Disciplined Curiosity

I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time.

I’ve struggled to find a balance between (1) using tried & true methods and (2) better & more efficient methods.

Get’er Done or Reinvent?

By nature, I’m a highly curious person and love discovering new ways of thought and procedure. In my professional life, I work as a software engineer. Much of my working day is spent asking how and where my team can reinvent how we accomplish yesterday’s work and tomorrow’s promises. At home, I experience the same catch-22 situation. For meal planning, do I scour the internet for the a wonderful meal planning app or just write out my weekly meal plan and shopping list on a plain piece of paper?

I continually feel like I’m caught between the desire to be curious and the need be practical. It often feels like a zero sum game; either do the mundane but needed work now or search and fantasize about better ways to get things done.

Perhaps you also feel similar pulls towards two different spectrums I’ve mentioned.

Responding to the Tension

It’s helpful to observed that I’ve painted this as an extreme spectrum. Execute or reinvent. Honestly, it’s about as black & white as extremes come. Yet, reality is more nuanced than I often perceive it. Innovation can happen in small improvements that compound on each other. I’d coach myself that “change” takes effort so it’s helpful to budget for small, incremental changes that are sustainable.

It’s also helpful for me to remember that my curiosity for better solutions is good. I want to keep it alive. I want to cultivate curiosity into a honed discipline.

Disciplined Curiosity

Here is a rough draft of a framework I came up with to develop the discipline of disciplined curiosity.

I think there are different types of curiosity. Each has it’s pros and cons, which help me decide when & where is a good time to activate that type of curiosity. Said in other words, there is a season for everything.

Spectrums (possible values: low, medium, high):

Different Types of Curiosity:

Practicing within Learning Contracts

Learning Contracts (from here on out, LCs) are a planning structure that I have found to be very helpful. The motivation is to define where I want to apply my curiosity so that I can harness it, not just be blown around by it. LCs are time bound and specific following the SMART goals genre of thought.

I’ve broken up items into one of the categories:

If you’re planning to read a book, work with a friend, or attend an event/conference as a apart of one of the LC items, go ahead an add that detail as a comment.

To give you a better idea of what a LC looks like, here’s an example from my 2017: Aug-Oct LC.

Weston's 2017: Aug-Oct Learning contract

Topics: screen scrapping, product marketing, launching a product

Friends to share with: Caleb G., Jake S., and David W.  

- accomplishments: finish the screen scrapping agent for HTD
- understanding: explain how I setup js-enabled selenium to scale
- accomplishments: submit HTDi to Kaggle Open Source Data competition
- accomplishments: find 5 other possible grants for the HTD
- investments: send executive summary to IJM about project
- understanding: explain India's last 100 years
- accomplishments: launch https://india.humantraffickingdata.org
- investments: attend 5 contractor focused events
- accomplishments: launch https://www.freelance-reactjs.com
- understanding: where and how are people looking for remote devs
 - India
 - Philippians
 - Russia
- investments: ask 20 questions about building jobs
- accomplishments: finish these books
 - Not For Sale (social justice + economics)
 - The Lotus Effect (social justice + economics)
 - Refactoring (software)