‘Curiouser and curiouser!” Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).’
Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
We are all curious when the untoward occurs, even if few of us experience anything as extraordinary as Alice when she drank out of a potion bottle. But do we bring curiosity into our everyday lives? If Albert Einstein is correct when he said “Curiosity is more important than knowledge”, then what are we missing?
Children are innately curious … from the pre-speech toddler when everything goes in the mouth to be investigated to the endless “Why?” questions. It is sad that our education system seems to shut down much of this inquisitiveness as we move out of our early years. And the same can be said for most of our organisations and institutions (with notable exceptions such as the RSA) Oh, how much better to nurture and encourage it whatever your age, role or occupation.
So why is curiosity valuable? Why is it something we should be striving to encourage? What does a ‘curious culture’ do? Let’s look at curiosity from three different levels:
When was the last time you were curious at work? Really curious? Curiosity is all about being aware: looking and listening; asking questions; sensing what might be going on; suspending judgement. We often dampen our curiosity by making assumptions or even being sceptical about the different and the new. When a colleague puts forward a radically new idea or approach, do you make snap judgements or explore to find out more? Fortunately for Pfizer, the makers of Viagra, their scientists were curious when their trial drug showed other possibilities; possibilities which led to vast profits for the company. Using curiosity in even the smallest way will pay all kinds of dividends (economic, social, personal): from the way we approach our jobs or a piece of work, to our relationships and to our worlds outside work, our friends and family. Remember that people appreciate and respond to curiosity (as long as it is done with respect and doesn’t descend into inquisitiveness!)
Thoughts for actions
- Adopt a curious mindset – it is innate within us all
- Don’t make assumptions – ask open questions
- Suspend judgement until you understand and know more
- Allow yourself to ‘wonder’ before taking a position or decision
- Do something new, different eg attend a Star Wars convention or a folk festival; volunteer at your local homeless shelter. Step out of your comfort zone and suspend judgement whatever you chose to do.
Like so many things in life, the more you practise being curious, the more it will become a way of life. It will shift from a conscious thought (“I am putting on my curiosity hat”) to a subconscious way of approaching life bringing a whole wealth of richness with it.
Help your teams to be curious. Create opportunities for looking at things differently. Explore new ways of doing things… “If we had a blank sheet of paper, what would we do?” If we were the market leader, or innovative challenger, what then? Diversity is a great aid to team curiosity. Different backgrounds, experiences, expertise and perspectives will for most team create an in-built curiosity. And where you haven’t got it within the team, bring in others: find out their ideas and views.
Thoughts for actions
- The Curiosity Shop. Get together with your team to talk curiosity. What it means to be curious, and debate what it can bring. Allow others to bring their thoughts and ideas, listen and work with them to adopt those which will make a sustainable difference.
- Express agenda items as questions
– a simple but powerful way of getting people to think about an issue
- Ask questions which help people to be curious
- Avoid comments which suppress curiosity
– and help team members to hold each other to account
- Recognise curiosity (Award a curiosity cup? Could be a light hearted bit of fun which also
Is curiosity encouraged in your organisation? A curious organisation is open to new ideas and ways of seeing the world. As Ron Ricci, Vice President, Executive and Customer Engagement at Cisco says: “I would go as far as to say that any organization trying to become adaptable, agile or to execute faster in today’s hyper-connected markets requires a strong dose of “curiosity” baked into its culture.”* Not only that, work is far more rewarding when curiosity is built in.
Thoughts for actions
- Are your leaders already ‘curious’ role models? If so, half the battle is won – use them to support curiosity, gather stories and communicate
- Gather a ‘curious culture’ team together to explore what it might mean for your organisation – the myths and the realities; the barriers and the prizes
- Make it fun! Challenge people to share their thoughts: ‘The Curiosity of the Week’
* Ron Ricci, Vice President, Executive and Customer Engagement at Cisco on curious cultures. http://switchandshift.com/how-curious-is-your-organization