Many believe curiosity to be an innate trait rather than a skill. It appears to be difficult for adults to develop. Paul Ashcroft, Simon Brown and Garrick Jones counter by providing actionable strategies with real-world examples. The authors’ explanation of the mounting importance of curiosity and learning – and why leaders must nurture and ignite both – proves powerful and convincing. They don’t offer a step-by-step blueprint for quick change; instead, they impart practical, workable concepts that deliver longer-term, worthy results.
- In these volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) times, organizations must nurture, develop and ignite curiosity.
- Curiosity lies at the heart of human achievement, including cave dwellers’ tools and complex societies.
- Natural curiosity in children often diminishes as parents and others unwittingly discourage it.
- Through history, societies that stayed open to outside ideas thrived.
- In organizations, a willingness to diversify and connect generates a powerful network effect of shared knowledge and curiosity.
- Leaders must recognize and reward curiosity and experimentation whether it succeeds or fails.
- Committing to curiosity offers workers a lifeline as automation threatens their livelihoods.
- Build a curious culture by encouraging the “7 Cs” – the crucial elements of curiosity.
- Now and in the future, soft skills like curiosity matter more and last longer than hard skills.
In these volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) times, organizations must nurture, develop and ignite curiosity.
Whether you want to know something specific – like a word’s meaning – or to learn a new language and the history of the people who speak it, curiosity means exploring, asking questions, experimenting, and linking ideas, information and knowledge. It also requires action.
“Curiosity leads us down strange pathways. It is vital to our survival.”
Curiosity proves pivotal for survival and success in the digital world. It fuels collaboration, creativity and innovation; fosters stronger relationships; encourages continuous, self-directed learning; enhances emotional intelligence; and makes leaders more inspirational and effective.
Curiosity lies at the heart of human achievement, including cave dwellers’ tools and complex societies.
Curiosity stems from the human need to understand; to solve mysteries and resolve uncertainty. Contrary to conventional wisdom, most people crave the ambiguity, change and novelty that ignite the curiosity that leads to learning. When experiencing something unexpected, people reconcile new information with what they already know or believe. When new learning connects with prior knowledge, the brain retains it longer. To reinforce learning, wise coaches use curiosity to link new and existing concepts.
“Curiosity is the power skill that helps us navigate in this hyper-ambiguous world of the future.”
Curiosity taps the reward and pleasure centers of your brain, sparking the release of dopamine, which permits new connections between neurons. Like anything that delivers pleasure, curiosity can grow addictive. You learn faster and develop an enhanced ability to manage stress and uncertainty.
Natural curiosity in children often diminishes as parents and others unwittingly discourage it.
At around age five, self-consciousness and the fear of making mistakes chip away at the curiosity so evident in babies and toddlers. Parents often discourage exploring – usually to protect their kids. In the workplace, leaders suppress curiosity and sacrifice experimentation and creativity for efficiency, order and repeatable processes.
“To wonder is just to keep it in your head. To be curious is fundamentally to engage in the world.”
To remain curious, embrace your natural impulse to explore. If something intrigues you, go with your first instinct to find out more. At work, take every opportunity to learn something new. Seeking new avenues of exploration and remaining open to ideas and experiences is “conscious curiosity.” You may find options, paths and opportunities that can change your life. Ask: “I wonder if …?” or “What if…?” to spark your curiosity – and set off to explore. Don’t merely acquire knowledge or skills; put them into practice and experiment with them to learn more.
Through history, societies that stayed open to outside ideas thrived.
About 2,500 years ago, Alexander the Great built one of the greatest empires in history before he died at age 32. Alexander’s mentor Aristotle, among others, sparked his curiosity and respect for knowledge. That influenced how Alexander treated conquered peoples. Everywhere he went, Alexander built libraries and schools to fuel curiosity and learning.
“The pace of change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again.”
Great historical powers – including China’s Ming dynasty, Victorian England or 20th century America – valued and systematized curiosity, openness and experimentation. Societies and nations that curtail curiosity and exploration, and shun diversity and diverse ideas, grow insular and decline. This also holds true for individuals and organizations. Fortunately, the internet and digitization offer unparalleled opportunity to connect ideas, knowledge and people.
