Lately, I have taken an interest in the connection between curiosity, learning, and creativity. There is a very interesting short article by H.K.Kim: Curiosity, The Key To Creativity And Innovation
(http://www.ideatovalue.com/crea/khkim/2017/06/curiosity-key-creativity-innovation/) that summarizes some of the most relevant aspects of curiosity, creativity, and innovation.
This is a subject that is interesting for students and teachers of dressage as well. We all want to learn to ride. That makes us curious. Curiosity leads to questions like: “How does this work?”, “How do I need to sit?”, “How do I ride a shoulder-in?”, “How do I teach a piaffe?”, etc. In pursuit of these questions, we take lessons, read books, and watch videos in the hopes of finding answers. Over the last 30 years the amount of equestrian literature has vastly proliferated, so that you can find many different publications to choose from on most topics. So far, so good.
The danger is that there is a long tradition in the history of dressage to believe that there is only one true and correct way of riding and training. Everyone believes that THEIR way is the one and only RIGHT way, and that everyone else is, therefore, wrong.
This has two negative consequences:
- If you take a quasi religious stance on riding, it puts you on the defensive because you feel attacked or invalidated by everyone who does things differently. So you end up attacking and putting down everyone else.
- You limit your curiosity. You stop asking certain questions, and you stop searching for answers. When you stop asking questions and searching for answers, you stop learning, and you get stuck as soon as your method does not solve the problem you are facing.
That’s a general danger that is also inherent in being an “expert” on something. The expert may feel so secure in what they have learned and what they know that they discount the possibility that there are more layers of complexity, or that there are better alternatives.
“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few.”
This problem is probably exacerbated by the age of the smart phone and google, because you can find instant gratification through quick and easy answers to everything with the push of a button instead of having to spend time and energy researching them. This can lead us to depend too much on computers and not enough on our own thinking. And when we think we have found THE answer, we stop thinking and (re)searching.
So, curiosity is the prerequisite for learning. Asking questions out of curiosity is also the prerequisite for creativity and innovation. On an interesting linguistic side-note, the English word “question” can be a noun as well as a verb. As a noun it refers to a request for information. As a verb it challenges a claim, a statement, or a certain status quo. It also contains the noun “quest” - a search for something that often has noble or even heroic overtones.
Since creativity and innovation can lead to change, they threaten the status quo and challenge existing structures, including power structures. That’s why they are often strongly discouraged.
In traditional riding culture, for instance, the student is very much discouraged from questioning the teacher or from debating with the teacher. A good student was expected to follow strictly in the footsteps of his or her teacher without deviating at all from their path. This preserves the status quo, but it kills curiosity, and it keeps students in line. It keeps them small. It also prevents progress, innovation, or the evolution of horsemanship. From that point of view, curiosity, creativity, and innovations are almost acts of rebellion against the existing structures.
We must allow our imagination the freedom to explore in humility and openness. We must have what Zen calls a beginner's mind. All the great explorers have this childlike humility and openness. Isaac Newton wrote, "I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than the ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me." Einstein said, "The more I learn, the more I realize I don't know.”
Unfortunately, our culture has a tendency to kill curiosity and creativity in academic schooling as well in the riding school. That’s one reason why so many children hate school or don’t thrive in school, and why so many riders are frustrated with their riding and the instruction they receive.
Therefore, I would like to encourage everyone to cultivate their curiosity and let their curiosity guide them.
- Seek out information about the subjects that you are interested in.
- Study and absorb the information that you find in lessons, in books, or in videos.
- Put this information to the test. Apply it in practice and find out if it works for you and your horse.
- Approach every topic you research with an open mind. Perhaps approach every training session with a certain question in mind that you want to research.
- Search for alternatives. If a method that you have learned doesn’t seem to be working, try to find something else that does work.
- But even if what you are doing is working, keep researching if there is something that works even better.
- When I find a solution to a problem, I am not content with simply repeating it over and over, but I try to find other possible solutions because over time the effectiveness of an exercise tends to diminish so that you have to find new alternatives that work better. Try to find at least three possible solutions to every problem.
- Be curious, be creative, be innovative, and if necessary, be a rebel.