Suzie Collier is a professor at the Royal Academy of Music in the Junior Department and the mother of Jacob Collier, the Grammy Award-winning musician, and two daughters, Sophie and Ella.
How do we nurture and enable curiosity?
Well, I love the word curiosity. I think it’s one that a lot of people are frightened of really, because curiosity means that you’re willing to move around within your mind and within the world. It’s quite hard to define it, but I would say it’s about delving deeper, it’s not seeing something just at face value. It’s a will to understand something rather than to just know it.
On curiosity and fear
If you allow curiosity to be at the head of what you’re doing, then you’re not going to be fearful because curiosity and fear just simply don’t go together. If you’re frightened to look and see what the deeper meaning is or to look at another way of actually seeing something, then you can’t be curious.
When going into a situation, if you are feeling fearful, you may not even want to go into that place at all, so you might just avoid it and say, ‘I just don’t want to do this today.’ And in a sense, that’s okay. I don’t think I am curious all the time but if I allow the innate energy to flow, I become much more curious.
Enabling curiosity in a child
Many people give advice about bringing up a child. They may say it’s all about routine, it’s about not listening to them scream, otherwise you’re going to indulge that child. But I don’t believe that it is indulgent to listen to that person, I think it’s indulgent for them to say what they want, and for you to just say okay, here it all is, without thinking. Perhaps in a lot of people’s minds, it’s a very fine line. I just don’t think so. I think you can really listen, but you can have very clear boundaries and you can definitely say how you feel and put that in there, it’s not just about listening one-sided. And that’s the whole thing about curiosity, isn’t it, that it’s not a one-sided thing.
And without wishing to ask too many questions of a child, you can actually enable them to be asking questions if you ask the first couple in a very open way. If I asked one of my children about how a note felt, for example, then they might have said, ‘Oh, I’m feeling that Db and it’s really warm and purple and I feel like it’s a cosy blanket!’ I always felt that my children could take me along a journey, so that they’d be teaching me something new about what we were listening to and why, and in that sense, we were all curious together.
Encouraging children to be unafraid
I think it’s to do with a lack of judgement. When you’ve got a class of people or an orchestra in front of you, judgment’s a funny thing. You can pick it up from body language with just a look and a nod of the head, and you’ve got to get rid of that completely, so there is space for someone to perhaps say that, ‘Listening to this feels like I’m up in a balloon, or I feel frightened and I don’t really know why.’ And if they can say that and it’s left in the air without judgement, then it can be explored and it can be understood.
Within a classroom setup, I really have to consider where students have been in their day. If necessary, I might take them outside for a second, not in order to judge them and tell them off, but in order to just say that I acknowledge that there is something wrong and that I wonder really whether they can just take a moment to just reflect on the day and to see what’s happened to make this occur.
In essence, I want to try and take away judgement. I also want to express that we are all equal as human beings in a classroom or in a room together. I’m no better than them because I’m older and bigger. But if we’re going to really work together, there needs to be some kind of mutual respect in there and I do always say that I can’t ask them to respect me, but I really would like to keep the communication channels open, so that if they have a difficulty with what I’m saying, that they can say something without the fear of being judged.
My dear dad wrote a scale book, which is a very fine tome. And the way that he’s written it with the fingerings and how they work is quite alternative, there’s no other scale tome quite like it and I love it. Within his teaching, he encouraged scales to be practised in 100 different ways. Start from the top, start from the bottom, do it in this rhythm, do it in that rhythm, play it in different modes. In short, it’s so important to vary what you play to keep up motivation.
I normally teach older students rather than younger, but some of them still do have a parental input, and I tend to talk to parent and child about the process of becoming independent learners, actually for both of them. The ability to learn independently is a really wonderful gift to be able to give to somebody because if they can motivate themselves within their practise to take the next step, then that’s really great. Again, it’s about lack of judgement, it’s about thinking about what you want to do and making your own choices. You might say, in my practice, I know that I want to run this whole section through because it gives me so much satisfaction, even though it’s not accurate. And you might say, I really ought to do these finger exercises because when I do run through this section, I want to make sure that the rhythm is really working for me. So it might be that you say well, okay, I’m going to try and do the thing that I don’t really want to do first, in order to strengthen up my fingers and discipline them a little bit to enjoy playing through the section more!
The curious reset
But then you might find that you’re really bored and you don’t want to do anything, and at that moment, I really do advocate that to keep up motivation, you have to do exactly the opposite of what you’re telling yourself to do. You put down the instrument and you shake out a bit, you walk to another room, you drink some water, you use your voice instead of thinking about expressing on an instrument.
And suddenly, you will get the energy. And it might mean that 20 minutes later, having had a frolic around with all sorts of pieces and ideas and things, that that person says, do you know something? I don’t mind having a go at those scales now. This is the curious reset.
It’s about overcoming fear, being open, understanding rather than knowing, understanding the boundaries and safety and how you move forward with energy. Also the curious reset, this idea that if you are locked or bored or can’t figure it out or don’t know, try and come at it from multiple perspectives, multi-dimensionality.
One more tip. Maybe get rid of the word ‘try’ and use ‘allow’ instead. Hold curiosity gently in your arms rather than trying to grasp it.
The Curious Advantage is an exploration of the behaviour of curiosity and its central role in the digital age, taking the widest possible exploration of things curious—historical, contemporary, neuro-scientific, anthropological, behavioural and business.
Curiosity has profound implications for organisations, leaders and individuals inhabiting the digital reality. The Curious Advantage provides pragmatic tools and case studies and makes the case for how curiosity is the greatest driver of value in the new digital age. Curiosity is at the heart of the skills required to successfully navigate our digital lives when all futures are uncertain.
The Curious Advantage introduces the 7C’s of Curiosity model—a useful tool for anyone wanting to lead a curious organisation or who wants to challenge themselves to be actively curious.
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