Ian Leslie

Full Title


Last Highlighted
August 15, 2022 11:56 PM (CDT)
Last Synced
June 8, 2023 1:12 PM (CDT)

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Curiosity is vulnerable to benign neglect.

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In adults diversive curiosity manifests itself as a restless desire for the new and the next.

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•  Calculate the measurement of Milan and its suburbs.        •  Find a book that treats of Milan its churches, which is to be had at the stationer’s on the way to Cordusio.        •  Discover the measurement of the Corte Vecchio [courtyard of the duke’s palace].        •  Get the Master of Arithmetic to show you how to square a triangle.        •  Ask Benedetto Portinari [a Florentine merchant] by what means they go on ice at Flanders?        •  Draw Milan.        •  Ask Maestro Antonio how mortars are positioned on bastions by day or night.        •  Examine the crossbow of Maestro Gianetto.        •  Find a Master of Hydraulics and get him to tell you how to repair a lock, canal and mill, in the Lombard manner.        •  Ask about the measurement of the sun, promised me by Maestro Giovanni Francese.

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Curious people take risks, try things out, allow themselves to become productively distracted.

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This applies to who we need to know, as well as what. Another striking thing about Leonardo’s list is how many house visits he will have to make. His curiosity makes him highly sociable.

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At Apple he brought together at least four disparate cultures in which he had become deeply immersed: 1960s counterculture, the culture of American business entrepreneurs, the culture of design, and the culture of computer geeks.

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Success isn’t good for curiosity.

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The great physicist James Clerk Maxwell once remarked that “thoroughly conscious ignorance is the prelude to every real advance in science.”

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The second book we were handed was called A Technique for Producing Ideas.

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Any task or project that requires creative thought will be better addressed by someone who has deep knowledge of the task at hand and general background knowledge of the culture in which it and its users (or readers, or viewers) live. A

Note: T shaped

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Highly curious people, who have carefully cultivated their long-term memories, live in a kind of augmented reality; everything they see is overlaid with additional layers of meaning and possibility, unavailable to ordinary observers.

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The second step is “the working over.” This involves taking the facts you have gathered and looking at them again from different angles, bringing them into unusual combinations with other facts, constantly seeking interesting new relationships, new syntheses.

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This one involves, reassuringly, “absolutely no effort of a direct nature.” It is the stage at which the unconscious is allowed to go to work, assisted only by the stimulation of something completely irrelevant to the task at hand.

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insight is now more likely to be discovered while the conscious mind is occupied by something else entirely.

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After the concert, advises Young, retire to bed and “turn the problem over to your unconscious mind and let it work while you sleep.”

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In the fifth and final stage, the idea is prodded, tested, tweaked, and massaged into reality.

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Human memory is inefficient and unreliable in comparison to machine memory, but it’s this very unpredictability that’s the source of our creativity.

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The thinkers best positioned to thrive today and in the future will be a hybrid of these two animals. In a highly competitive, high-information world, it’s crucial to know one or two big things and to know them in more depth and detail than most of your contemporaries.

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Using multiple models is crucial, says Munger, because they give you different answers from everyone else, even when you are all looking at the same data. They turn facts into stories and information into insight.

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The foxhog possesses what IBM calls “T-shaped knowledge.” The most valuable twenty-first-century workers combine deep skills in a specialty (the vertical axis of the T),

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broad understanding of other disciplines (the horizontal axis). The former allows them to execute projects that require particular expertise; the latter enables them to see contextual links to other disciplines.

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For a contemporary example of a successful foxhog, look no further than Nate Silver, the statistician and writer.

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Jonathan Powell was Tony Blair’s chief of staff throughout Blair’s time as prime minister and the UK government’s principal negotiator in Northern Ireland. In his book about the peace process, Great Hatred, Little Room, he recounts a seemingly endless series of meetings with the key players over

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“why” is crucial to the unraveling of knotty conflicts. Richard Shell, author of Bargaining for Advantage, lauds the “relentless curiosity” of experienced negotiators. In a classic work, The Making of a Mediator, Bernard Mayer and Alison Taylor recommend “a commitment to curiosity and exploration.”

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The key, he says, is to ask what lies beneath the demand. “The fundamental question,” according to Powell, “isn’t ‘what,’ it’s ‘why.’”

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“if you ask what people’s underlying interests are—what do they need—then you’re more likely to get to find an imaginative solution.”

