Books Career Development

The Final Thing on My 2018 To-Do List

From Contempt to Curiosity

The Final Thing on My 2018 To-Do List

The final thing on my 2018 to-do list that needs to be completed is finishing Caitlin Walker’s book, “From Contempt to Curiosity.” I have a few chapters left. It’s been highly thought provoking to this point.

Clean Language

One big take-away for me is the realization that I too often assume too much about people when they are conveying information to me. I assume I understand their thinking. I assume I know their motivations. I assume I understand the contexts in which they operate. These assumptions are highly influenced by my own perceptions based on my own experiences. The information someone conveys to me gets all “dirty” due to my assumptions and perceptions.

The antidote to this muddied situation is to use “clean language” to draw more information from others, information expressed in their own words from their own perspective which then helps me understand what they are conveying. This is a better way to understand how people operate, how they interpret contexts, and how they would like things to be.


Another concept in the book is using “metaphors” to express what something is like for a person. For example, to the question, “When you are working at your best, that is like what?” someone might respond, “I am like the conductor of an orchestra leading the many players in a beautiful symphony.” Understanding someone’s metaphor for something like what they are like when working at their best could help me collaborate with that person to a higher degree. It also brings me out of contempt for someone to curiosity about why they work they way they do. This concept can be applied in many settings in addition to work.

One section of the book describes an employee with whom a manager was experiencing some frustrations regarding the employee’s lack of productivity. When the employee’s metaphor for what he was like when he was working at his best was revealed, the manager gained a better understanding about this employee.
He changed his approach to better match the employee’s approach to working at his best and the problem was solved. This story helped me realize that I should have more curiosity and less contempt toward myself because the employee’s metaphor is exactly like mine!

Here is the exchange between Caitlin and the employee (Rupert):

Caitlin: When you’re working at your best, you’re like what?

Rupert: I’m creative.

Caitlin: That’s creative like what?

Rupert: It’s like there’s a sudden spark (snaps his finger from behind his head forward in front of him).

Caitlin: And where does that spark come from?

Rupert: From behind me – its like a primordial soup.

Caitlin: And when there’s a spark that comes from behind you, a primordial soup, then what happens?

Rupert: (Snaps finger again and points in front of him.) It flies to its landing site.

Caitlin: What kind of landing site?

Rupert: They’re things I’m working on, they’re out in front of me, flashing.

Caitlin: And how many landing sites are there?

Rupert: About seven.

Caitlin: And what happens just before a spark flies like that?

Rupert: If I try to make it happen the spark never comes. I need to be looking the other way for the primordial soup to send out a spark. Maybe reading New Scientist or browsing biological viruses or playing a new Internet game. Everything I’m learning feeds this primordial soup, gets mixed in. All of the different ideas and structures just keep feeding it.

Rupert: When I’m not looking that’s when the spark will come. It, kind of, flies out of the primordial soup and lands on the relevant site as a fully formed solution.

– “From Contempt to Curiosity,” pages 78, 79

That is exactly how I operate! I need many things to solve (Rupert’s landing sites). I need the vast primordial soup to feed my creativity. For me, it’s books and movies and podcasts and conversations and art and doodling and meditating and on and on. Like Rupert, “if I try to make it happen the spark never comes.” For me, the balance to this is that I also function very well under pressure. So, if something urgent needs to be solved, say a production problem at work, for example, it’s like the primordial soup is in a pressure cooker and the sparks fly out faster.

Finishing Up

Speaking of pressure, I now have less than 12 hours to finish the last 40 pages of Caitlin’s book before the year ends. I better hop to it! Finishing this book will give me 40 books read in total for the year (9 career related, 4 on art, 3 on history, 6 on meditation, 9 works of fiction, and 9 non-fiction/non-career related). It’s been a year of good reading. The list of titles I’ve read can be found HERE.

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