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Monday, October 3

And The Secret Is

On Saturday, I was involved in running a comedy workshop. At some point the tutor said "and the secret to a proper punchline is..." and I drew a big line across my notepad and poised my pen ready to write down whatever she said. She observed this and brought it to everyone's attention. We were both in the right. If you're about to give or receive a good bit of advice, then you should make a moment of it.

So, prepare yourself.

I'm going to tell you the secret to how to be a good human. I mean the sort of person who is successful, happy, stimulated, as bright as you can be: all that good stuff.

Ready?

Here we go then. Be curious.

That's it.

What does that mean? Are you asking that? If you're not then you're not being curious. Go back to the start of this and try again. If you're also asking "What the hell does he know?" and by "he", you mean me, then well done. You're being curious. That's the point of this. There's a lot of information out there for the finding, and if you're not curious enough to ask questions, to look for the answers, and generally try to work stuff out for yourself, then you're going to lose out to people who are.

I'm not entirely espousing my own philosophy here. I'm agreeing with the fabulous Richard Feynman whose book Surely You're Joking Mr Feynman: Adventures of a Curious Character shows this philosophy in sharp detail. For someone who comes across as a bright eyed kid within a lot of his stories, Feynman actually discovered and refined a lot of aspects of Physics that would put most people's achievements into the category of relatively minor.

So what's the alternative? I'll give you an illustration of what happens when people don't act in a curious way, or don't assume curiosity.

[Scene - a works cafeteria, a woman is showing two guests round]

Her: So here is the coffee machine and it makes coffee if you want it. You press the buttons on the front. The cups are on top. Over here we have a fridge with some ready made sandwiches in it, there's salad in the bottom with ham, tomatoes - there, and drinks. Here are some fillings you can have - there's tuna, cheese, and you know. There's rolls over there that they use. Then over here there's fruit.

[Cut to the writer, seething in the background]

Why was I so pissed off? I'll tell you why. Nothing that woman said was anything other than self-evident. You can see that these things are there - they don't need describing. If someone can't see it for themselves, will telling them the fucking obvious actually help? If they're so stupid that they need the self-evident pointing out, then the problem isn't that they need a tour of the flaming obvious, it's that they need some help. Serious remedial help. If they could, and I suspect they could, see for themselves what was being shown to them, then the problem lies with the patronising idiot who feels like their own observations are more important than providing the way for someone to be free to make their own.

Sure, some things are not self-evident, like etiquette, or hidden items of stock (they can make a pizza if you ask them, kind of a thing)... but we shouldn't live in a world where you expect the self-evident to be pointed out.

Looking at things the other way, let's take Amazon.co.uk as a positive example of how curiosity works for the better. You don't expect someone to tell you how to use Amazon, or to come to your house and tell you how many pages a particular book has, or what the weight is of a particular bit of electronics. You don't expect someone to jump up and information dump you with all the details of everything. You have to look for it yourself. Frequently it's on the screen, or clickable from the screen you're on. Your expectations are low, and you have to do the work. As a result, Amazon sells you items, related items, makes you aware (if you care to look) of delivery dates, and doesn't require any human interaction to do it.

So, when people get the wrong end of the stick, fail to notice information that's right under their very noses, or expect the flaming obvious to be laid on a plate for them, they're not putting the effort in themselves, they're not being curious, and they may as well come and join the canteen tour above. Let them eat the obvious cake of their own idiocy.

For those people who work it out for themselves, you're going to be successful. You don't need nanny, and yours shall be the future.

Here endeth the rant.

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