The plan was to spend two years traveling⁠—staying with friends, camping in his car, experiencing myriad slices of Americana, asking a lot of questions, and listening, really listening, to people and their stories.

It was 2019. And, says Scott Keoni Shigeoka (’11 Comm.), “We were in a crisis of curiosity.”

That is, “There was a lot of tension and conflict erupting across the country. We were divided as a nation. And we weren’t doing much to really understand each other. Instead of trying to build relationships with people, we were turning our heads away from others.”

Profile of Scott Keoni Shigeoka in black and white
Scott Keoni Shigeoka (Courtesy UT Austin)

So Shigeoka, a self-described “queer Japanese American who has spent most of [his] adult life in the San Francisco Bay Area,” embarked on a cross-country search for understanding. He wondered: “Are there ways we can get back together”⁠—regardless of creed, color, and politics?

He was on the road 13 months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, cutting short his travels. But he was still able to make it from California to Colorado, North Carolina, Georgia, Minnesota, and more. “I was going to megachurches and Trump rallies and trying to understand the antidotes to all of this and how we can actually be invested and interested,” Shigeoka says. “Curiosity is a simple, fundamental muscle that we are all born with.”

It’s also something, he says, many of us have lost. And his observations from his road trip and other life experiences, including a Fulbright-mtvU Fellowship, have become the basis for his forthcoming book in November. Seek: How Curiosity Can Transform Your Life and Change the World focuses on how curiosity fosters healing and strengthens relationships. It also includes practical tips for welcoming curiosity into daily life.

“I thought it was our country that was suffering from this crisis of curiosity. It’s also our personal lives,” Shigeoka says.

He created the DIVE model to spark curiosity and promote understanding. Each letter represents a core muscle of curiosity that people can practice in everyday life. D is to “detach” from assumptions, biases, and certainties. “Uncertainties and unknowns terrify us the same way death terrifies us,” Shigeoka says. But “confronting what we fear with curiosity can actually make us more courageous. We need to let go so we can discover something new.”

I is for “intend,” and being aware of our mindset and settings. V is for “value,” and recognizing the inherent worth of all people⁠—including yourself. E is for “embrace,” and confronting hard things.

“Life is never just easy and calm,” Shigeoka says. “Curiosity isn’t just about play and learning; it’s also a practice that can help us access inner strength and bravery when we are going through life’s toughest moments.”

Shigeoka says curiosity is contagious. “We’re not on this journey alone. By being curious, we can model that for everyone around us⁠—our children, spouses, families, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and even strangers.”

A freelance storyteller and creative consultant, Shigeoka explored his own natural curiosity first as a journalism student at the Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University and later writing about music for the Washington Post’s now-defunct commuter newspaper Express. From 2014 to 2015, on a Fulbright in Iceland, he helped launch Saga Fest, a festival aimed at building community and promoting environmental sustainability, as well as other projects.

Upon his return to the States until 2019, when he left on his road trip, he worked for the global design company IDEO in the Bay Area. Since then he’s collaborated with artists such as David Byrne from the Talking Heads and taught classes in curiosity and creativity at the University of Texas at Austin.

Born and raised in Hawai‘i, he’s now based in Twentynine Palms, California. “I could not be an ambassador for curiosity if I wasn’t curious about other people and their stories,” Shigeoka says. “All of our stories matter, so I encourage everyone to be vulnerable and brave by telling your own.”