Samuel Johnson, the 18th century writer and lexicographer, described curiosity as the 'thirst of the soul'. He was ambivalent about its impact, regarding curiosity as both ‘inflaming and tormenting’ us. Despite this, he recognised it as a key component of a ‘vigorous intellect’. Unsurprisingly, there are no hard and fast rules as to what makes a good copywriter. But many would view curiosity as an essential skill, acting as the cradle of the creativity required to produce impactful copy that engages with its target audience.
What is curiosity?
But what is curiosity exactly? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as ‘a strong desire to know or learn something’. But it’s a slippery term, which means different things in different contexts.
Historically, curiosity has often been regarded as an intrusive desire to poke our noses into matters that don’t concern us or as an attraction to novelty for its own sake. But it has also been viewed in a much more favourable light as the impulse that drives scientists, philosophers and artists to ask difficult questions, challenge orthodoxy and advance our knowledge of what it means to be human. This urge to learn - often for the joy of learning - requires a mind open to different experiences and different ways of looking at life.
It’s a powerful human attribute which seeks to discover what lies beyond our present understanding of the world. Albert Einstein once remarked, “I have no special talent, I am only passionately curious”. He was being modest, but it’s an important point. It was his passion for enquiry - his boundless curiosity about what made the world tick - that enabled him to challenge mainstream scientific thinking and make such a significant contribution to our understanding of space and time.
On a philosophical level, we know that curiosity comes in different forms. It can be defined as conceptual or general curiosity, based on a broad interest in a search for new things, new theories and new ways of conceptualising the world. Or as a practical or specific curiosity, based on a defined search for facts that help address a particular problem. Either way, it appears to be an innate human quality, a function of evolution. Which provides a mechanism to mediate between the known and the unknown and reveal new worlds, both physical and metaphysical.
The relationship between curiosity and creativity
Creativity can be defined as the use of the imagination to create something new, whether an idea, a theory or a physical object. On the face of it, the relationship between curiosity and creativity is an obvious one. But, scientific and philosophical interest in the concept of curiosity - being curious about curiosity - has fluctuated over time and taken different forms in different cultures. Think of the impact of ancient Greek philosophy, the flowering of science during the Islamic Golden Age or the powerful intellectual enquiry generated by the Enlightenment. And compare this to the obscurantism and anti-intellectualism that has prevailed in other periods of human history.
What we can see is that curiosity enables us to jump out of intellectual tramlines, ask searching questions, which take us to different places, and adopt a genuinely playful approach to learning. The link between curiosity and creativity stems directly from the way curiosity sparks more original thinking, deeper idea generation and higher creativity.
A creative copywriter works with ideas as well as words. They use their imagination to create original, compelling copy which seizes people’s attention and makes them want to dig deeper. If creativity is the art of making connections between different ideas to produce something both novel and of value, curiosity is the motor which spurs us on to acquire knowledge. It is the thirst that must be quenched. As the noted American writer and wit Dorothy Parker said, “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” Combined with a passion for writing, empathy, strong analytical skills and adaptability, curiosity provides the foundation for creative copywriting.