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 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 by Danae Bodewes also 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 is the complete series so far. (NB: this interview is from before the corona pandemic)
Aimee Martinez inspires me by the enthusiastic yet serious way she has embraced her curiosity as a way of life. When she was young, Aimee had to hide her curiosity. Following her curiosity costed her dearly. Nevertheless, Aimee believes curiosity is a blessing and can free anyone.
‘We are all born curious’, Aimee Martinez (32), System Administrator, Canada
Past Professions: Retail, Hospitality, Performance, Administration, Full Stack Developer, Security Consultant, Trades (i.e. Farmer, Construction), Teacher/Instructor, Distributor, Sales/Marketing, Small Business Owner, Infrastructure Consultant, and Solution Engineer, Nurse, Cleaner (Industry and Residential), Wild Animal Rehabilitator, Horse Groomer, Forest Ranger, Guerrilla Painter, an Urban Explorer
What does curiosity mean to you?
“When a kid is saying why? What does that do? How can the ocean be both green and blue? Curiosity drives all those questions. It is also a strong motivator for me to find out how something works.”
What fascination did you have since you were young?
“I was fascinated by a little pond near my apartment building. This pond had all those small creatures I would run to the library to learn about. I used to take water samples home and try and recreate the pond in a fish tank. I was really into this pond. All my science projects were about this pond.
I was also interested in all human-made objects. What is inside? What was used to build it? That’s probably the influence of my great grandfather. He was an inventor and I was fascinated by his schemes.”
What type of things did your grandfather make?
“Long before it was normal he invented a light switch to control more than one light simultaneously. At that time this was a real novelty. He was not an inventor like Tesla, in that he didn’t create new concepts. He simply made things more efficient.”
What is the most curious thing you did?
“Leaving my religion. It was both inspired by curiosity and is taken to be a curious thing for a community-driven person to do. I was raised as a Jehovah witness. I was so curious as a little girl but not allowed to know, see, or even think about my questions. Questions about feminism, evolution, and religion. I was afraid to lose my family by wanting to learn more.
When I was 10 years old, a librarian gave me a safe place to surreptitiously push myself to get answers to my questions. Later I used my phone and my friends’ homes to get more information. I had to do this quietly, without anyone knowing lest I be excommunicated. When I was 21, I was forced to leave the Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
That sounds horrible. How did you experience being forced to leave your community?
“It was terrifying. Coming from an insular community, there were so many social aspects that I still had to learn, to the surprise of my peers. I also felt a lot of guilt. I was always told that Satan was going to get my soul for the answers I found to my questions. I felt guilty too for seemingly “giving up my family” to know the answers. Since I had sinned so greatly in the eyes of the cult, I was also resigned to die. One of the main cult teachings is that endless death or nothingness is certain to all non-believers, that a life worth living is only a one after death. When I finally got the answers, they were the reasons for me to want to live.”
Looking back at what you experienced, how do you look upon curiosity? Is curiosity a curse or a blessing?
“A blessing. It is our biggest strength that makes us put things together that shouldn’t be. That can make rather ugly things but also the best tasting sandwich ever.
It is just like working agile. You have an idea you build, measure, learn, and refactor, and then try again. Curiosity is an amazing motivator. With it, you can learn anything, and that can free everyone.”
How do you balance your curiosity and getting things done?
“Curiosity and impulse come from the same drive for me. When you close your eyes and jump, it is dangerous. You always have to be aware, if the space is safe. You have to balance your curiosity and impulse with your mind. You have to think about it before you act!
I have different routines and try to find specific topics to be curious. This helps organize my thoughts and gives me the most learning opportunities out of my curiosity. If the topic that has piqued my curiosity is too broad, I time-box it. For example, I can work on it for 20 minutes. Then I stop and come back to it later. Agile methodologies are also heavily used: try, see what happens, adjust, try again, see what happens. Working agile is a good break from more traditional research. When you go around the whole loop of working agile it makes you more accountable and responsible for the outcomes.”
Your curiosity is also visible in your passion for traveling. You lived in Australia for almost 2 years and traveled to many other countries. What did traveling do with your curiosity?
“Traveling boosted my curiosity. You stumble upon things that thrust you forward. When I lived in Australia, I was curious about the Mona Museum in Hobart. I met someone in the house I was couchsurfing (Will), who was also curious and I ended up taking his boot camp for entrepreneurs. There I met people who were also curious, saw that in me, and brought me to the HackHouse. I lived there for six months with four other people. We constantly exercised our curiosity. The HackHouse is where I fell in love with programming.”
“Another experience that came on my path was that I met an aboriginal. I was really curious about Aboriginals and how they always seem so quiet and calm. I was curious to see what he could show me about Australia. He showed me beautiful places, sacred places, places that to this day give me goosebumps when I think of them. He taught me that there are two ways of curiosity. It was my style to take things apart, try and break it to see how they work. He taught me you can also be curious with just observation, that finding patterns and learning how things work sometimes means just to sit back and watch.
