Take Time to Cultivate and Practice Curiosity
If you study leadership, you know the value of curiosity. The business case is clear: curiosity helps us adapt to uncertainty, think more deeply and rationally about decisions, produce more creative solutions, and develop more trusting and collaborative relationships with colleagues.
And it turns out that practicing curiosity can also help with other important business outcomes such as retaining leaders, strengthening cultures, and practicing inclusion.
If we know the value of curiosity but aren’t seeing it practiced regularly, what is getting in the way?
As Harvard Business Review notes, researchers have found that although leaders might say they treasure inquisitive minds, most stifle curiosity, fearing it will increase risk and inefficiency.
In one survey of more than 3,000 employees from a wide range of firms and industries, only about 24% reported regularly feeling curious in their jobs, and about 70% said they face barriers to asking more questions at work.*
Let’s Shift the Narrative on Curiosity
For many of us, especially in the last couple of years, it’s a bit easier to settle into the tried and true, the known, the comfortable, the familiar.
But the familiar is a velvet cage. A deceivingly comfortable space, but a cage, nonetheless. When we fall prey to this trap, we miss out on the beauty, diversity, and vibrancy of this life we have been given.
The good news though, is there is a massive upside to going beyond the familiar when we can be more curious in our daily lives. When we are curious about our fellow humans and the world around us:
- We can build deeper relationships
- We can grow by learning, unlearning, and relearning
- We can find out how we belong
- We can find a deeper sense of meaning
Practicing Curiosity in Action
So, how do we practice curiosity? What does that look like in action? As with most things, it pays to start with yourself. Below are three ideas you can start to cultivate to increase your personal investment in curiosity:
Focus on why
Many of the most powerful questions start with “why”. Many of you may have read Start with Why, where Simon Sinek suggests that people won’t truly buy into a product, service, movement, or idea until they understand the WHY behind it.
You can practice curiosity by questioning why you do the specific things you do. This could have application for you personally or in your day-to-day work tasks.
TRY THIS OUT: Think about where you are spending time and make sure you know why that is important and why you do it the way you do it. If you can’t find an answer to your question, consider eliminating these activities.
Unlearn and relearn, rinse and repeat, forever
Many people inherently believe they have figured out this world and everything in it. Their views and beliefs are entrenched, and their mindset fixed.
In the leadership research world, Carol Dweck's 2007 book on her growth vs. fixed mindset theory is titled Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. In this book, Dweck describes the importance of having the right mindset to maximize our potential and capitalize on our strengths. Those with a growth mindset explore possibilities and challenge their own assumptions, and much more!
Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge, describe that individuals with a growth mindset are more successful at taking on business challenges, whereas those with a fixed mindset performed more poorly on business challenges and gave up more quickly. In other words, mindsets, not skillsets, make all the difference when faced with a challenging situation.
TRY THIS OUT: Take something you believe/know and study it from all angles and across a broad set of sources. Think, rethink, repeat. You might discover something new to add to your perspective or cultivate more empathy toward another’s point of view.
Seek out difference
Our curiosity quotient, or appetite, can be magnified when we seek out and ask for difference. How many meetings have you sat in during your career, where the meeting or team leader laid out a plan and you felt compelled to agree because you didn’t want to rock the boat or seem disrespectful of the team’s hard work, or knew the leader was asking you to rubber-stamp the plan but not ask questions?
Very few team members will stick their necks out and ask a question for fear of rocking the proverbial boat, so you will need to cultivate it. Personally, I’ve been working hard on this behavior by inviting difference and encouraging it. At first, I’ve found lots of blank faces. Team members who aren’t sure if I really mean it or not. They don’t want to offend me, and they aren’t sure what is safe to acknowledge or say out loud.
TRY THIS OUT: When you think you have the “right” answer, ask a colleague for a different approach, or something to add to your perspective. Through this small proactive step of asking a question, you might just find a better solution (plus deepen your connections with others).
By practicing curiosity there is an incredible opportunity to level up our leadership game—both for ourselves (personally and professionally) and for the organizations we support. We are going to continue the conversation on Curiosity and other skills we see as the future of leadership, so stay tuned!
*Harvard Business Review, The Business Case for Curiosity, Francesca Gino