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Are You As Curious As You Think You Are?
Lessons from our Guests; Episode #01
Since joining the Infinite Loops family, I have read over 1000 articles and books on topics ranging from quantitative investing to ancient Chinese philosophy, science fiction, and hypnosis.
What can we learn from such an eclectic range of thinkers & creators?
Despite the varied subject matter, I have been struck by the extent to which certain themes reoccur time and again across our guests.
In this new series, we will explore these recurring themes one by one. We are going to unpack the ideas and mindsets that define our guests and, in doing so, give you the tools to unlock your creativity, broaden your perspective, and unleash your potential.
Onto the main event…
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Be Bloodthirstily Curious
Ever since I developed a somewhat random teenage obsession with 1970s Jamaican dub and roots reggae, my intellectual and cultural life has been defined by a series of curiosity-driven rabbit holes. The fall of the Roman Republic. British political history. Birdwatching.
For this reason, I usually consider myself curious.
Now, 40 research notes later, I’m not so sure.
Studying our guests made me realise that I was thinking of a loose and unrefined curiosity. It was curiosity as a noun, a label for a general worldview defined by intellectual openness and an excitement to learn new things.
I call it abstract curiosity.
Abstract curiosity is going to a new country and wanting to learn about its history. It is hearing a song and wanting to learn about the genre. It is wanting to listen to the backstory of the stranger you meet on the train.
If you listen to our podcast or subscribe to this Substack, I expect you are abstractly curious. And this is great! Approaching daily life with abstract curiosity allows you to retain a childlike sense of wonder toward the world and to remain in a learning mindset where every encounter provides an opportunity for growth.
Nevertheless, I have come to learn from our guests that there exists an altogether different type of curiosity.
Not just abstract, but something more. Relentless, focused, bloodthirsty.
Not curiosity as a state of mind but curiosity as a way of life.
Not curiosity as a noun but curiosity as a verb.
I call it active curiosity.
Not many people have this mindset, but, as the following four examples demonstrate, for those that do, the difference it has made to their lives is unmissable.
Founders Podcast host David Senra has four passions outside his friends and family: books, podcasting, history and entrepreneurship.
The abstractly curious version of David would likely satisfy this curiosity by reading history books, working at a VC firm, and listening to podcasts on his morning commute.
The actively curious David (which is thankfully the version that we have) spends several hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, reading biographies of entrepreneurs, taking meticulous notes, organising and reviewing his notes, and channelling them into 304 episodes (and counting) of the best podcast in the world on the history of entrepreneurship.
Why? Because his head was full of abstract interests and ideas, and a company was the best possible way to get them out in the world. His company was his curiosity made flesh.
In his words:
“Following curiosity is much more fun than being idle. Even if you never have to work a day in your life. That’s the best reason to have a company. It’s your playground, your instrument, your laboratory. It’s your place to play! Get the ideas out of your head and into the world.”
Liberty RPFRPF has built a successful newsletter by unapologetically and unrelentingly focusing on what interests him. Everything he stumbles across that triggers his abstract curiosity is identified, refined, and channelled through his newsletter.
As Liberty says, “Having somewhere to write about your interests is a bit like walking around with a camera. It makes you look at the world in a different way — could this be a photograph? Could this be something I write about? Having the creative vehicle turns you from a passive observer to an active one.”
Like CD Baby was for Derek Sivers, Liberty’s newsletter is his laboratory, his primary means of bringing his curiosity out of abstraction and into the real world.
Ryan Holiday’s research assistant Billy Oppenheimer, the Patron Saint of Online Researchers, is actively curious.
Billy doesn’t just read widely and take notes. He has a multistage, methodical notetaking system for recording, organising, sharing, recalling and, most importantly, using absolutely everything he learns.
Billy’s curiosity is self-perpetuating: he regularly revisits his notes and draws connections between them, which he feeds into his writing. His notes don’t sit in a cupboard collecting dust; they are the living, breathing extension of Billy’s curiosity. Everything he learns gets funnelled into them, and everything he produces emerges from them.
David’s podcast. Derek’s company. Liberty’s newsletter. Billy’s notetaking system. Each creator approaches their curiosity not as an abstract ideal but as something concrete, tangible, iterated. An anchor which they use to tether their entire lives.
Here’s the rub. While revisiting my notes to find examples for this essay, I realised that I could use literally any guest. Active curiosity is the single most prevalent unifying trait among them.
There’s a lesson here. Abstract curiosity is great, but to create something lasting, something celebrated, you need something more. You need to be actively curious.
The best part? Active curiosity isn’t a fixed characteristic like your hair or eye colour. It is something that you can decide to do. Like a muscle, building your active curiosity is a choice; the more you flex it, the stronger it becomes.
If there’s one takeaway from this essay, let this be it.
Don’t just ‘be’ curious. Do curious.
I had seen the job very late in the application process and was travelling at the time. I vividly remember ploughing through everything ever written by Rohit (around 100 essays) before heading to a beach bar several hours ahead of an overnight flight. Armed with a lukewarm Coke Zero and a plate of soggy chips, I desperately tried to finish the research note before getting on the plane. I submitted it with about 30 minutes to spare.
The first email I saw when we landed several hours later was an invite to an interview.
I was in.
Returning readers will know that we publish easily digestible, edited bullet point summaries of these notes here on our Substack, which are designed to give you an overview of the entirety of our guests’ worldview in less than 10 minutes.
Stay tuned for Derek’s episode, landing in your feeds over the next couple of months!