A father and his young son were out walking one afternoon, when the boy asked how the electricity went through the wires stretched between the telephone poles. "I don't know," said the father. "I never knew much about electricity."

A few blocks later the boy asked what caused lightning and thunder.

"To tell you the truth," said the father, "I never exactly understood that myself."

The boy continued to ask questions through the walk, none of which the father could explain. Finally, as they were nearing home, the boy said, "Dad, I hope you don't mind me asking you so many questions."

"Of course not," replied the father. "How else are you going to learn?"

Sooner or later, of course, the boy will stop asking his father questions, and that will be unfortunate. Curiosity and the desire to learn should always be encouraged and nurtured.

It's quite possible that the son's curiosity piqued the father's interest in learning something new. Google might be a good place to start. It is never enough to be satisfied with "I don't know."

Just as parents should encourage their children to remain curious and respect learning, the same is true for managers and supervisors. They must set an example for their employees. If they have stopped learning and growing, they will be hard-pressed to inspire their subordinates to do so, no matter how much they may pretend to encourage it.

One of the world's greatest scientists, Albert Einstein, described the value of curiosity this way: "The important thing is not to stop questioning. … 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 every day."

Eleanor Roosevelt said of curiosity: "I think, at a child's birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity."

That view is quite evident in works of British author Rudyard Kipling. He wrote the following poem about the curious nature of man:

I KEEP six honest serving men

(They taught me all I knew);

Their names are What and Why and When

And How and Where and Who.

I send them over land and sea,

I send them east and west;

But after they have worked for me,

I give them all a rest.

I let them rest from nine till five,

For I am busy then,

As well as breakfast, lunch and tea,

For they are hungry men.

But different folk have different views;

I know a person small—

She keeps ten million serving-men,

Who get no rest at all!

She sends 'em abroad on her own affairs,

From the second she opens her eyes—

One million Hows, two million Wheres,

And seven million Whys!

Mackay's Moral: Let curiosity turn "I don't know" into "I want to find out."

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.