Friday, July 3, 2009

The "Gap Theory" of Curiosity

At the top of my current non-school reading list is Made to Stick (Dan & Chip Heath). For an innovation and ideas junkie such as myself, it's almost impossible to put down. I highly recommend it to anyone that needs to influence people, or drive new ideas. I plan to buy one for each person on my team at work, and probably my MBA team.

[NOTE: I would have much preferred this book to the one we used in StratMktg last semester.]

On page 84 (hardcopy version), they introduce a concept called "The Gap Theory of Curiosity", which was created by George Loewenstein (Carnegie Mellon, 1994). It argues that gains in knowledge causes pain for intelligent people, and that they strongly desire to fill that gap. It's like having an itch that needs to be scratched. Heath & Heath suggest that purveyors of new ideas should use this human behavioral instinct to their advantage when presenting new concepts. The person with the concept should look for ways to present it such that it leaves the audience wanting to ask those questions that satisfy their need to have the gaps of knowledge filled.

I bring up this concept because at this point in the MBA program many of my classmates have reached a level where they have put together quite a bit of knowledge, but now the gaps are starting to become more important than the workload. This creates challenges within team projects, as interest levels vary based on how much of a gap each project fills for each person. Combine this with the willingness (or lack of willingness) of professors to fill gaps during classroom discussions, and you have a difficult situation for any team that is trying to motivate teammates to participate or complete projects.
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