Curious about Curiosity #3: Impact of Curiosity

This is the final installment in a three-part series on curiosity. Today’s entry explores the role of curiosity at work and its relationship to organizational and group performance. In the February 13 post we investigated being curious internally, i.e., self-reflection. The February 27 post explored cultivating curiosity in others. 

What does curiosity have to do with the performance of your team or organization? A lot, according to Adi Ignatius, editor in chief of the Harvard Business Review.

Curiosity is the desire to know or learn something. It is essential to working with others, solving problems, getting stuff done, and imagining what might be possible.

According to Ignatius, when we are curious we are less prone to succumb to confirmation bias (cherry picking information that supports what we believe and ignoring evidence that contradicts that), less likely to stereotype people (making judgments about others based on their race or gender), and more likely to generate multiple and innovation alternatives. Thus, curiosity helps us make better decisions.

Curiosity also helps employees avoid freezing in the face of shifts in the marketplace or their communities. Instead of being a deer in the headlights, they get busy trying to figure out what’s going on.

And, when people are curious about their work and one another, they build trusting, collaborative relationships that strengthen their team’s and organization’s performance. When employees are encouraged to learn, they are more engaged and motivated, especially when they are rewarded for learning, in addition to results.

As a leader, are you stymieing the natural curiosity of your employees with a laser-like focus on efficiency, leaving little room for experimentation and innovation? Do you pretend that you know something when you don’t, sending a message that not knowing is not okay? Are you afraid that if you encourage curiosity in employees, they will be harder to manage?

If you answer yes to any of the above, please think again.

Given the benefits, I invite you to encourage everyone at work and in your community to get curious. There are so many issues big and small, simple and complex that we face every day. How can we possibly tackle them effectively if we don’t enlist the help of curiosity to solve them?

Here are some ways to do this at work:

  • Model inquisitiveness and curiosity, ask questions and listen;
  • When you don’t know, say so;
  • Demonstrate a passion for learning and encourage the same in others at meetings and through performance feedback: let people know what you are curious about and how you are exploring it;
  • Encourage people to explore their interests and build networks of thinking/learning partners within and outside the organization;
  • Schedule periodic curiosity meetings focused on questions like “Why?” “What if…?” and “How Might We…” Brainstorm and visually record the questions on large sticky notes; group similar questions; and prioritize which ones you want to dive into that day.

Curiosity is a precious quality of human beings. It prepares the brain for learning and enhances its ability to learn. Sometimes all it takes is the right question. You can start by asking yourself “What am I curious about?” And, then ask those around you,  “What are you curious about?”

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