Among them, we find such gems as:
Better decision-making. Curiosity helps us avoid default explanations confirming what we already believe as well as conclusion-jumping based on stereotypes.
More creativity and innovation. From artists on Etsy to workers in a call center, people who score high on measures of curiosity also score high on measures of creativity and customer service. In addition, curiosity relates to better overall performance as determined by supervisors.
Less conflict. Curiosity fosters empathy and interest in others. This paves the way for better interactions and fewer conflicts between people in a group or team.
Improved team performance. Curiosity improves communication and active listening among team members, which contributes to improved results.
To benefit from this bounty, leaders must first recognize that while most say they want team members to ask questions and discover new territory, most organizations are structured in ways that discourage such actions.
Two things strangle curiosity in the workplace: fear and our tendency to overvalue efficiency.
Fear is typically shaped as a belief that curious team members are more difficult to manage, cause conflict and increase costs. This belief causes leaders to impulsively reject new ideas — even good ones — and remain tethered to a past where businesses wither and die.
Efficiency might have reigned supreme in the industrial age by helping factories reduce costs and increase profits. Now, however, overvaluing efficiency blinds us to new trends and solutions that, if explored and acted upon, could propel us into the future. Over time, the pressure organizations exert on people to work fast and hit short-term targets crowds out time and energy for thinking and innovating.
To overcome these challenges and cultivate curiosity, leaders should ask more questions, hire curious people and promote learning goals.
Consider the following suggestions:
Ask more questions. Eric Schmidt, former chief executive officer of Google, once said, “We run this company on questions, not answers.”
Rather than show up to team meetings with a PowerPoint or pre-baked ideas, ask questions. What is one thing you know that I don’t know about (fill in the blank)? What is one thing I can do to make things better for you and our customers? What is one thing we should pursue or do differently to remain relevant?
Then listen. Show you listened by incorporating answers in follow-up communications. Credit team members’ suggestions for any related initiatives. Operationalize the process of asking “why is that?” five times in a row to get beyond surface explanations for an issue and uncover the root cause.
Hire curious people. It’s reasonable to believe hiring for experience guarantees future performance. A recent analysis of 81 independent studies published in Personnel Psychology showed there’s virtually no relationship between pre-hire experience and performance or turnover. Just because someone has spent years doing a particular job doesn’t guarantee they’ve done it well. It’s equally possible they’ve developed bad habits, lost enthusiasm or failed to upgrade their skills to keep pace with evolving industry standards.
Hire for curiosity instead. The ability to learn is the meta-skill of our time. And curiosity precedes learning. To screen for curiosity, pay as much attention to the types of questions candidates ask as the answers they give. Ask candidates what excites them about the future of their job or industry. Use validated curiosity assessments. Post the job with a bit of obscure trivia that might pique the interest of the curious.
Promote learning goals. Just as setting a goal to reduce consumption of Pepsi works better for weight loss than setting a goal to lose 10 pounds. A body of research shows that in the workplace, such learning goals as building skills, increasing competence or committing to new practices lead to better results than results-focused goals. Consider rewarding learning behaviors as much as results. Hold supervisors accountable for helping team members develop learning goals. Invest in coaching for key team members. Hire subject matter experts to train your team.
If you’re uncertain whether acting on these suggestions will yield results, start with one: get curious. Although you’ve heard curiosity killed the cat, you might not know satisfaction brought it back. Perhaps satisfying your curiosity can bring back your organization, too.