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Curiosity Can’t Kill the Cat: An Interview with Dr. Liz Alexander

I was on a lunch break at work last week, browsing when I stumbled across Dr. Liz Alexander’s article: “To See Your Status Soar, Be More Curious.” It screamed bold, fresh, and insightful, and I found myself nodding as I read about the impact a curious mentality can have and the forward movements it can inspire. Interviewing Dr. Alexander, both a futurist and educational psychologist, was an absolute pleasure, and below she has shared her insight on curiosity. Check out her website to learn more and continue reading to discover more about how having a curious mind can change your life!


Dr. Alexander, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions for us! Why did you decide to go into the field of educational psychology, and in particular, study strategic thinking and methodologies?

When I read the degree description at The University of Texas at Austin where I got my Master’s and Ph.D. my first reaction was, “They’ve created something that speaks to every interest I have.” I’ve always been fascinated by how an innate ability like thinking, which everyone takes for granted, can be enhanced just by getting to grips with more strategic approaches and methodologies.

How it helps to know more about ourselves as learners, such as what kind of instruction we respond to best (from listening passively to a lecture, to being given a practical assignment to figure out for ourselves); when we might benefit most from one-on-one instruction over, say, group work; and what support there is for identifying and overcoming learning challenges, like dyslexia.

How does educational psychology govern ideas that influence our thought processes and lifestyles?

Imagine two students. One of them, in addition to all their usual coursework, has been guided to understand and incorporate study skills that will help them learn new things more quickly and easily. They are taught about the extent to which their emotions and personal motivations will impact their ability to learn as well as ways to create a supportive environment that facilitates effective learning. The second student is left to figure things out for themselves. And, unfortunately, all too often that’s what happens in schools and colleges where the assumption is that given access to information, students will automatically learn.

It’s thanks to people in the field of educational psychology, whose research has shown how people learn best, that the first student I described will not only get the most out of their school experience but also be more academically successful. In my own case, my graduate studies in educational psychology were focused on the emotional, social and motivational factors that contribute to effective learning. I discovered that we shouldn’t take the ability to learn for granted because it’s impacted—for good or ill—by so many things.

How might curiosity factor into both our daily and work lives? You write about how the work world is increasingly focusing not only on creativity but curiosity as a source of fostering that sense of creativity.                    

It seems we are being pulled in two directions at once, these days. On the one hand, algorithms used on social media plus the media bubble we hear so much about, are narrowing the range of information we take in. In short, they play to what we call “confirmation bias,” which is the tendency only to respond to information we already believe in or agree with, and shun everything else. That’s why, for example, some folks will only tune in to Fox News while others only get their news from CNN or MSNBC. These channels, to a large extent, play to their audience’s known preferences so they expect to be served with content that fits with their existing worldviews.

On the other hand, the need to take responsibility for our own careers and to demonstrate our value as creative thinkers and innovators means we must broaden, rather than narrow, the range of content we’re exposed to. You can’t hope to change the world when you’re mired in a singular way of thinking. You only need to review the lives and passions of successful entrepreneurs to realize that they are fascinated by lots of different things. Which enables them to combine ideas that otherwise wouldn’t be thought of as having any relationship – like calligraphy and computers (Steve Jobs at Apple); chocolate and multi-culturalism (Katrina Markoff of Vosges Haut-Chocolat); and technology and conservation (as exemplified by the company founded by Robert Bosch in 1886, long before environmentalism was a “thing,” due to young Robert’s interest in zoology & botany).

In your article, you provide good motivation for why we should seek out curiosity. Do you have any suggestions on how to better incorporate doing so into our everyday lives?

When I was in high school I belonged to the debating society. One of the experiences I’ve always remembered was having prepared to defend a particular position then being told by our teacher to reverse them. That is, those of us who were “pro” had to become “anti” and vice versa. That was done on the fly and I probably sucked at it back then. But what that experience inspired in me was to adopt different perceptual positions. To think: I believe this, but am I taking for granted the fact that not everyone would agree with me?

One way I’ve continued to fuel my curiosity and, through that, my creativity, is with overseas travel. I’m a Brit who came to live in the US 17 years ago, who has serviced clients in India for the past 7 years, works with an Australian business partner, and is about to relocate to Penang, Malaysia. Being used to interacting with different cultures has prevented me from adopting the “my way or the highway” attitude that so many people have. An attitude that will not serve them well when trying to work in distributed teams with members from different backgrounds and worldviews.

Why do you think an information gap still exists today? What can we do about it?

