Lack of curiosity leaves Britain struggling for innovation - RSA

Lack of curiosity leaves Britain struggling for innovation

Press release

  • Creativity
  • Social brain

An RSA report, commissioned by British Gas Generation Green, reveals that Britain may lack the kind of curiosity needed to stimulate innovation and solve our future energy challenges. 

The Power of Curiosity is a report commissioned by British Gas Generation Green which reveals that Britain may lack the kind of curiosity needed to stimulate innovation and solve our future energy challenges.

View The Power of Curiosity report 

The report identified a vital link between curiosity and innovation, but found that Britons are less hungry for knowledge than they are for experiences, and lack curiosity about their energy usage.

To help harness the power of curiosity in stimulating future innovation, British Gas Generation Green is launching a nationwide search for a panel of 11 children aged 7-14, who are the nation’s most curious and have the ‘why factor’. The children will be invited to work with British Gas experts to create new ideas to address energy challenges.

Kate Lemon, programme manager of British Gas Generation Green, said:

"We will face big energy challenges over the next few decades, and we know that we need to innovate and help our customers use energy in new ways. This report shows that inspiring curiosity in young people could play a key role in addressing these challenges. That’s why we’re looking to harness the power of curiosity and inspire a new generation of young innovators."

The RSA research also showed that modern lifestyles could put the curiosity we need to drive innovation at risk. It shows that those over 55 and the retired are the most curious, suggesting that the daily grind could limit our power to innovate. It also found that modern technology is having an impact on our curiosity as it encourages short-term curiosity about a wide variety of topics, but doesn’t promote focus. Both types of curiosity are necessary to stimulate innovation

In response to the findings, the RSA is calling on schools, parents and learners of all ages to cultivate curiosity by:

  • Teaching for competencies like curiosity, as explicit educational goals, rather than as beneficial off-shoots of knowledge-based learning.

  • Encouraging forms of mental attention, including mindfulness, that make people reflect on things that might not have been noticed.

  • Giving pupils the opportunity to learn something in considerable depth.

Experimenting with open learning outcomes so that there is more scope to follow up on what pupils appear to be most curious about rather than what they are supposed to understand at the end of the lesson.

Further findings of the report include some interesting variations in curiosity across Britain, and a number of curiosity profiles.

  • Being curious for knowledge (epistemic curiosity) is less common in the UK than other types of curiosity (e.g. curiosity for experiences of sensations).

  • Women are more curious about things they experience through their senses (perceptually curious) than men.

  • People who live in households with three or more children are more curious than those with one child.

Dr Jonathan Rowson, report author, RSA Social Brain Centre, said:

"Our research indicates that curiosity may play an important part in stimulating innovation in ways that we urgently need to meet energy challenges in Britain. Understanding curiosity can help to create more effective feedback on home energy consumption, improve how we communicate environmental messages, and develop more sophisticated strategies to change behaviours that are habitual in nature. We also explore several ways that we could try to build on the natural curiosity of young people in educational settings."

Curiosity profiles identified by the research include:

  • Problem solvers (Epistemic specific): who focus on acquiring knowledge to answer specific questions

  • Day dreamers (Epistemic diversive): who use information in an exploratory fashion, sometimes to escape boredom

  • Scientists (Perceptual specific): who desire new sensations – sights, sounds, textures - directed towards answering a particular question (“I’m just going to put my hand in that aquarium to find out what that star fish feels like”)

  • Explorers (Perceptual diversive): who desire new sensations – sights, sounds, textures – in an exploratory fashion rather than being directed towards answering any particular question.

View The Power of Curiosity report


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