Traveling also pushed me to do things that were strange to me or that do not make sense. That taking big leaps is not only something I excel at but also something that is exhilarating instead of terrifying. Sometimes it was dangerous, and I would think to myself: How am I not dead? Jump in with my two feet sometimes landed me in hot water. But that is because I was so excited and impulsive that I didn’t do the needed research before I lept.”
Can you give an example of an occasion you landed in hot water?
“I did some urban exploring [exploring man-made structures, especially abandoned buildings and areas not generally open to the public, i.e. sewers]. Normally I would go with my own familiar group. There was always somebody who did research beforehand to know the risks. One day, I joined another group of people. I just assumed that one of them would have done the research. That was a wrong assumption. I almost drowned that day.
We were exploring pipes underneath the city when we heard water rushing. We ran to the nearest exit and I was the last out as the water started to gush through the pipes. I was pulled up by others, just in time, before being completely pulled down by the rushing water. If they hadn’t pulled me up at that moment I would surely have drowned as the force of the water was so strong I could not hold on by myself. It was a very scary experience. Very stupid.”
Are there any Canadian proverbs about curiosity?
“I only know: curiosity killed the cat. It discourages curiosity.”
Interesting proverb. I normally do not like this proverb. However, it does seem to apply partly to your Urban Exploring adventure. How is your curiosity looked upon by family and friends?
“My family’s attitude towards curiosity is: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. This opinion can be used against you. You cannot learn about some things because they are labeled “bad”. You shouldn’t even think about it. But this doesn’t help, nor does it really work as no one but you can control your own thoughts. Learning about “bad” things helps us learn by contrast what “good” is and strengthens our resolve to do more good things. Being curious brings a perspective that can be used to guide our actions in healthy and sustainable ways. This wisdom, based on fact, can in turn inspire more curiosity as we try out our new learning from the last round of curiousness.”
“My friends understand my curiosity. Sometimes we are caught up in emotions around it. For example, what comes from people who use curiosity for evil? Should the atomic bomb have been invented? Should the technique behind the atomic bomb have been invented? Should somebody be allowed to wonder about atomic energy? Could you have stopped the invention of the atomic bomb by denying persons their curiosity? Saying no to curiosity means you will think about it anyway. Try it: DON’T THINK ABOUT CATS!!…. I bet that you thought of a feline, didn’t you?”
I am looking at curiosity in different parts of the world. In your opinion, are Canadians more or less curious than other nationalities?
“I think curiosity is first connected to community feeling, not nationality. You need to feel safe to bring out your curiosity in full force. There are things that nationality effects that curiosity needs to thrive. Things like priorities, education, and law enforcement. By some, curiosity is considered to be a dangerous thing, which in a way is true. It can lead to powerful life changes. Maybe some governments do not want this.
In England and the Netherlands versus North America, you are exposed to human-made things that exist for centuries. We do not have that here. It was a powerful experience for me to see things a human mind can create, fight both nature and politics for amounts of time I cannot truly comprehend. There seems to have been more time to fiddle around to explore how education and governments work.
In North America, we are only a baby in comparison. That fresh blood feeling of being somewhat new encourages curiosity to a point. There is an accompanying attitude of: because it is new, it is the best. We are holding ourselves back by this attitude. It would be good if we could think more as a scientific community where you dare to share and question. This is what I did. How do you do it? The best solution is probably somewhere in the middle.”
You mention education. Does Canadian education stimulate curiosity? What is your experience?
“Curiosity is not stimulated enough. It is not all bad, but encouraging curiosity is not a priority. The number one priority is to make sure everybody gets high marks on for example mathematics. They are not teaching math to make students curious about it and start to like it. Instead, they create fear and stress to force people to learn. In Europe and Australia, I saw more diversity in types of education. The idea of democratic schools [schools without fixed education programs and no testing] is just not acceptable in Canada. Only crazy people who can’t get into “real” schools go there.
I want everybody to be curious. Go with your gut! I love the paradox in this: vague and specific. Curiosity is an important clue that your body gives you, listen to it. Our autonomous system does more than we think, learn to let it do its job so you can do what your mind is best at. It is never detrimental to learn. If you want to read more about this I recommend an article by Daniel Kahneman and Gary Klein: Conditions for expert intuition, a failure to disagree. And the books From Bacteria to Bach and Back by Daniel Dennett, The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, and Bonk! By Mary Roach.”
“It is never detrimental to learn”
I love this quote to finish the interview. In my opinion, Aimee is an intuitive and conscious person. By mixing curiosity with impulse, consciousness, and courage she opens doors that make her learn and develop herself every day. An inspiring Canadian with an open and global mindset.
How did curiosity change your life?
Did curiosity cause a life-changing event for you as well? Please let me know! I am curious to hear about it.
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