Stella’s Business Case for Curiosity
As Stella rushed into the mandated workshop called Curiosity as a Driver of Innovation, she grabbed another cup of coffee, settled into a chair by the door for a fast get-away, and started grumbling about the long list of things she had to do that were certainly more important than exploring her curiosity. “I mean, who has time for this fluff? I have work to do,” she muttered under her breath.
“And besides, I’m plenty curious,” she thought. “Only this morning I asked Amara how she was progressing on the R&D project report. That’s curiosity, right?”
“Clear, quick decision making, efficiency, and rationality are what professionalism is all about, especially at work. Everyone knows, curiosity killed the cat,” she told herself as she began the curiosity profile assessment. And this business philosophy of hers had gotten her this far; Stella had received corporate awards for efficiency so frequently that they were almost cliché.
But this was a tricky time in the tech sector; new regulations, faster technology, and increased competition, at home and abroad, had shaken the industry, and company leaders were calling for innovation strategies to be stepped up. Stella had doubled down on her “efficiency and production” standards, looking for innovative ways to work leaner but was coming up with the same results. This workshop series was an HR initiative designed to help the senior leaders, like Stella, learn how to innovate using soft skills. She thought it was lame, but frankly she was game to try anything.
“Uh oh!” Two days later Stella was shocked by her assessment results: she barely made the curiosity register. Her results indicate that she is:
A conventional thinker in lieu of flexible and out of the box
Pragmatic instead of intellectually hungry
A play it safe type versus a risk taker
How Stella Got Her Curiosity On
“Perhaps a lack of curiosity is a problem in business after all…” she thought, recalling the ever-changing nature of markets and her own sector’s challenges to keep up, never mind to get ahead.
Stella is on to something! Curiosity is simply defined as 1. An inquisitive interest. 2. A strong desire to know of learn something. A curious mind thinks deeply, broadly, and uniquely about challenges and decisions and is open to innovation and creative solutions. This is exactly what businesses and organizations need to be flexible and thrive in today’s economy – yet many employers fear that nurturing curiosity will introduce inefficiency and mayhem more than solve problems. But, it doesn’t require sweeping reform to bring curiosity into the business sector. Small changes in daily habits and in corporate culture can foster personal and professional “curious thinking” practices in every industry with only a bit of risk.
Stella flipped back through the workshop notes to find a few small, Stella-sized, do-able steps she could take to foster her own curiosity and maybe get curiosity flowing in her department. “What do I have to lose?” she thought.
1. USE CURIOSITY-BASED THINKING, AND ASK A QUESTION
Stella emailed her department a simple question: “What is one thing we can change or improve in the R&D process to improve our outcomes?” She then braced herself for chaos, complaints, and crazy ideas, but the risk paid off. She received an array of interesting, well considered, and even some really simple and inexpensive improvements that she had the power to implement. “From now on,” she thought, “we’re all going to be asking more ‘why’ and ‘what if’ questions around here.”
2. FOCUS ON LEARNING NOT ACHIEVEMENT
In weekly progress meetings, Stella usually focused on achievement, success, and milestones, such as quotas and deadlines. To encourage free thinking and curiosity, she shifted her focus to emphasize learning. So, instead of asking Neil for a progress report on the new business analytics program, she asked him if there was a workshop or class on data tracking that he would like to take. Neil’s eyes lit up! The software that the company already owned came with a free 5-day class, but no one had attended it because those sorts of things weren’t part of the corporate culture. He jumped at the chance to go and learn the ins and outs of the technology.
3. HIRE CURIOUS PEOPLE
This is an easy step to bring all of the benefits of curiosity to the world of business. As Stella began to interview for a programmer position, she added the curiosity assessment to the pre-interview process and opened up the type of questions she asked potential new hires to include inquires on outside interests, hobbies, reading habits, and openness to continuing education. Sure, these new hires asked a lot of questions – but isn’t that the point?
Hats off to Stella! Her department is reaping the results of her small, Stella-sized, do-able steps into “curiosity-thinking", and her team loves their new out-of-box freedom to question and learn, and yes, innovate.