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“I think a lot of what people call intelligence just boils down to curiosity.” – Aaron Swartz

A quick straw poll around the office revealed that when people think about curiosity, the first things that pop into their heads are: cats (presumably killed by their disposition); children asking “why?” ad infinitum; or mad professors.

curious cat by chez andre 1

image by chez andre 1

But there is more to curiosity than that. And to help people explore the concept, three RSA Fellows have collaborated to start an organisation called The Curiosity Bureau.

I had the pleasure of meeting up with Becca, Tom, and Anton last year after the publication of the Social Brain team’s report The Power of Curiosity: how linking inquisitiveness to innovation could help address our energy challenges, and when the Bureau was just starting.

In our report, we explain the many sides of curiosity. Curiosity can be more perceptual and tactile, when you want to touch, smell, hear something, or can be more about information and knowledge acquired through books, for example. It can be directed an answering a specific question, or it can be more exploratory, jumping from thought to thought, making connections between  various ideas.

Curiosity is an important driver of innovation, in at least two ways. Curiosity is a valuable ingredient of divergent thinking, or coming up with many different possible options and ways of interpreting a problem, which is helpful in generating creative solutions. It also provides intrinsic motivation, helping the innovator to persevere through difficult or slow-going phases of developing the solution.

Becca, Tom and Anton help others to explore curiosity through a range of services, including events.  Since our first meeting, they have kindly kept us updated with the progress of the Curiosity Bureau, and it seems that they have certainly been keeping busy: the Bureau hosted a popular tactile curiosity workshop this summer, and they are expanding to Bergen, Norway. And we were pleased to hear that a recent piece in the RSA Journal has provided them with some further inspiration and provoked thought about the relationship between empathy and curiosity.

We're always pleased to see when RSA Fellows' ideas cross over with those we're exploring through our research - and especially so when they're putting them into practice in creative ways.  We’d love to hear your comments about what curiosity means to you, and/or about how you are connecting with Fellows on a scale small or large.

Curious about the Curiosity Bureau? See their website.

Curious about the RSA Social Brain Centre and our recent work?  Visit the Social Brain webpage or check out the Social Brain blog.  Curious about RSA Fellowship? See the Fellowship webpage.

The work of the Action and Research team depends on the generosity of Fellows and funders; find out how you or your organisation can support the RSA.


Nathalie Spencer is a Senior Researcher, Social Brain.

Sam Thomas is Former Project Engagement Manager, Fellowship.


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