Curiosity is too often seen as a negative thing in our culture. Words such as 'curiosity killed the cat' and 'sticking our noses in another one's business' are just a few examples of this. Like any value, curiosity has a positive and a negative side, depending on how and for what purpose you use it.
Curiosity is a core value of innovative leadership
Curiosity lies at the basis of gathering new knowledge, because it allows us to connect existing knowledge with new elements, and thus having creative insights. So absorbing the world around you can lead to creative breakthroughs.
When we talk about creativity and innovation, people mainly think about having ‘the idea’. Many initiatives start from an idea. What we forget is that an idea doesn’t come about just like that, but usually starts to sprout long in advance, consciously or unconsciously. We can stimulate that early process by stimulating our curiosity. The more we do this, the more likely we are to have new connections and new ideas. And that’s exactly what we need to innovate.
I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious. (Albert Einstein)
Curiosity and creativity are close neighbors. Various scientific studies show a strong correlation between the two concepts. One could say that curiosity starts the creative process. For starters, you must be curious to identify problems that are worth solving. Furthermore, you need to be curious to look at complex problems from different angles. There’s evidence that being curious about what is happening around you and looking for different experiences are powerful predictors of creativity.
Enlarge your Curiosity Quotient
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic (Professor of Business Psychology at University College London) says that curiosity is one of the three important qualities (IQ, EQ and CQ) to manage complexity well. Complexity management is one of the business skills that’s in increasing demand. In a report from the World Economic Forum, Complex Problem Solving is the number one skill needed for jobs in 2020. In other words, curiosity is an attitude that you must be looking for in your team and that you should develop actively yourself. People with a higher CQ want to know more, are open to new experiences, are less conformist and generate more original ideas, all elements of an innovative attitude that companies now need so much.
Answers are more appreciated than questions. We must unlearn that only one answer is possible.
What stands in the way of curiosity?
Fortunately, CQ can be developed. But it’s not easy. Being curious as such is not that difficult, it’s in each of us and just waits to get out. Curiosity is a human motivation, just as hunger and thirst are. However, managers often stand in the way of curiosity, and this happens unconsciously most of the times. Here are just some examples of what happens:
The ‘silly question’ look
Briefly rolling with the eyes, making small remarks or swallowing a sigh when hearing an unusual question… these reactions can quickly stop the questioning. So be alert to your own behaviour when people ask questions.
Not giving any space to curiosity and pushing through one perfect solution. Rewarding people for following instructions rather than challenging the status quo by showing curious behaviour. So reward people for their curiosity rather than for their obedience.
Leaving no flexibility in the process. Creating and arranging everything yourself. Establishing detailed procedures to be followed so that there is no room for original ideas that people might come up with. So give people more autonomy: give them a vision and some basic rules, rather than rigid procedures.
Not showing any curiosity yourself
Showing that the answer is more appreciated than the questions. Viewing problems from just one perspective. Having an answer to everything…. instead of saying’ I don’t know… let us sort this out’. So show that you’re curious yourself.
Seeing it as a waste of time
Seeing questioning as a lost time, energy or money. Curiosity is not directly measurable and managers are evaluated on other measurable criteria. However, minor changes can trigger large movements, so for example, start with your own team, start by asking one curious question.
Lack of attention to questions
Not finding it important or not knowing that being curious is important. Expecting that it will come about automatically. A “we’ll see” or “yes, right..” attitude. So deliberately start working with curiosity and think about how you can easily stimulate your own curiosity and that of others.
Curiosity always comes from attention, never the other way round. (Schmitite)
15 ways to unleash curiosity in your team
1. Recognize that your task is to stimulate the curiosity of your people
It is important to set a good example by first of all showing your own curiosity, by presenting a number of perspectives and asking good questions, and in addition by giving sufficient time to explore a topic.
Curious people listen without judging, they explore options to come up with better solutions that support collaboration and lead to innovation.
An example of a very curious leader is Richard Branson. He always makes it clear that he can learn from anyone, anytime and anywhere. Moreover, he says that it’s also a good way to pick out a good leader based on his quality of listening.
2. Start meetings with a question
Too often we are eagerly looking for the right answer, as soon as possible, which means that we do not take enough time to prepare a good question. A clear question that stimulates the discovery of new knowledge is crucial for solving complex problems. So start your meeting with a challenging question that arouses the curiosity in your people rather than just running over the agenda and limiting yourself to operational matters.
Curiosity increases with knowledge: the more we know, the more we want to know.
3. Read broadly and follow your interests
Reading books, both fiction and non-fiction, is something that many good leaders in our world have in common. They stay up-to-date and help their people see the value of information that may not appeal to them right away. Make sure your people have access to different sources of information online and offline. Provide opportunities to learn from each other and especially stimulate sharing of unique knowledge. People must be encouraged to share knowledge that only they have, since we don’t do that naturally, we rather tend to share knowledge that we already have in common, which limits learning and chances for innovation.
