Martijn Aslander - tekening © Petra Urban

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 life filled with curiosity. Here’s the complete series so far.

Martijn Aslander only seems to be doing nice things. He calls himself serial funtrepreneur. How does Martijn manage his broad curiosity? And how does he manage to do so many things next to each other and still remain so calm and friendly? Martijn is a real knowledge worker.

Curious types: Martijn Aslander (47) author, international speaker, stand-up philosopher, boardroom sparring partner, entrepreneur and explorer of the network and information age

In an earlier blog post (in Dutch), Martijn Aslander told me about his own curiosity and how he recognizes, stimulates, and exploits the curiosity of others. In this contribution, I start with the podcast of Helden en Hordes in which Martijn talks about his motives as an entrepreneur and shares 12 learning hacks that contribute to the fact that he continuously stimulates, cherishes, and exploits his curiosity.

Serial funtrepreneur

In the podcast program, Helden en Hordes, Martijn Aslander calls himself a serial funtrepreneur. He tells: I’ve never really been into profit. I was more focused on getting rid of my creativity and having full autonomy of tasks. Having the space and the fun of creating. Doing nice things with nice people. Learning hack 1: The creating and learning effect of doing business. You learn a lot that way.

Shamelessly curious

He’s also asked what he’s good at. His answer is Learning hack 2: I am boundless and shamelessly curious. And Learning hack 3: I’m also good at patience. I can sometimes wait two years until the timing is right and I see the opportunity. I always have a lot of irons in the fire, so you can always pick something up when it’s needed. I’m busy with 50 to 60 things at a time. I have focus but on the whole. I’m zooming in and out all the time: there you can see the connections between the existing opportunities. Learning hack 4: In being able to zoom in and out you find the creativity.

You tell in the podcast how you always have a lot of irons in the fire. Despite or because of your broad curiosity, you get a lot done. How do you balance your curiosity and entrepreneurial spirit?

Learning is an expression of curiosity when the motivation for learning is intrinsic. I’m hacking into learning. That starts with my morning ritual. Learning hack 5: Almost daily I read a random summary of a book on In one year I read at least 300 summaries of random books.

Learning hack 6: Instead of reading a whole book or a summary, you learn even more from a conversation with authors, they will tell you immediately what is in their new book.

Minimal discipline for maximum space for coincidence and chaos

Reading a summary is one of 80 things I do in the morning. All those things are in my personal management system. I get up at 5:30. I sleep an average of 8 to 9 hours. My morning is very structured so that I do what I have to do and I have time for other things later in the day.

Since I get up early, this is going better. I started this after the birth of my second child. I recommend this to every mother. The direction you get in return is worth it. At 8:30, my workday ends. The rest is playing and discovering. When you get up so early, you’re tired in the evening. Learning hack 7: Going to bed early suits my bio-rhythm better.

I practice minimal discipline in order to be able to let go as much as possible. This can lead to coincidence and chaos. Work is what I have to do to stay on track. The rest is playing. It doesn’t feel like work. When something feels like work, you have to stop. All the things I get money for, I would also do otherwise. I’m not gonna run faster for a lot of money, rather the opposite.

Your broad curiosity doesn’t seem to bother you in creating? Do you have any tips for others?

I can scale. I have 18,000 phone numbers in my phone. Along with these people, I have access to a few million people. I know a lot of supernodes. To materialize an idea I combine people and ideas. Learning hack 8: I invest in human resources.

What are the examples of things you have realized in this way together with others?

To build a dolmen (‘hunebed’). In 2002 I built a hunebed together with 14.000 people. I wrote a book about it: How do you build a hunebed?

Permanent Beta Netherlands: Permanent Beta brings people together to share knowledge about technology, science, and art. We believe in sharing because we find it fun and important, not to get things in return. We believe in creating through creativity, not money or power.

Permanent Beta experiments in Tehran (Iran) and in South Africa:

The books Easycration, Never finished! And Never finished in education. More here

The Quantified Self movement in the Netherlands. This movement has grown to include the Quantified Self Institute at the Hanze University in Groningen.

You already told us about your personal management system. Can you tell me more about this?

Learning hack 9: use a personal management information system. An essential part of knowledge work is taking a lot of decisions; big and small decisions. Decisions are made by combining information, knowledge, experience, intuition, and gut feeling. If information is such an important part of making decisions, then that information should be available through a Basic Support System; in English, it’s called the Mind Enhancement Support System: the MESS. For most people, this consists of 30 to 50 folders and tools, which usually prevents them from accessing their information quickly. That really is so awkward. I think I can handle this better than other people.