If by “information gap” you mean missing out on some of the information needed to fulfill a certain task or solve a problem, then I think my previous answers speak to this. If you surround yourself with people who come from the same background as you do and therefore think and act like you, there is no catalyst on hand to provide new information. That’s the way so many companies shoot themselves in the foot. They silo certain groups – like engineers on one floor, sales people on another, finance on another – so that diverse fields rarely get to speak to one another, let alone share ideas. Whereas the new trend for co-working spaces and innovative office designs shows how information gaps are being filled by having different kinds of people “collide” with one another. Then all that’s required is the willingness to listen and value different perspectives. 

Are there any other companies, brands, or groups out there at the forefront of curious thought today like Egremont? Would you say such companies are increasingly becoming more common in a general effort to bridge the information gap, or are they still somewhat unique?

Let me share something surprising about Amazon, as this is a story I always love to tell. It’s about an approach they use called “working backwards.” You can read more detail about it here. But essentially it involves creating a hypothetical press release, about a product or service that hasn’t yet been created. What this prompts is the curiosity to wonder what the customer would want to know, similar to how I talked about my debating society experience. You have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes to be able to more fully understand how to solve their problem or meet their need. All of this curiosity, within Amazon, is channeled toward creating FAQs, user manuals and mockups well in advance of moving ahead with a new idea. It’s not surprising to me that they are so successful at innovating across a wide range of arenas – far beyond the online book sales they started with.

And, yes, I think with the impressive evidence about enhanced innovation coming out of co-working ventures, we are seeing more companies – including Samsung in the US, for example or Deloitte at The Edge in The Netherlands – redesign their work spaces to take advantage of the remarkable ingenuity of human beings when left to interact naturally.

You’re a member of both the Association of Professional Futurists and formerly the World Future Society, and you were named one of the world’s top female futurists. Can you speak a little about what your work of being a futurist entails and how it shapes your own personal thinking?

Here are a few recent interviews that include me talking about my work as a futurist and why I’m so passionate about the field.

The Mojo Radio Show (starts at 5:30 mins)

Leadership Skills for the 21st Century, a podcast for Success Performance Solutions

The future of leadership for Echo Junction

What Does a Futurist Really Do? with Dawna Jones (scroll down to Episode #2)

I also invite readers to check out the free eBook I compiled, entitled How to Use a Futurist, drawing from the insights of 24 of my global colleagues, in addition to myself.

What has been your greatest accomplishment so far in your career?

I’m not sure I’d describe this as an accomplishment as much as a characteristic. But one of the things I’m most grateful for is my ability to pre-adapt. That is, I don’t wait for change to blindside me – I anticipate and even go so far as to provoke change. That’s why, every 4 years or so, I reinvent myself. Throughout my career I’ve been a secretary, “temp,” TV presenter, freelance journalist, author, career coach, marketing manager, university lecturer, global book consultant, and now futurist.

Those shifts all felt very natural to me. So it was a great joy reading Kenneth Mikkelsen and Richard Martin’s wonderful book, The Neo-Generalist: Where You Go Is Who You Are to discover that I’m not some lone weirdo, but one of a growing number of people with a similar fluid approach to work. We’re the folks who can adapt to any new environment because we’ve accrued a broad range of skills that can be applied to just about anything. In my case, communication in all its forms. 

If you could give one piece of advice to Millennials and future generations, what would it be?

One of the topics of greatest interest and concern at the moment appears to be the future of work. Here’s my advice on that: Become marketable in all the skills and talents that cannot be automated and therefore “robots” (at least for the foreseeable future) will not be able to do. For example, if you’re in retail sales, stop acting transactionally and give your customers an experience they couldn’t get online or via a machine.

Think about ways you can enhance relationships and be fully human. Which means taking responsibility for nurturing your own curiosity. And one way to do that is to stop accepting the recommendations that algorithms serve up on social media sites. Explore new books, fringe magazines, unusual movies, and documentaries you might not otherwise check out. The more interested you are, the more interesting you’ll be.

I believe passionately in a very human future. I’m not going to be around as long as you are (I’m a Boomer!) but as long as you remember that the future is not fixed and that it’s plural, you will be free to determine—from what’s possible, probable and plausible—what your preferable future is going to be.


Thank you Dr. Liz Alexander for sharing your insight and experience with us!


Dr. Alexander is a best-selling book author and strategist as well as a strategic futurist. She runs two consultancies: Leading Thought and Check out with her article, website, and blog for more!


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  1. WOW. Is about the only word I’ve got for this article. “The more interested you are, the more interesting you’ll be.” This is so unconventional compared to what most of society says about staying in one job all your life, working in a single industry etc. Great insights on how these affects the working world and offices, thank you for sharing this with us!

