As an innovation keynote speaker I travel a lot. As much as I hate waiting at airports and the grind of actual travel, I love being in a different place, meeting new people, and seeing new things I can’t see in my own little universe. It always surprises me when I stop to ask directions (yes, I know about GPS!) how many people never even leave their own neighborhood or even know that much about it. Most people don’t pay attention to the curious details of life.
A quote by Einstein states:
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.”
One person who really took this to heart is a guy named Matt Green. Green was a civil engineer with a good job and a really good paycheck, but he had a yearning to get out of his cubicle and explore. So he did something few people would ever even consider. He quit his job and made the decision to explore all 8000 miles of New York City’s streets, bridges and parks.
I lived in New York City for several years and I never once went to the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building. Ask anyone who lives in a big city if they ever go to the typical tourist places and they’ll probably say no. Most people are way too focused on daily survival and making a living. We go where we need to go and know what we need to know.
Matt Green had a different plan. He wanted to explore New York City just for the heck of it. He had no end goal in mind at all. If you ask him what the goal is he would say he didn’t really have one. It was just curiosity for curiosity’s sake.
Director Jeremy Workman captures Green’s eccentric lifestyle of living off of $15 a day and cat sitting to have a place to sleep. This lesson in curiosity was turned into a documentary called “The World Before Your Feet”.
It’s not the first time he’s done something like this. He also walked 3100 miles across the U.S. from Rockaway Beach in New York to Rockaway Beach, Oregon. Green says “Instead of seeing a million places for just a minute each, I’m going to spend a million minutes exploring just one place.” This allows him to see more details.
This is a technique that inventors use to practice mindful observation. Innovation isn’t always major and disruptive, sometimes it can just be a slight change in something to make it a different product. If you look around you right now there are probably a handful of things that could be changed to work better. Force yourself to focus on them to make improvements and come up with a totally new product. As you do, think about the end user’s needs and wants. How can you make that product better for them?
As an innovation keynote speaker I always encourage people to “fill their brains with random knowledge”. I can imagine Green’s brain is bursting with random knowledge. This is a secret that inventors use to become prolific as innovators.
“The World Beneath Your Feet” is a study in how we forget to stop and smell the roses, and how fascinating they can be if we take the time to really see the details.
We can all take a lesson in curiosity from Matt Green