. Ask why. Explore. Evaluate what you discover. Repeat. That’s a pretty good formula for growth. Never forget, anyone who knows all the answers is not asking the right questions.

From The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth

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  1. 1
    Gurmeet Singh Pawar says:


    This is a great post. No doubt curiosity & questioning is first step to everything & anything. The last step is always acceptance & surrender.

    Thank you.

  2. 2
    charles walton says:

    please add me too new post by email

  3. 3
    Randy Crane says:

    Thank you for this post, John. There are areas of leadership and development that don’t come naturally to me, but this one does. I’ve always been curious–and am blessed to have parents who encouraged this trait.

  4. 4

    When we stop asking questions, we stop growing. God wants us to grow, so we should always wonder, we should never stop asking “why”. Loved your post, John. Looking forward to the next one.

  5. 5
    Uche says:

    Great insight. Leadership is about asking questions, not giving answers

  6. 6
    Kent says:

    I am very curious person, but sometimes when we ask why, we need to ask why in the right situation, otherwise people feel annoying.

  7. 7
    Godwin says:

    Straight to the point.

  8. 8
    Charles says:


    Timely post. Your perspective on things is pretty amazing


  9. 9

    This is a timely post, as I find myself sometimes challenged to allow myself to be curious.

    Over the last several years, I’ve found that I need to give myself “license” to be curious about the things that I read and hear, but more importantly, to ask how I could be affected by the message. In other words, I find great value in taking time to reflect on the message, but even more value in its impact to me. Does it challenge my thinking about myself, my family, my career? Does it challenge my heart? If the answer is “yes” to either, what will I do about it?

    Again, a great message that could go along way in our self-development!

  10. 10

    Curiosity killed the cat because it was always trying to find a way to escape. Curiosity means taking action to understand something.

    Maybe we need to be curious enough about our own situation and find a way to change it.

  11. 11
    Joanne says:

    Thanks so much for sharing, John!

    I was really struck with your statement, “Give yourself permission to be curious. ”

    This is definitely one of the areas I need to work on about myself. I never really considered it before, but after reading your post, I realized that I have just accepted in myself that I am the type of person who is only like a sponge…I can absorb knowledge and learning easily and hungrily…Just receiving and receiving without questioning…

    But I think I’m at the stage in my life that I am now being called to grow in how I learn. That I should stop believing my inner voice that says, “i just don’t have any more questions…I get it…” because this would make me complacent and it is limiting in a way…

    So yes…Definitely, I should give myself permission to be curious and I should start telling myself that there is much to learn from what was just given and presented to me…I should also learn how to ask, explore, evaluate, and repeat… =)

    God bless, John! I thank God that I have you as one of my mentors in my life journey! =)

  12. 12

    […] Source: John Maxwell on Leadership […]

  13. 13
    Prof Phanuel Mboneni Nedzana says:

    John l’m so highly intrigued by the statement you have posted. As my life progressive mentor, l would like to know something concerning WISDOM, KNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTANDING.

    Does a wisdom built by questioning in curiocity or to keep answering degrade the method of wisdom in curiocity?

    What does this both results to an individual understanding?

    By: Prof Nedzana P.M
    (VEP Grammar School & Leadership. SA)

  14. 14
    Tesschoi says:

    Why? I love this!

  15. 15

    […] See on johnmaxwellonleadership.com […]

  16. 16

    I love the three recommendations you made to cultivate curiosity. And I agree that it is sad more people don’t ask why or want to learn more. Maybe it is in part because our schools are not teaching us to question things but to memorize instead….that takes all the fun out of curiosity for many at a very young age.

    I particularly like your recommendation to “Have a Beginners Mindset.” I think we often undervalue the perspective a novice can bring and rely on experts too much. Particularly because I have seen “experts” misunderstand, and mismanage projects because their preconceived notions stay the same when things have changed.

    I think it is always good to check your assumptions and question everything!

  17. 17

    I appreciated all the literature I have read as well as these discussions. My husband jokes with me because I like to dig into scripture for the “mother load” and not rest in only doctrine. I want to know Him. I want to know how I can be more a part of the Bigger Picture of Redemption and the Forwarding of His Kingdom.
    I have a taken a job opportunity in outside sales that will force me beyond my comfort zone; purely for the opportunity to touch more souls.

  18. 18
    Oluwatobi says:

    Thank you Sir!The discovery of new things is really what makes living fruitful.however the entrance to discovery is enquiry.All questions have answers,we know more by asking questions.I guess it all boils down to having an Inquisitive Attitude.

  19. 19
    Jodi Duggan says:

    I am so happy to hear that you have written a new book! I am also happy to hear that it revolves around curiosity. I have been told stories from my mother that I have always been a curious child who asked, “Why?” Somehow, I have lost that concept. I like your suggestions on how to retrieve it. Thank you!

  20. 20
    Scott Hunter says:

    In absolute agreement with your post. Most leaders believe that it is their responsibility to constantly guide and give direction. However, today, as the world is fast evolving, there is much the leaders of today can learn from people a generation away. And, hence, yes, curiosity like the will to lead has to be present always.

    A great read.

    – Scott Hunter