The Learning Leader Show with Ryan Hawk

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#322: Ian Leslie

Ian Leslie is a London-based journalist and author of critically acclaimed books about human behavior. He is currently writing a new book on “productive disagreement”, which will be published in 2020. Ian also created, wrote and performed in the BBC radio comedy Before They Were Famous.


  • Leaders who sustain excellence =
    • Have the ability to think about their own thinking — Step outside and reflect
    • Know that you’ll say “I don’t know” frequently
    • Breadth — A range of interests
    • Interested in building knowledge and an awareness that it might not pay off (and being ok with that)
  • Ian built his life around curiosity — He was a strategist for ad agencies.  He needed to deeply understand his clients.  That is a job built on curiosity.
    • “I am a curiosity driven writer.”
  • Children are born curious… “People are born with habits/knowledge to survive.”  And then they stop.  There’s no evolutionary impulse to keep going.
    • It becomes a conscious choice to cognitive resources and time
  • The two types of curiosity
    • Diversive: Hunger for new information.  It comes from an information gap.  Agatha Christie understands how to create an information gap to keep you turning the page
    • Epistemic: Desire to acquire knowledge/build/assimilate into networks in your brain.  It requires discipline.  It’s engendered.  It’s diversive curiosity grown up.
  • “There is a rising premium on people with a high need for cognition.”  NFC (need for cognition) is a scientific measure of intellectual curiosity
  • “Taking action.  Doing… is a form of learning.  They are intertwined.”
  • Reflecting on own habits — use self as a lab experiment… Then talk with others.
  • Empathically curious — Being curious about what’s inside of other person’s head.  How they think and feel.
  • “You’re going to be come a better communicator being a better listener.”
  • Atul Gawande — Ask the unscripted question.  Make a human connection.
  • Have 10% of your brain switched on to “Am I talking too much?”
  • How to have productive disagreements:
    • Don’t avoid it
    • Have disagreements we both can live with
    • “You’ll have more productive disagreement if you’re curious about the other person.”
  • People who have a higher level of scientific curiosity… They don’t rush to judgement.  Think, “Oh, I wonder why I think that?”
  • “Nobody has trained us in how to disagree with each other.”
  • “You have this choice in judgement and curiosity.”
  • Life/Career advice: “Be interested in everything.  Go deep in one area.”
    • Have core people in your life and foster the weak ties.
  • Everyone is born curious. But only some retain the habits of exploring, learning and discovering as they grow older. Which side of the “curiosity divide” are you on?

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