Stephen Lindberg

Product Designer @ Iterable

30 March 2019

Curiosity & Focus

There are two sentiments I come across frequently when talking with creative people:

  1. “I should really learn how to do X” where X is some technology or skill.
  2. “I don’t feel productive enough” or “I wish I were more organized” or “I’m rewriting my website because‚Ķ” or one of the other various permutations on the same idea: “I should get my shit together.”

I have felt these sentiments often, too. And I realized that nothing I did satisfied me for very long, and soon the feeling would return: I don’t know enough to do the things I want to do, and I’m not organized enough to take advantage of the things I do know. When I’m confronted with frustrating problems that seem to have no remedy, a saying resurfaces in my head:

If you have tried changing everything and you’re still not satisfied, change your mind.

Then I had a realization. There is always more to learn, and there is always a better way to organize, but knowledge and organization are not my goals. In creative endeavors, knowledge is like raw material and organization is simply a strategy. Beyond those uses, putting them on a pedestal is compulsion. So what do I choose instead? Well, if you haven’t already guessed from the title of the article: curiosity and focus.

Curiosity over knowledge

  • Curiosity leads to new combinations of ideas. Knowledge is just “implementation details.”
  • Knowledge is easily offloaded to the hive-mind. A search engine can cover knowledge gaps, but not curiosity gaps.
  • Curiosity is a rare skill (yes, a skill) that will allow you to find interest in even the most mundane sorts of projects. We can’t all work on our dream project all the time (if ever), and there is joy to be found everywhere if you’re curious.

Focus over organization

  • Focus your efforts where your impact will be the greatest. Time spent organizing mundane things makes them seem more important than they are.
  • Dwelling on organization leads to unnecessary stress. Focus gives clarity and permits you to stop worrying about an unimportant mess.
  • A scattered mind cannot focus except in a well-organized environment. A focused mind can focus anywhere.

This is why I no longer spend time making sure my desk looks perfect before writing, and why I am happiest working with other designers and developers who are much, much smarter than I am (cultivating curiosity appears to alleviate impostor syndrome).