The greatest invention in the world is the mind of a child – Thomas Edison

By Susan Davis

When the word curiosity is tossed into a conversation between leaders it often ends up in a shunned pile of other related words like imagination and creativity. These words are also identified as the hallmark traits issued to newly minted progeny. Many of us have experienced the stunning inquisition skills of a three-year old that can pack a day from cover to cover while attempting to deploy all questions available in the universe beginning with “why”. Just as you prepare to answer the child’s first noble question – ie: “Why is the sky blue?” the answer is interrupted with another “why” question. This sends you off scurrying to somehow adequately answer both questions. Part way through your well-formulated answer to the two-part question, there comes another “why” question out of thin air and off we go – fetching ideas, concepts, truths and philosophies that would impress Einstein but do not seem to minutely satisfy the young sprout. This is exquisitely evidenced by the great list of curious questions that follow with precision and speed!

Is it any wonder that civilized, informed, and experienced leaders shudder when they unexpectedly find themselves and/or their prestigious colleagues confronted with the concept of curiosity. What folly could this intrusion create? It has been stated for years that “curiosity killed the cat” and if that is true, do we believe humans would fare better? Well, as it turns out, the young one may be onto something. As we turn to well-researched benefits of Curiosity in Business, there appears to be more than a fighting chance for this word to be reengaged for mainstream business conversation. It is now documented in credible research, that capturing curiosity in an organization has positive effects on performance. 

Here are a few highlights:

  • Curiosity helps people think more deeply and rationally which spawns better informed decisions and more creative solutions.
  • Everyday, new business competitors are entering the market and staying curious has been proved to expedite resiliency strategies. 
  • Successful collaborative efforts are formed and strengthened by curiosity, both internally and externally.
  • Routine and innovative work is also enhanced by using curiosity to take a new perspective. Unnecessary errors are subsequently avoided and fresh opportunities are identified.
  • Curious employees seek the most information from coworkers which leads to greater creativity in providing customer service and/or improving processes or services.
  • Studies also find that curiosity is linked to decreased anxiety and emotional reactions in the workplace.

So what are barriers to reinstating curiosity as a word of virtue in the business community? To move a word from its captive state takes some effort. Here are some of the biases that link magnetically to the concept of curiosity. Organizational leadership can challenge the following:

  • A curious presence undermines the cultivated practice of a leader having all the right answers vs all the right questions. (How do your employees earn promotions?)
  • A review of 520 Chief Learning and Talent Officers revealed that they believe a curious company would be more difficult to manage. Their argument was supported by their belief that more diverse thoughts would need to be explored to move forward or make decisions.
  • Curiosity is a luxury and not a part of the production of services or products, therefore a waste of time and effort.

What are ways you can lift the lid on curiosity?

  • Hire for curiosity. These are team members who embrace a predisposition to collaboration across disciplines. This skill requires both curiosity and empathy.  Listen closely to questions potential new hires ask during their interview to identify their curiosity quotient.
  • Model curiosity with masterful inquisitiveness. This listening posture is a valuable signal to employees that this organization values those who listen and seek to understand.
  • Reward a “listening before action” model rather than the “action before listening” model. Creating and sustaining an environment of curiosity should move from grudging tolerance to reward.
  • While metric-based performance targets are largely used for earning rewards in organizations; prioritize and reward learning goals. This new view involves developing competence, skills, and mastery of many new situations which will generate greater performance.

Curiosity cleans up well in the marketplace; providing resilience and strength to organizations through the superpowers it associates with. It enhances: listening, empathy, resiliency, collaboration, creativity, and innovation. If you would like to speed up your access to curiosity, hangout with a three-year old for a day! You will both learn something invaluable.

Curiosity and creativity are intelligence having fun – Albert Einstein