If the Corona crisis makes something clear to us, it is that the solutions of the past no longer work for today’s problems. But in order to achieve those new solutions and create real innovations that benefit society, something has to change in the way we look at the world. Curiosity, the basis for everything we do at Innovation Origins, is crucial, as the research of Danae Bodewes shows. In a series of interviews, she talks to curious types who each in their own way provide the building blocks for a curious life. Here’s the complete series so far.
Curious types: Jeroen Komen (51) Pilot, photographer, passionate storyteller of light-hearted stories and former owner and founder of IT company Knoworries
Jeroen Komen has had a curious and adventurous lifestyle from an early age. When things didn’t work out well in high school he hitchhiked from the Netherlands to Syria, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt when he was eighteen, with 1400 self-earned guilders in his pocket. The first 300 guilders were spent on a two-day skiing trip. In Israel, he still had 10 guilders left and decided to earn money by washing dishes. In the end, he spent five months hitchhiking.
At the age of nineteen Jeroen left again, this time for 1.5 years. He had several jobs in Australia but also traveled to Singapore, Malaysia, India, Nepal, and Thailand. He did not finish the studies he started, but he did start his IT company Knoworries. As an entrepreneur, he continued to travel and at the age of 40, he decided it was time to transfer and sell his company. Without a job he was bored. So he bought a self-built two-seater airplane and flew all over Europe. This was followed by a journey around the world.
Jeroen’s email address is very appropriate [email protected] (“I travel“). The book he wrote about his flying adventures in Europe was called “I can fly“. In this book, you will find the beautiful aerial pictures he made during his flying trips.
Jeroen is now 51 years old and still enjoys an ever-extending sabbatical. More than four years ago he opted for family life, living together for the first time for a long time and besides his bonus son, he also had a daughter with his girlfriend. How come Jeroen is so curious? And how does he like his new life without the hustle and bustle of business and constant travel?
What does being curious mean to you personally?
For me, curiosity means that I’m looking for something online and that it’s legitimate to keep clicking without being ashamed of it. Just because it satisfies me.
It sounds like you used to be ashamed of this.
Yes, because I used to think that I lacked focus and concentration and that I was wasting time.
Why did you change your mind about that?
Because I experience more satisfaction when I dig deeper into something.
How curious do you find yourself?
I find myself extraordinarily curious because I think others settle for an answer quicker than me. I read almost everything: all newsletters, manuals, and even packaging. I also read all the reactions on social media and respond to other people’s posts.
Why are you doing this? Do you really want to know everything or is it something compulsive?
It’s ‘the fear of missing out‘. For example, I don’t want to write something under a post if someone else has already written it.
Why do you read so much on social media at all? What’s in it for you?
New insights, I know what’s going on with people.
What fascination have you had since childhood?
Since childhood, I have been fascinated by the magic of computers, technology, and electronics. I am from the time that calculators were a luxury. I typed in a sum and the calculator knew the answer. That was something magical. I didn’t find a simple light switch so magical; the light goes on or off. But you also have something like a hotel switch: you have two buttons for the same lamp. If you turn the light on above, you can turn it off below. I didn’t understand that. I also found a tape recorder magical. When recording music I wondered how many instruments you could record together without the tape getting full.
What did you want to be?
Brain researcher and entrepreneur and something else, but I forgot.
Why didn’t you end up being a brain researcher?
In the first place because I didn’t finish secondary school and wasn’t allowed to go to university. At a later age, I started to study Cognitive Artificial Intelligence after an entrance exam. Half of this course was aimed at understanding the human brain. But I didn’t finish that study, among other things because I organized a study trip to the US, worked for an insurance company, and started my own IT company.
Why did you become an entrepreneur?
Because you don’t need a diploma for that. And because I had determined that I’m more of a generalist than a specialist. Research is a specialism and I see entrepreneurship as a generalism.
In how far is your curiosity nature or nurture?
Basically, 80% of my curiosity is determined by nature. It’s in my genes. My dad has it, too. I then used 80% of my life to nurture this natural predisposition. I do this by admitting my curiosity and seeking satisfaction in it.
In the course of your life, have you become more or less curious?
The more you know, the more you know what you don’t yet know. You realize better how much you still have to learn to control and discover in order to understand things a little better. When you know or can know a lot, there are many opportunities to know even more.
When you know a lot of people, for example, there are a lot of people available to ask for something. Compared to my youth the world has become more accessible. I know a lot of people and I have enough money and time. For these reasons, for example, I manage to see many more countries. Take Antarctica, as a child, I never managed to go there. As an adult, I did go there and swam in the Antarctic Sea. I’d like to go to the moon, but I just can’t yet.
What was a critical moment to develop your curiosity?
I remember two important moments. When I was a little kid, it always bothered me that I wanted to know things, but didn’t even know why. When someone asked me why I wanted to know something, I didn’t have a good answer. The first time I found a solution to my struggle with curiosity was when I read Tintin’s comic books. Tintin asked someone a question to which the other person responded with the question: why do you want to know? Tintin answered: just to know. I then thought: that’s a handy explanation! But when I tried this reaction with someone else I got the reaction: wise guy.
Another important moment was when in 1983 a Korean plane over Russia was shot down by the Russians, killing all 269 occupants. I heard all the adults talking shame about it: “What assholes” and “The pilot who pressed the button should get the death penalty.” My father said at one point, “May I have your attention, please? Have you looked at it from a Russian perspective? This pilot is trained to protect his country and is ordered to shoot down a spy plane that is a threat to his country.”
This example gave me a mainstream truth and a truth unknown to me. I wanted to know everything about the truth that was unknown to me.
What else did you do after that?
Since then I don’t believe the mainstream version anymore and started looking for alternative sources.
How did you do that before the existence of the internet?
