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  • Vela Georgiev

What Does Donald Rumsfeld Have To Do With Serendipity?

Curiosity is malleable.

A skill that can be honed and developed over time. With a little bit of intentionality in how and when you seek out new information, you can supercharge your curiosity.

To cultivate a curiosity mindset I use a simple hack, leveraging two fundamental principles:

  1. Randomness

  2. Timing

In a nutshell, I let serendipity guide the development of my curiosity by listening to a random TED talk in the morning.

1. Why a random TED talk?

Firstly. the talks are fascinating; engaging content delivered well. Storytelling at its best. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, it’s the exposure to ideas and topics that I would not otherwise seek out.

As Socrates said, “you don’t know what you don’t know”.

For me, listening to random TED talks is about sparking my curiosity, broadening my horizons, and discovering inspiration and motivation. A chance to listen to diverse speakers and perspectives on a broad range of topics. Scroll through my recent listening history and you’ll find talks about reproductive freedoms, race and healthcare, post-traumatic growth, chocolate making, and more.

“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” – Albert Einstein

2. Why the morning?

My mind is a blank slate in the morning.

The demands of the day have yet to make their impression. As the day unfolds, I find my curiosity becomes weighed down and anchored by things I encountered throughout the day. This has a tunnel vision-like effect, where I am more inclined to follow up on something someone mentioned during the day or a link they shared rather than seeking out new information.

The best way I can think of to explain the benefit that I experience in listing to a random TED talk in the morning is Donald Rumsfeld’s speech on “The Knowns and Unknowns Framework”. There are many different ways to represent this framework visually, and I’ve drawn three below. The tree diagram representation, however, resonates with me the most.

Listening to random TED talks in the morning is akin to resetting my knowledge tree each day, but listening to a podcast episode or reading an article on agtech or investment is about deepening my knowledge in an existing known domain.

And lastly, I let randomness enter my morning because this is when my mind is the most receptive to serendipitous learning. So, if you too would like to cultivate a curiosity mindset and expand your horizons, why not try listening to a random TED talk in the morning?

Side note

Copy of a poem about Donald Rumsfeld’s speech on “The Knowns and Unknowns Framework”. The author of the poem is unknown. The poem features in the collection Pieces of Intelligence, by Hart Seely

As we know, There are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know There are known unknowns. That is to say We know there are some things We do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, The ones we don’t know We do not know. Finally, there are unknown knowns The knowns We do not want to know.


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