Volvo Group University organises the “Group Talks”, where guest speakers from their own organisation share a valuable topic with colleagues worldwide. The sessions are recorded and published on their learning platform.
4. Ask many questions, even if they seem stupid
Questions provoke discussions. Every child is curious, but that disappears between the ages of 5 and 15. The number of ‘curious’ questions then halves, and with it the urge to learn for the learning itself or for the urge to know the answers. Continuing to ask questions is the key to life long learning.
Who, what, where, why, how many, when and how are just a few words with which curious people start their sentences.
5. Allow people to learn something really in-depth
And let people determine their own exploration. Don’t say what they need to seek or learn, let them determine their own path. Let them ask questions that lead to deeper knowledge, even if it doesn’t seem to be useful right away.
6. Define the gaps in your work or results
Curiosity is often stimulated by the mismatch between something that happens and the existing worldview of someone or of a group. Be curious about why something went wrong, rather than spending all your time searching for the guilty. Work consciously to find adequate answers.
7. Remove the stigma that ‘having the wrong sow by the ear’ is bad
Create a microclimate in which curiosity can flourish. Make agreements about how to respond to new ideas or give unusual insights a chance.
8. Promote good questions
Learn people how to ask good questions. A good question starts with ‘Why? What if’?’. How can we reformulate problems into questions? After all, curiosity manifests itself in questioning. Let exploration and discovery itself be the reward. Watch out for external rewards, which can actually reduce the intrinsic motivation to curiosity.
Learn to ask good questions and listen more than you talk, we have two ears and only one mouth for a reason.
9. Learn to be more aware. Apply mindfulness
Mindfulness makes us more curious about things that we didn’t even notice before.
Many people and companies have already drawn inspiration from nature by consciously looking at how nature works and searching which solutions may be hidden in it.
An example of this is the story of Georges de Mestral. After a walk with his dog he was amazed at how difficult he got the burs out of his dog’s coat. He laid the burs under his microscope and discovered that they all contained small hooks, with which they got stuck in his dog’s coat. The idea was born for the Velcro.
10. Get in the head of your customers, stakeholders or colleagues
You can do this from behind your desk or from your meeting room, but even better is to directly approach your potential customers and observe them or ask them questions.
For example, Wrigley -manufacturer of chewing gum- spent many weekends at campsites together with younger chewing gum users and asked them many questions to better understand their lifestyle. Based on these insights, they developed a new chewing gum, that -after two years- has generated more than $500 million in sales.
11. Stay curious about other industries
See if solutions from other industries can solve your problem. Most of the problems have at some time been solved somewhere else. But you can also discover problems that you were not aware of and of which the solution can save your company a lot of money or give ideas o create new services or products.
For example, the concept of Mc Donalds’ Drive Through restaurants is based on the principles of Formula 1 pit stops.
12. Start your meeting with the story of a customer
There’s often a story of a complaint that has been handled very well by your company or a story about a customer who’s been helped wonderfully by a service agent. It could also be a story of a dissatisfied customer and what you could have done better. Starting your meeting with such a story can completely change the atmosphere of the meeting and create energy to bring even more positive change.
A beautiful example is that of the empty chair. Jef Bezos, founder of Amazon, often brought an empty chair to his management meetings and asked the participants to imagine that the client was sitting in the boardroom on that empty chair. He said that it was ‘the most important person in the room’. This triggered customer thinking and discussions from a different point of view. Above all, it brought curiosity about how a customer would react to a particular decision.
13. Change perspectives regularly
Invite different stakeholders to help you look at certain challenges. Also go outside regularly, observe, explore and ask questions. Visit conferences or meet with people who inspire you for some reason or another.
14. Consume brain-strengthening’ media
Documentaries, Ted Talks, trade journals, niche magazines, these are just a few examples. Give people access to solid sources of information. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and other online learning resources can be a great source of inspiration.
15. Make a habit of curiosity
Hold for example regular sessions in which employees come together to explore trends. Invite external speakers or share insights. Start each meeting with a challenging question. Consciously plan time to gain insights, to explore. Start your day with a tour of the office and prepare one question to hear all the different answers to.
“If we were encouraged to be curious, we would stand a better chance of survival” Mark Haw
Overdose of curiosity?
You should be careful tough: make sure you get the right amount of stimulation. The boundary between curiosity and unrest is very thin. That’s why it’s important to know your people well and to adapt your approach to their needs. If not, some people will become restless when the stimuli are getting too high, too new or too uncertain, while others will flourish in such ambiguity. Keeping the right balance between curiosity and uncertainty is an important point of attention.
The one thing you can start today? Ask questions!
Start with this question: ‘How can I release the curiosity in myself and the people around me?