Episode 58 - Curiosity: Bad for Cats, Good for Business
Curiosity is rarely encouraged at work. In fact, leaders and organisations often actively discourage being inquisitive. This week we explore the benefits of curiosity, and four ways to encourage it in your team.
Welcome to episode 58 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we’re looking at the benefits of curiosity, and how to encourage it in your team.
The word “curiosity” often conjures up negative connotations. If I asked you to tell me a popular saying about curiosity, it would most likely be “curiosity killed the cat”. This fear of being inquisitive translates into our organisations. Surely if people become curious at work they’re going to neglect their day jobs and start venturing into distraction. And won’t this lead to conflict, reduced productivity and a lack of clarity?
However, research on curiosity demonstrates that these concerns are unfounded, and that curiosity provides a range of benefits for individuals and organisations.
Here’s just a sample of what the research tells us about the benefits of curiosity:
Curiosity helps us to become more accurate in our decision making. When we are curious, we seek out more alternatives. This helps us to avoid stereotyping people and selectively choosing information that supports our viewpoint.
When people are encouraged to be curious, they share information with others more readily and listen more attentively to their perspectives. This helps us to build empathy and insight.
Curiosity actually reduces conflict. It encourages people to consider alternative perspectives and what it would be like to be in the other person’s shoes.
For a great summary of the research, check out the Why Curiosity Matters spotlight series in Harvard Business Review. I’ve provided a link in the show notes - https://hbr.org/2018/09/curiosity
It appears we’re hardwired as humans to be curious, but our education systems and organisations often don’t reward this natural and helpful drive to explore and discover. However, as leaders, there are simple steps we can take to encourage curiosity amongst our people. Here are four ideas to start with:
Encourage questions. I’ve worked with organisations where asking a question is equated with being negative and stepping beyond your role. It was debilitating for the organisation and for the people, taking away initiative and discretionary effort. Make it safe to ask questions. Role model the inquisitive use of questions with your team.
Build alternatives. Always go beyond the first and most obvious option to explore other alternatives. So often we stop at option one, when the best idea might be a combination of option two and option three.
Provide time for exploration. Curiosity takes time, and that time needs to be pressure-free and self-directed. This podcast is driven by the questions I ask myself, combined with the time to explore the answers. When I was working in management consulting there was very little time to be curious which, ironically, was often what clients valued the most.
Pursue learning. Ongoing learning builds the capability of the individual and the capacity of the organisation. Encourage and fund your people to undertake additional learning they’re interested in, even if it isn’t obviously linked to the work. Sometimes the connections people can draw between what they’ve learned and the organisation’s needs will surprise you.
So this week I encourage you to invest time in being curious, and allow the same for your people as well. You might be surprised at the benefits that result.