Mapping Curiosity

Drawn by Kathryn Gunderson
Drawn by Kathryn Gunderson

These are such interesting days for hopeful people in our wildly dynamic world. Never before in the history of the species have we seen more radical emergence of vast numbers and forms of relational webs. More than two million non-governmental organizations have emerged in the last quarter century. Most of those are now morphing into a complex ecology of financial forms, mostly somewhere in between the old distinctions of faith, government, non-profit and for profit.

The technical name for our current version of we humans is homo sapiens sapiens: we are the creatures who know. And we know we know. I actually think we don’t know….much. But we are absolutely curious!

Jim tells of the curious story of the role of faith in the novel idea of "health for all."
Jim tells of the curious story of the role of faith in the novel idea of “health for all.”

Jim Cochrane leads the leading causes of life initiative. He has long argued that play should be one of the causes of life because from our first breath we poke, explore, crawl, play with our everything we can reach. Yes we do!( In recent months he has pretty much been captivated by…Emmanuel Kant because of the way he places creative freedom at the very center of human capacity.

Hope is possible because we have the capacity to think of entirely new things, and bring them to be. Almost everything nearby you this very moment is product of that creative capacity. The flat screen  monitor or iPhone you are reading on which you are reading this are evidence, but indoor plumbing reflects quite a large number of creative moments, too. And there is still profound creativity going on at that end (so to speak) of human process that dwarf the iPhone for life and death significance: check out .

Because it is human, this capacity for creative freedom is social. It is rare for any of us to have a totally autonomous seminal thought of our very own. WE are creatively free, not just me or you. And the root of that social creative freedom is curiosity. When we are young it looks like play, beginning, I think with our body parts: ever watch an infant discover their toes? They are curious about them; study them and then start to figure out. Walking and the long journeys of life come quite later once we learn to talk and read.

We are curious about each others’ curiosity, which is how great creative teams thrive. My favorite new book, “The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures” ( is a users guide to the social micro-structures that break and hold open the social space for us to explore what is possible in social webs. What opens up that space is not first imagination, but curiosity about what the group as a whole might discover is possible.

What you know is less interesting than that tickle just over the edge of your knowing just as the eye notices things on the periphery of clarity. The mind notices what moves, quickly ignores anything that stays the same. This isn’t always brilliant, of course. We forget things that matter and are easily distracted. The reason why we have so many rituals and reminders is precisely because we so tuned to what it not known and what might be possible. Nathan Wolfe calls that “adaptive novelty,” suggesting that humans can learn about this strategy for the billions of years virus have used that strategy.

Our most vital relationships and networks form on on a map of our curiosity. This is the terrain we walk from what we know to what we might be creatively free to do. The map of that terrain is rarely conscious, almost never on paper or even scrawled on a wall. Why not invent curiosity maps? Those would be dynamically generative and inviting.

Criterion Institute is a place of such generative mapping, which will be evident as it gathers for one of its astonishing “convergences” in Connecticut this week ( Later this week a different–but intersecting– map will emerge at the intersection of faith, peace and health at Lake Junaluska in the North Carolina mountains ( ). Meanwhile, vibrates with a constant flow of curious new findings about what is possible for faith and mission-driven hospitals to…

Old Salem is still a place where new things might happen.
Old Salem is still a place where new things might happen. is a riot of things nobody thought possible that turn out to be very doable–and that we are creatively free to do. Nobody is planning all of it. We are finding ourselves living on a map of possibilities that is being drawn in real time by unlikely people asking, “what is we did ……together?” We closed the Global Health Symposium yesterday full energy because we were beginning to tune ourselves to the social network emerging from our shared hopes relationships.

Do you want a map of the future? Do you want to know what’s possible?

Map the networks of curiosity. And then live into and on that map with those you find there.

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Professor, Faith and the Health of the Public, Wake Forest University School of Divinity. NC Certified Beekeeper Author, Leading Causes of Life, Deeply Woven Roots, Boundary Leaders, Religion and the Heath of the Public, Speak Life and God and the People. God and the People: Prayers for a Newer New Awakening. Secretary Stakeholder Health. Founder, Leading Causes of Life Initiative

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