If MESS doesn’t tell you that much yet, Martijn is constantly working on new insights and ideas about his knowledge work. You can read more about this in the blog post of Martijn about Workflowy.

In which of the following five dimensions of curiosity do you recognize yourself the most?

Wondering about some more details about Martin’s curiosity, I show him these five curiosity dimensions of the American psychologist Kashdan.

Joyful Research – This is the prototype curiosity – the recognition and desire to seek out knowledge and information and the subsequent joy of learning and growing.
Sensitivity to being devoid of information – This dimension has a clear emotional charge with fear and tension that joy dominates – brooding over abstract or complex ideas, trying to solve problems, and seeking to close gaps in knowledge.
Stress tolerance – this dimension is about the willingness to embrace doubt, confusion, fear, and other forms of tension created by exploring new, unexpected, complex, mysterious, or obscure events.
Social Curiosity – wanting to know what other people think and do by observing, talking, or listening to conversations.
Sensation Search – the willingness to take physical, social, and financial risks in order to have varied, complex, and intense experiences.

In no time at all Martijn has absorbed the text and gives a specific answer: Dimension two and five I don’t recognize. I only do this out of abundance, not out of fear. Learning hack 10: By reading a lot I become better at pattern recognition. I don’t have to read everything word for word. The concepts emerge automatically and become predictable at some point.

You indicate that you don’t feel influenced by fear. Fear stops a lot of people from acting on their curiosity. They stay in their comfort zone. Do you have a stretch zone or a danger zone at all?

I don’t know about a danger zone. I’m very tired sometimes. I go to sleep and then it’s done. My stretch zone is my comfort zone. What a lot of people find scary, I don’t find scary. An audience of 5,000 people is pretty scary. I do it because I agreed to do it with myself and others.

When something is exciting I slow down and calm down. I thrive in a crisis. I can think better then. But I’m not a thrillseeker. I’m just doing my job. I don’t walk away from what a thrill is. I was challenged to sit blindfolded in the back of a car that was launched into a pool. I did it. It was okay. There was nothing going on.

Parachute jumping and theta waves

I’m not looking for these challenges, they present themselves. For example, I was challenged by the Corps Commandos to parachute jump. Stress is the fear of losing control. I did a duo jump with the most experienced people. While parachuting, I didn’t have to be afraid, I didn’t have to think.

Look at my face. Is that the face of someone who’s scared? During an investigation, it turned out later that the theta wave is my dominant brain wave. You then hang in superposition all the time and experience no judgment and are without stress. That explains a lot.

Intuition, gut feeling and assessing danger

The way you deal with fear also has to do with your intuition and frame of reference. Your intuition is based on your frame of reference. Learning hack 11: fear is a valuable radar. It is a warning system, a monitor, or radar to which something tends. You just know it. Gut feeling gives a sharper analysis about something you need to make a decision about.

Learning hack 12: The more I read, know, and do, the better I can predict whether something is stressful or not. An example. A woman had driven into the water with a layer of ice on it. I quickly decided that I had to go after it. Otherwise, I had to look for her under water and under the ice. And I didn’t feel like it. That would have been risky. So I made a positive choice.

You seem to be in control and making the most of your potential. If you had to choose, what would be the most important, absolutely essential condition for you to continue to make the most of your own potential? Is that autonomy, connectedness with others, or having the feeling that you are competent in what you do?

After some doubts: then I choose autonomy. If I can guarantee that, then I can connect better from there.

A positive way of simultaneously limiting and stimulating curiosity

A conversation with Martijn puts you on edge. A lot of information comes to you. In all that information I found new insights for one of the biggest issues I encounter during my research into curiosity: How do you realize and maintain the balance between curiosity and entrepreneurship? Or in other words: how do you prevent curiosity from not going any further than your thoughts,  without translating this into creating and doing?

I have been playing with the idea of curiosity management for some time now and was looking for positive ways to limit and stimulate curiosity at the same time. I already collected a lot of valuable tips. For me, Martijn is a positive and successful example of someone who knows how to manage his curiosity very consciously and purposefully. Our conversations have given me new insights into the essential ingredients for positive curiosity management. I share these insights and others in my next book, about the diversity and power of curiosity.

How do you manage your curiosity?

Have you had positive experiences managing your curiosity? I’d love to hear it from you. Share it in the comments below or email me: [email protected]

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About the author

Author profile picture Researcher at Fontys Lectorate Business Entrepreneurship. Themes: entrepreneurship education, curiosity, informal and non-formal learning. What does a lifetime of curiosity look like? In a series of portraits called "Curious Types", she gives a face to curiosity, entrepreneurship, informal and non-formal learning.