  2. This article really opened my eyes. Dr. Alexander answers all the questions thoroughly and gives her insight on how curiosity and interest will help people in the near future. This is definitely an article I will bookmark to revisit and truly pick apart for myself. I agree that being within our own social bubbles aren’t healthy socially for us as human beings; in order to truly grow, our interest in other people and other cultures will inevitably enrich our lives and give us something that staying in one place can’t give. I quite enjoyed this article.

  3. A very intriguing article that inspires the curiosity within a person! Dr. Alexander encourages people to broaden their horizons (both career and life-wise), and experience new things and learn from those experiences.
    The idea of the reverse debate is very interesting because it forces people to consider things from the opposite perspective, and to have to defend beliefs they would normally go against would really give them a better understanding of how the other side thinks.
    Furthermore, the advice Dr. Alexander gives for the younger generations is underrated by most people but it makes the most sense because of the quick and constant shifting of the job market. Young people need to be ready to take on any kind of task, and Dr. Alexander gives excellent advice on how beneficial it is to be a jack of all trades when it comes to skills and ideas.
    A truly encouraging and insightful article!

  4. This is a fantastic interview; not only it taught me the strategic workings of psychology (something that is rarely discussed), but you shown great skills as an interviewer. You asked great questions, and you actually did your research by mentioning Dr. Alexander’s works.
    The only critique I have is that, though you asked substantial questions, you tend to ask the same question but with different wording. Be aware of that.


  5. This was a truly interesting interview.

    The questions asked were well thought out and allowed the reader to see both who the subject was as well as learn from what was being said. The subjects flowed into one another without repeating and was written with humor that everyone can appreciate.

    Simply a great read, thankyou

  6. Great interview. This was such an interesting read as you never really read topics like this. The questions were amazing and I will be applying her advice to my life now. Thanks!!

  7. One of the marks of an effective interview is the clear construction of questions; in that they are worded in a way that extracts only a direct answer and encourages the interviewee to build on the thought ; thus eliminating those ambiguous variable responses that some of us find so annoying.
    Ms. Heuer has certainly employed that stratagem; well done.

  8. This interview has been one of my favorite reads so far! Dr. Alexander provides amazing insight into the world of curiosity, future, and tolerance. We’re currently living in a world where sides are constantly claiming to be in the right without knowing their opponent’s opinion. The idea of putting yoursefl on the opposite team’s side os critical in preparing a debate because you’re able to refute the argument if needed.

    Dr. Alexander’s answers are rich with advice and links to more sources/information. Your questions were well constructed as to avoid generalization. There was a balanced amount of information on Dr. Alexander herself and the work she does. Thank you for sharing this with us!

  9. The article brings up numerous enlightening points, like opening ones mind to other ways of thinking, that seem almost self-evident yet seldom practiced. This specific point really encompasses the ‘scientific’ method not just of psychology, but of all possible fields of study that require some deeper digging. The author does a good job of eliciting really interesting facts and mechanisms related to the way we think from Dr. Alexander. It was a great read that would certainly do well to influence policy makers on the way education reform exists in the country. I cannot wait to check out Dr. Alexander’s free ebook.

  10. Really great article! I really enjoyed the piece of advice she shared at the end. I think in a world where so many services are now available online and much of the manufacturing business is automated, it’s very important to have the type of skills that can’t be programmed into a robot.

  11. I slightly enjoyed the style of a more editorial interview, particularly with your introduction, more than I would ordinarily with first person articles. It was fascinating to read more about a branch of psychology I hadn’t heard much of before. The graphics you used and the questions you asked Dr. Alexander worked very well together. This is genuinely one of the most insightful, in-depth and intelligent articles I have read on this website, and I love the citations included by Dr. Alexander near the end. Thank you for writing a stellar article!

  12. Great interview! And I recall that the full quote that the title is based off off is, “Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.” I think just being genuinely curious in things, and being open to new experiences is really important, and is something I try to embrace in my own life. Like Dr. Alexander mentioned regarding uniqueness and companies, who knows what new and interesting things could result from the intersection of different ideas.

  13. I loved the information discussed here. Talking about the information gap was very agreeable to me; however I also found it to be a different idea to talk about in a psychology based article. I still find the thoughts on the information gap to be very true though. It can be seen how people acclimatize to groups of similar beliefs or work backgrounds, etc. But breaking those limitations and becoming more curious for different things could be very beneficial to becoming more open minded, more knowledgeable, providing more experiences and as the article also states, “the more interesting you’ll be.” Mentioning the news was also a great input.
    The article was very well put together and I think the format of the questions was suitable in finding out more about this topic. From reading this interview, I feel it provides inspiration to become a more curious person to the readers. People can really use this in life, as looking towards things from different perspectives can be very helpful in debates and understanding others better.

