Curious about curiosity

So, how did it go? Was it good, bad or do you feel indifferent? Did it get you thinking? Provide new knowledge? Stimulate you into action back in your workplace? I am of course referring to the CM 2018/MFPT 2018 and NDT 2018 conferences and exhibition, held last month in Nottingham, UK. I have had a small amount of feedback but, as stated at the end of last month’s column, I am curious to know how it was received and to hear about the latest developments and  key topics of interest in the profession.

Curious. Eager desire to know. Inquisitiveness. I wrote about curiosity back in September 2009. Coincidentally, that article also focused on the annual BINDT conference. I have no qualms about writing about the topic again. After all, it is a key driver in achieving understanding and making progress and improvements. I also believe that curiosity, in the true sense, is being undermined and that there is an increased need to stimulate it as a key character trait.

I do not want to say I told you so but, back in 2009, I predicted that technology was having a detrimental effect on curiosity. However, I did not predict the insidious impact on very young children. I have often joked that we spend the first two years of any child’s life trying to get them to talk and the next 20 trying to get them to shut up! As we all know, the most common word they use when they can talk is the constantly repeated “why?”. Evidently, this is no longer going to be the case. In a recent Sunday Times article, the President of the National Association of Head Teachers claimed that children are now less inquisitive and ask fewer questions when they start primary school. The reason given was that the use of iPads is stunting their imagination and making them passive learners. In another part of the same publication there was an interview with Michael Palin. In it he talked about exploring the countryside around his childhood home in Sheffield, growing up with the adventure of finding things out for himself and discovering places on maps. This makes it difficult for him to accept the idea of being told everything through technology.

Regular readers will know that I talk (OK, I concede that I sometimes shout) at the TV. This used to be limited to sports events, where emotions would get the better of me. More recently, I have found myself extending this to news programmes on both the TV and the radio. The reason is that the questions being asked are not designed to satisfy the curiosity of either the presenter or the audience, nor to establish the facts: they have their own agenda. The questions are aimed at confirming a particular view or interpretation, or at generating a headline or sensational sound bite. I am most infuriated by the questions that are not asked. I have a number of examples, but to relate them would involve venturing into the political arena, which I studiously try to avoid.

Moving on to the safer ground of technology and NDT, curiosity is important in developing understanding, which can then be used to improve application. As with young children, the question “why?” is a key curiosity tool. But the “why?” has to be driven by the correct motives. Too often the question “why?” is used as a means of procrastination to avoid doing something. Alternatively, pursuit of the answer to “why?” is seen as a goal to achieve for personal kudos rather than to expand the body of knowledge. True curiosity requires a willingness to deviate down different paths as they present themselves, rather than stubbornly pursuing a predefined route.

In NDT human factors studies, measures of motivation/curiosity/perseverance have been seen as being potentially related to performance on the task. For example, a measure of intellectual curiosity and the desire to understand many areas of knowledge was included in a pre-work study because it was felt that it might correlate negatively with performance on a task as constrained and repetitive as eddy current testing. Unfortunately, despite being curious about the result, I have yet to find the answer. In the PANI project, curiosity was not a trait that was investigated, but original thinking, which might have a link to curiosity, was found to correlate negatively with performance on the ultrasonic task. However, if there is something that curiosity has taught me, it is that the obvious is not always the correct solution. Curiosity can drive a person to persist at what may be considered a laborious task, just to get to the answer.

I do know that curiosity can improve both personal performance and wellbeing. Aren’t you curious to find out more?

Please note that the views expressed in this column are the author’s own personal ramblings for the purpose of encouraging discussion within NDT News. They do not represent the views of Wood or BINDT.

Letters can be mailed to The Editor, NDT News, Midsummer House, Riverside Way, Bedford Road, Northampton NN1 5NX.
Fax: +44 (0)1604 438300; Email: or email Bernard McGrath direct at

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