Curiosity is defined in modern dictionaries as ‘a strong desire to know or learn something’. A more evocative definition comes from the Roman philosopher Cicero, who terms curiosity as ‘the innate love of learning and of knowledge, without the lure of any (immediate) profits’. In fact, in ancient Greece, the word curiositas, from which the English word curiosity is derived, meant the pursuit of knowledge purely for its own sake. Over the centuries, curiosity has often been perceived as a passion and an appetite, much like the sexual urge. To develop this appetite, you have to be inquisitive. Sometimes, this may translate into a formal spirit and process of inquiry, including structured research; and at other times, it may reflect in an informal exploration and even nosiness. Either way, curiosity occurs naturally when there is a gap between what we know and what we want to know. If we always desire to know more than we actually do, we will always be curious and we will never stop learning throughout our lives.
Indeed, the burning desire to know more and learn more is at the heart of curiosity. Fortunately for marketers, our arena for such learning is virtually infinite, because the science and art of marketing spans the vast tracts of human behaviour, products, services, experiences, places, advertising, design, data, digital and so many other interesting spaces. This is a perennially fertile ground for the curious seeking knowledge. If marketers wish to be curious, there is more than enough to be really curious about, every single day.
What does curiosity really achieve? Why should a marketer be curious, particularly if there is no immediate profitable result being pursued? The first reason is that curiosity can lead to new ideas, either immediately or sometime in the future—just like Steve Jobs’s curiosity led him to learn calligraphy, which, several years later, helped him design the distinctive Apple Mac. Later in this book, in an essay titled God of Small Data, you will learn how the bestselling author and marketing consultant Martin Lindstrom spends 300 nights a year in strangers’ homes, observing with curiosity; and how this has led to many new ideas, including a brilliant, insightful idea born from observing a kid’s sneakers that eventually led to the turnaround of the famous toymaker LEGO.
Curiosity can help provide clarity and deep insight in many situations that can quickly lead to new and purposeful marketing actions. Around a year ago, my wife suddenly bought brightly coloured socks for me—something she had never done earlier as I had always worn socks that were either plain black or blue in colour. When I tried to figure out why she had done this, by speaking to her and to a few other people, by reading up on the subject and also visiting some neighbourhood stores, it became clear that the underlying reasons were not trivial. In fact, coloured socks represent the beginning of a big trend that marketers of many products can powerfully leverage.
Curiosity can help marketers implement continuous improvements in their products and services, thereby constantly delighting customers. For example, learning about how music affects human beings can help a retailer or owner–chef play exactly the right sort of music in his store or restaurant, improving on whatever music he is currently playing. What is also interesting is that this line of thought about playing music in stores was triggered in an entirely unexpected location—my dentist’s chambers, where he played soft Buddhist chants while conducting a painful root canal procedure.
I also think curiosity plays a key role in keeping marketers’ minds always engaged. Over time, such constant engagement results in two positives—broadening of perspective and sharpening of the intellect. New knowledge provokes and stimulates the mind, an exciting state which most of us love. On the other hand, lack of new learning can result in gradual mental stagnation and even atrophy—never a pleasant prospect for a marketer, whose agile intellect is often his greatest asset. You may never ever market banana chips in your life, but understanding a few interesting consumer truths relating to this delicious and unique south Indian snack is likely to expand your overall perspective on food and snacking, and you may also find such an exploration very interesting in its own right. Students and practitioners of marketing should also be aware that curiosity is considered one of the foremost traits today and that many organizations consciously look for this while recruiting marketers. Companies want curious people on their marketing teams, because this leads to a constant search for new ideas and insights, which are increasingly important for differentiation and success in today’s cluttered world. If you are seeking to excel as a marketer, you should cultivate your curiosity.