“Neoteny”: How can we release the 5-year-old questioner inside all of us?

Provocative questions raised by LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner and M.I.T.’s Joi Ito

The “Corner Office” column in the 11/11/12 Sunday New York Times featured Jeff Weiner, the chief executive of LinkedIn.

Within that column are two points about questioning that are worth noting. First, Wiener advised people starting their career to spend some time thinking about a very basic, fundamental question: “Looking back on your career 20, 30 years from now, what do you want to say you’ve accomplished?”

Seems like an obvious one, right? But Wiener says, “You’d be amazed how many people I meet who don’t have the answer to the question. They either never asked themselves that or they got swept up in a stream of opportunity that led from one thing to another—more titles, more money—and they just didn’t stop to ask themselves that simple question.”

So be forewarned: If you ever interview at LinkedIn, Jeff Wiener is going to ask you this question and you’d better be prepared. And even if you never plan to interview at Linkedin, it’s a question worth spending some time on.

Another Great Quote from Albert Einstein

Here’s the second thing Wiener said that I found very interesting and highly relevant to this blog: “Always be learning.” In making his point about the importance of remaining curious, Wiener quoted Albert Einstein’s wonderful line:

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Wiener also referred to Joi Ito, the head of the M.I.T. Media Lab, who is a big believer in maintaining childlike wonder and curiosity. Ito often uses the term “neoteny,” which describes a delayed state of adolescence. As Wiener explained in the Times interview, “With animals, <neoteny> is not a good thing because the animal has not fully matured. But with regard to people, it can be an incredibly positive thing.”

Ito has written on his blog: “When we are young, we learn, we socialize, we play, we experiment, we are curious, we feel wonder, we feel joy, we change, we grow, we imagine, we hope.”

To which I would add: We question. No one asks more questions than a 5-year-old (as this hilarious bit from Louis CK reminds us). The question is, why do so many of us stop asking questions as we mature? And are there ways to rekindle that childlike curiosity in adults? It’s one of the thrusts of this blog and my book. I’m talking to a number of people to try to get some fresh insights on this, which I’ll share in future posts. Meantime, if anyone has thoughts, please share.

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About the Author

Innovation expert and questionologist Warren Berger has studied hundreds of the world’s foremost innovators, entrepreneurs, and creative thinkers to learn how they ask questions, generate original ideas, and solve problems. He is the author or co-author of 12 books, including his three books on questioning: A MORE BEAUTIFUL QUESTION: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas; its follow-up THE BOOK OF BEAUTIFUL QUESTIONS: The Powerful Questions That Will Help You Decide, Create, Connect, and Lead; and BEAUTIFUL QUESTIONS IN THE CLASSROOM: Transforming Classrooms Into Cultures of Curiosity and Inquiry. Warren’s writing has appeared in Fast Company, Harvard Business Review, and The New York Times, and he writes the “Questionologist” blog for Psychology Today. He lives in Mount Kisco, New York. Follow him on Twitter at @GlimmerGuy and subscribe to his blog posts

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  1. Questioning and Curiosity | KILROY'S WORLD (AT 76) | March 25, 2016

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