By keeping my ears tuned, by reading newspapers, and making up alternative scenarios in my head. This involves creativity; creativity to consider other angles.
You don’t work anymore, but you’re very busy. How do you combine your broad curiosity with entrepreneurship? How do you not only think and look for information but also keep creating?
I have an important rule of thumb: added value is important. Something must be useful. One way to measure utility is to see if there is a market for it and someone is willing to pay for it. That’s entrepreneurship.
It’s also important for me to put my money where my mouth is. If I’ve wanted something for three years and still haven’t done it, I disapprove of myself. Or if someone says something but doesn’t do it. Then I disapprove of the other person. Then I think: what’s the matter, why don’t you just do it? This makes me do what I think I’m doing. I have to at least try. So I don’t have to think I’m stupid.
Another insight is: if you want something, you shouldn’t wait too long and just do it, otherwise it might be too late. I learned this insight around the age of twenty-four when I met a nice girl at a wedding. Three months later, she committed suicide. If I wanted to call her, I should have called her right away.
But also the book ‘Getting things done’ has taught me a lot. The essence of this book is that your brain needs tools to function better. Think of task lists, cash books, business plans. I use these kinds of tools to keep my head calm. So that I don’t use unnecessary brain capacity that I need to discover or do other things.
You are described as an adventurer. When is something an adventure for you?
When surprises arise. When things don’t go according to plan. Or when there’s no plan at all, that’s even better.
Are you actively looking for a new adventure or does it happen to you?
I’m actively searching.
How do you do that?
By going on a trip.
Is a journey by definition an adventure?
No, not according to the definition of travel. If you go to the same place 20 times, it’s not an adventure. I don’t do that. My travels are driven by a quest for adventure.
What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve done?
My highlight was a trip of 10 weeks, passing 35 countries in Europe with my own plane.
Why did you find this trip more adventurous than your hitchhiking adventure when you were 18 or your trip around the world when you were 40?
Because I made this trip in my own plane. I call that special. Adventure is going to the moon because nobody’s done it yet. Traveling to Antarctica hasn’t been done by many people either. A relatively large number of people have traveled through Europe on a large plane. Few people who own their own plane have flown all over Europe with it. I found it adventurous to discover how European airspace works for private planes. Hitchhiking to the Middle East at the time was also adventurous, without the internet and mobile phones.
In what way did curiosity play a role in your flight through Europe?
I don’t think I went because of curiosity. I went on a journey to fill an empty life. I was looking for fulfillment. In theory, I could have done that in many ways. But I had an airplane and I thought I should use it: not words, but deeds. I gave myself a kick in the ass.
What dampens your curiosity?
A lack of time. When I get curious about the next thing, I can’t finish my curiosity about the previous one. You have to finish what you’re starting so I sometimes cut off the curiosity for the next one. I still don’t master photoshopping, because I’m afraid I’ll spend even more time on post-processing photos.
What do you do to cherish your curiosity and make sure it is not muted?
To ensure the peace of my mind. So getting things done.
What’s a bigger risk to your curiosity. You or others?
Myself. Because I’m going crazy with the stress or the pressure to want to understand everything and that I can’t. For me, going crazy means thinking the same thing all the time, going in all directions, but not finding a grip. Resting my head, on the other hand, means that I have my thoughts in order and can build on them.
You retired early. What did this do to your curiosity?
It’s dented my curiosity about the corporate world. I find the latest version of Windows less interesting these days. But also office life, wearing ties, business restaurants, and meeting entrepreneurs who want to get rich.
Instead, I got a broader interest in daily life; the down to earth level. Family life, the thrift shop, and bread baking. I have also become more curious about storytelling and communicating with large target groups.
What has this done to your happiness or meaning in life?
Very much, of course. Superficiality has decreased. Deepness and contentment have increased.
It’s a blessing. I enjoy discovering new things when the penny falls or the unexpected assembly of puzzle pieces. This gave me the unique opportunity to fly over Schiphol Airport during the COVID-19 crisis. I photographed an abandoned long parking lot. On the parking lot STAY SAFE was written in colored letters. I had not seen it directly from the air. Only when I looked at the pictures I discovered it. I shared the photo on social media and jokingly wrote: How many boxes of sidewalk crayons did it take to lime down this text? Someone from Schiphol Airport responded with a photo on which they were writing the text with a big box of chalk next to them. Then everything came together and the story was complete. The AD wrote an article about it.
Purpose and curiosity
Jeroen describes how he was bored and was looking for the fulfillment of an empty life. He does not relate his flight through Europe to curiosity. And this is precisely why I find it so important to write and tell about curiosity. Curiosity is a natural mechanism to solve boredom and under excitement. By becoming curious you start looking for new stimuli; for information and experiences that do interest you and give you the energy you are looking for. In this way, you restore your energy balance, which makes you feel better and function better.
Being curious also has a strong relationship with meaning and happiness. People need a purpose in their lives and the feeling that what they do is useful.
By being curious about yourself you can discover your values, talents, and interests. This increases the chance of a sense of meaning and that you will gain the energy to do what gives you satisfaction. This in contrast to letting your life be led by what (you think) others expect of you. Being curious may not always seem useful or even vain. But when you think about your own behavior and can fathom your curiosity, you learn a lot about yourself and where your self-steering power lies. And the power that is neglected by too many people.
Jeroen is a source of inspiration for me precisely because he unconsciously follows his curiosity from a young age. This resulted in a miraculous course of life that has only been highlighted to a small extent in this interview. I expect to remain curious about Jeroen for a long time to come. Not in the least because he is my life partner and he helps shape the daily life of our family in his own unique and inspiring way.
What do you do when you’re bored?
I would like to hear from you via the comments below or via e-mail: [email protected]