How to Be an Explorer

Exploration is key to survival.

We believe this so whole-heartedly that our business revolves around a concept we call Exploratory Leadership. Exploration is the act of traveling through unfamiliar territories in order to learn. These territories are not always physical locations; changing jobs and becoming a parent are both new territories, for example. Exploratory Leadership, then, is the practice of motivating people (yourself included) to travel into the unknown in order to discover more possibility.

Why would you intentionally put yourself into unknown situations? We think the real question is, why not?

Engineer and scientist Bill Nye says if you stop exploring, you will not move forward as a species. Exploration is that essential (and he would know).

Earlier this year we did an event in partnership with the Minneapolis Institute of Art in which we turned all museum visitors into explorers for the night. We equipped people from the community with opportunities to create, learn, mingle, and play — all in the name of exploration. While we can’t replicate the incredible evening, which was called Third Thursday: Exploration with Studio/E, we can provide some of the concepts we used to make explorers out of everybody.

How to be an explorer:

Start with a curious mindset

When you find yourself in the unknown, we encourage the mindset of a curious explorer. This means being open to experimentation, agility, relevance, and possibility.

Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. has dedicated much of her career to understanding mindsets, and ultimately came up with two main lanes: the fixed and growth mindsets. The mindset of a curious explorer falls under the growth category, in which one believes intelligence can be developed, and failure is not failure but a springboard for growth. For a fantastic look at Dweck’s mindsets and how they apply to life, take a look at this article.

One way we tap into mindset in Studio/E programming is with a collaborative quilt exercise. During this exercise at the museum, we gave participants fabric, tools to manipulate it, and a space to build with others. They could not control what those did with the quilt before and after them. What resulted was a wall of possibility, emerging a beautiful design as the night went on. When you collaborate with others on making a quilt, you are faced with unknown circumstances because you cannot predict what’s coming next. In this situation, having the mindset of a curious explorer is key.

You need not build a quilt in order to exercise this mindset, but you can use it as an analogy to get you thinking like a curious explorer. Sometimes you will be in situations in which you need to think as someone building a puzzle would think. Certain pieces go with certain pieces and there is rhyme and reason to what you must do. Other times you’ll be better off understanding that you can’t predict what is about to come, so the more you are open to it — just like you would have to be while building a collaborative quilt — the more successful you’ll be in that unknown territory.

Once you’ve got the mindset down, pay attention to how it feels and notice what new possibilities show up!

Ask exploratory questions

A commitment to curiosity and lifelong learning is essential to developing the practice of Exploratory Leadership. Exploratory questions help you understand the needs, objectives, and challenges of others, and are especially beneficial when meeting new people. (By the way, when we say exploratory questions we mean questions that dig deeper than “what do you do?” and “where do you live?”).

At Third Thursday, participants connected with someone they didn’t know and asked each other five exploratory questions. They recorded one another’s answers and affixed Polaroid photos to them, creating explorer bios. From there, they used different colored strings to build a bridge to new connections, existing connections, and people with common interests. It was an incredible exercise to witness.

Look what asking a few questions can reveal:

Get clear on your vision

When you look back at today a month from now, what has to happen in order for you to consider the time passed a success? That’s how granular we want you to get when thinking about your vision.

A fun and effective way to gain clarity on what you want out of your life is to create a vision board. Vision boards engage your imagination, bring clarity to the emotional underpinning of your goals, and really ground you in your desire. Only once your goals are crystal clear can you begin to manifest them.

Learn about something new

The desire (or lack thereof) to be a lifelong learner is a foolproof way to filter out wannabe explorers and real explorers. If you’re not learning, you’re not growing.

Explorers are constantly learning about new things, trying to put pieces together to create new ideas. Creativity is the fusion of two or more disparate concepts, so the more concepts you learn about the more creative you can be.

Learning is also fun. Who doesn’t like to learn about random things like a tent that went on a 2,000-kilometer expedition of the Yukon River?

There are virtually endless ways to learn something new: ask someone a question, buy a magazine you wouldn’t ordinarily read, watch a video on YouTube, visit a library and choose a random book, etc.

Surround yourself with people who are different from you

It’s human nature to spend time with people who think and act like you, but very little learning happens that way. We encourage you to spend some time with people from different fields and backgrounds than you so you can gain new perspectives and learn about new experiences.

One of the highlights of Third Thursday: Exploration with Studio/E was a panel discussion between CaringBridge CEO Liwanag Ojala, polar explorer Tyler Fish, CCO of Target Todd Waterbury, author and spoken work artist Dessa, and co-founder of Studio/E Nate Garvis. Together, the five of them discussed how they incorporate exploration into their very different lives. As you can imagine, the conversation was unpredictable and varied, and resulted in great learning for everyone involved.

If you don’t know many people who are different from you, consider striking up a conversation with a stranger at a museum or coffee shop you don’t normally go to. If you open yourself up to new experiences like, you never know what awaits you.

Remember what Bill Nye said: if you’re not exploring, you won’t evolve as a species. If you want to begin incorporating exploration into your life, remember to:

  • Adopt a curious mindset – Be open to experimentation, agility, and possibility. Like artist Phil Hansen says, when you change your belief, you change your life.
  • Get clear on your vision – Only once you know where you want to go can you begin creating your pathway there. Vision boards are a nice practice for gaining clarity.
  • Learn about something new – Learning = growth. It’s really as simple as that.
  • Surround yourself with people who are different from you – You will not only hear new perspectives, but you will gain exposure to new ways of thinking.

Now that you have some of the concepts, get exploring!

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Want to explore some more? We invite you to check out our programs and events, and take a look at the Third Thursday: Exploration with Studio/E video recap.

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