  14. I love idea that curiosity is key to grow up as a person and in your career, and I love how Dr. Alexander, is talking about it. There are many experts who do not know else, other than the fields they were studing. The debating situation that the Dr. Alexander, mentioned is called role play in pedagogy, and it is really important method, because it is learning children to understand other people situations and way of thinking. Two students that were mentioned as an example are the reason why every school, and college should have some „test“ that would help students find out what is their best way of studying. Question for Dr. Alexander, what she think, what is the best way of founding out what is your best way of studying?

  15. This is cool. I’ve found that when I follow the curiosity trail, I tend to be happier, so it’s interesting to see what the future could look like if people stayed on it.
    If I remember correctly, part of the information gap (at least when talking to other people) comes from discomfort at having different beliefs. It’s far more comfortable to reaffirm what you already know to be true than to risk an argument with a friend and potentially ruin your faith in a belief.
    How exactly would an educational psychologist determine what way of learning works best for different people? Tests and quizzes have never seemed very accurate, and a trial-and-error method seems like it would take up too much time. Besides, it seems like people have different best ways of learning that change with the subject they’re studying.

  16. Inspiring! It was nice to hear from an older academic who was hopeful about the future rather than pessimistic. I appreciated her advice regarding our place in the work force.

    The article was well written without any noticeable errors. I truly appreciate reading nicely done articles as so many on the internet these days are full of typos and grammatical mistakes. This is an article to truly be proud of. It was thought provoking, interesting, and uplifting. Thanks for writing.

  17. This article was refreshing to read, it presented a lot of ideas I had never thought about before. I believe that the majority of people in America today could benefit from Dr. Alexander’s ideas about broadening one’s horizons and being open to new ways of thinking. This was an overall very well-written article and I think the more casual tone perfectly fit the subject matter.

  18. I disagree that the future will be more even more human than the last, yet I do think will be more human than we expect. Technology links us to communicate on a wide margin, allowing us to freely express our thoughts and opinions (as demonstrated by social media). As technology increases through innovations, there will no doubt be an increase of jobs being replaced by machines. I agree with Dr. Alexander’s idea of creating human experience, yet this can perhaps be more effectively replicated through machines; although robots answering your calls on the phone are unpleasant now, that very well may change in the near future. I moreso agree with her idea that we need curiosity in all of its forms to drive us to create what we don’t know we need. An insightful read nonetheless, especially in regards to how the segregation of departments in companies limits thought. Collaboration is imperative to human success.

  19. This idea of an information gap and curiosity is extremely interesting. This article strikes certain points about how we are essentially consumed in our own beliefs and don’t spend the time to look at all sides of things. Dr. Alexander shows this in her example about news channels people watch as well as her example in debate club and having to argue on the opposite side. We are all so consumed in our own beliefs that we are not even curious enough to research on other views. This is a very important point that she brings up and is something that we need to make more important, especially in the political climate we live in today. Whenever I am searching through my social media and look at news articles, there are always comments that strongly call out the other side using “liberals” and “conservative.” Instead of just calling out the other extreme side of every issue, we should think of each other as humans and actually come to plausible conclusions and actually be curious enough to research on other opinions and possibly learn more about it. In comments, I always see liberals being aversive to conservatives and conservatives being aversive to liberals. This is just one example of issues that stem from our lack of curiosity and information gap and I think it is important to close this gap. We need to become more informed and interested citizens.

    Another point I thought was interesting was when Dr. Alexander speaks about the two types of students. The first type of student that has more than just what they need to learn from school is able to get a lot more from their school experience because they have social support, grit, and many other things we are not necessarily taught in school. I also thought this was an important point and how being able to teach students like this is a much more effective way to mold children into proper students. Thank you so much for the insightful article!

  20. I really love the last point where we need to be more marketable. To be honest me myself right currently working really-really far from what i was studying in college before. I guess becoming more adaptable is a key to success for us especially in this fluctuating economy.

    I’m currently doing some research on technology innovation and it’s actually correct that some suggested that the reason why some innovation failed was because there was no communication or interaction within one department to another; thus by creating a special group to let every people in each department to share their idea can truly bridge the gap of knowledge.

  21. This, by far, has been one of the best interviews I have read on this site! The questions were clear, consise, and thought provoking. The topic was relevant to the modern day and provided several pieces of invaluable advice.

    Dr. Anderson’s information on becoming a well rounded and educated person is such an important topic. It has become so easy to filter the information we get and it makes it hard to understand other points of view, to be more inclusive. I’d love to hear Dr. Anderson talk more on how we, as individuals, can work towards over coming this obstacle and become the best educated we can be. Frankly, any follow up interview with her would be interesting and insightful to read.

    Overall, great interview and fantastic topic. I would love to see more like it.

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