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“What always amazes me is that people go into these meetings without really attempting to understand the mind-set of the people they’re negotiating with.

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empathy is more important than sympathy, because empathy involves making an effort to be consciously curious about the patient’s perspective.

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Only by applying conscious curiosity can a negotiator or mediator identify the contours of these deeper motivations and thus search for ways to address them.

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Contrary to classical economic theory, financial incentives can make people even less likely to make concessions compared to when an offer includes no such money. When

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Only negotiators curious enough about the other side’s fundamental beliefs and feelings will discover them.

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The symbolic step of burying weapons opened the way to a lasting peace deal.

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A PORTMANTEAU OF “THINK” AND “TINKER,” THE ORIGIN OF THE verb “to thinker” is unknown.

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Franklin was a man of action, an implausibly productive doer who built better versions of things that already existed, like printing presses, and things that hadn’t yet been born, like fire services and democratic republics. He was physically active (he once swam down the Thames from Chelsea to Westminster) and socially hyperactive; he loved to sit around a table with friends and new acquaintances, drinking coffee, telling stories, and making plans for a better world.

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Franklin loved life, with all of its surprises, kinks, and uncertainties.

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And the problem with that is that there’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product. . . .

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The people responsible for our biggest ideas are usually detail freaks, too.

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Unless we make an effort to be thinkerers—to sweat the small stuff while thinking big, to get interested in processes and outcomes, tiny details and grand visions, we’ll never recapture the spirit of the age of Franklin.

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The title of Ward’s blog is borrowed from a saying of Andy Warhol’s: “I like boring things.”

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James didn’t feel a need to go chasing after experience, preferring to discover what was interesting in the experiences he had.

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It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery and as much happiness as possible.

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If diversive curiosity is the flash and splash of novel stimuli, epistemic curiosity is a path you want to keep traveling down, even when the road is bumpy.

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When you live somewhere boring—and we all live somewhere boring—then we have a choice about the way we will see that place. We can spend our days thinking like everyone else, seeing the same things over and over, and never once wondering about how they got that way, or why they stayed that way, or how they could be better. Or, we can learn. And if we make the choice to learn, and to be curious about the things around us, then we are essentially making the choice never to be bored again.

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The image is a cryptogram in which people stand in for letters. Thanks to Friedman’s careful positioning, the soldiers spell out Sir Francis Bacon’s most famous axiom: knowledge is power

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A recurring pattern in the history of innovation is the combination of something with its inverse to form a single invention: the claw hammer joined nail removal with nail driving; the pencil was joined with the eraser. By combining the hitherto opposed roles of businessman and hippie, Jobs provided a walking example of the same pattern.

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Sir Alex Ferguson, probably the greatest manager British soccer has ever known,

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It’s only through the exercise of our curiosity about others, suggested Wallace, that we can free ourselves from our hard-wired self-obsession. We should do this, not just because it is the virtuous thing to do, but because it’s the best way to cope with the “boredom, routine and petty frustration” of everyday life.

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Happiness, he believes, is associated with the realization that “the only interesting things are outside oneself.”

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“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

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Annie Murphy Paul’s education newsletter has been a constant source of inspiration and information, as has Tyler Cowen’s blog, “Marginal Revolution.”

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also been stimulated and sustained by The Browser, Brain Pickings,

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I came across the da Vinci notebook fragments via the blog of Robert Krulwich, with whom I’m familiar from Radiolab, a regular and delicious source of epistemic stimulation.

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I found da Vinci’s description of being at the entrance to a cave in an essay by Hans Blumenberg, one of the great historians of curiosity.

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Young’s book on idea production is still in print; I urge you to obtain a copy and start producing.

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Charlie Munger’s “A Lesson on Elementary, Worldly Wisdom as It Relates to Investment Management and Business” is available on the Web. For a superb exposition of the value of being a generalist, read Robert Twigger’s essay for Aeon, entitled “Master of Many Trades,” also available online.

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James Ward’s blog, “I Like Boring Things,” is a good resource for those interested in the same and contains

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Hazel Hutchinson, who has written an excellent short biography of Henry James, kindly took the time to help me understand the nature and uses of the Master’s curiosity. Laura McInerney keeps an excellent blog about education.

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AFTERWORD: BJARNI Matt Fraction’s stirring reply to his depressed correspondent can be found at