In organizations, a willingness to diversify and connect generates a powerful network effect of shared knowledge and curiosity.
The curious, experimental organization encourages deductive and inductive thinking. Curious leaders guide employees to apply deductive thinking to imagine why things are and what they could be, and to apply inductive thinking to test their assumptions through experimentation.
“Curiosity requires us to question everything, to do so critically, to reflect on our biases, to test our assumptions, and to learn while interrogating our context.”
Few organizations appreciate the dangers of close-mindedness more than Microsoft, which by 2014 had lost so much market share that many regarded it as a relic. Arrogant and insular, Microsoft resembled history’s once glorious empires in their last stages, grasping for answers but unable to see the enemy within. When Satya Nadella became CEO, he gently revitalized Microsoft’s customer focus and instilled a growth mind-set with a deep desire to learn. Today, Microsoft has regained its place among the most innovative and valuable firms in the world.
A curious culture helps people learn more and faster. It attracts and retains talent because people feel safe, heard, included and respected. Such a culture makes firms more innovative places where people ask questions and listen which, in turn, nurtures collaboration, cooperation and trust. Such a culture improves performance as people translate their innate desire to learn into action.
Leaders must recognize and reward curiosity and experimentation whether it succeeds or fails.
Leaders should institute a deep commitment to action-oriented learning, not just single-loop learning where people learn what to do in a specific situation. Go beyond that by helping people explore what they should do and whether they are tackling the right problem. Ensure people have the skills to make thoughtful decisions about the best actions within the unique context of the organization.
“New approaches that integrate learning into work and life are key for delivering next generation learning.”
To build a curious culture, make internal and external knowledge and information available while forging connections between people inside and outside the firm. Novartis, for example, offers a learning platform featuring content and courses from online providers – such as Coursera and LinkedIn Learning– and top universities. It wants every employee to invest 100 hours per year – approximately 5% of their work hours – in learning. Novartis and others embrace informal learning by encouraging employees to seek out information wherever it may exist. Modern systems leverage machine learning and bite-size chunks of learning content to deliver the information and micro-skills people require in the flow of their work.
Committing to curiosity offers workers a lifeline as automation threatens their livelihoods.
As automation and robotics permeate more work processes, people’s creativity and ability to ask critical questions will become more valuable.
“Repetitive tasks will be done for us by bots and the human focus will be on the non-repetitive elements, the unusual, the creative, the personal, the discovery and the innovative.”
The shelf life of skills, especially technical skills, declines with increasing rapidity. Thus, the ability and willingness to learn takes on greater importance. Build cultures that support curiosity, encourage learning and support knowledge sharing. This fuels faster, more collaborative and adaptable organizations that can move at the speed of digitization and change.
Build a curious culture by encouraging the “7 Cs” – the crucial elements of curiosity.
Employees, managers and leaders must embrace the following seven principles:
- “Context” – Imagine you’re entering a new room where an app or voice command will light up the room. If you’re not aware of this smart lighting system, your exploration will focus on finding the light switch. Your unawareness of the context misdirects your curiosity. Context provides meaning and matters as much as any question or idea. Zoom out to see issues in perspective. The more context you consider, the better.
- “Community” – Interactions with others leverage curiosity. Information and ideas almost always originate from various sources. Groups entwine information and ideas, synthesize the result and adjust it as needed. Group members should challenge one another throughout this process to produce something unique. In formal or informal groups, people play various roles: Some will steer your exploration onto the right track; others gauge your progress and hold you accountable before you move on. Some people become mentors; others criticize, doubt or raise questions, which helps you think more broadly. Some provide deep dives into specific subject areas and others have the technical knowledge to advance your ideas. Some people will become sponsors of an idea; others will help you reflect and conceptualize. Some people will encourage you to keep going or help communicate your idea. Seek peers pursuing similar paths who can join you in your journey.
- “Curation” – Without structured selection, curious people might accomplish little while chasing tangents. Not every idea is worth exploring. Open-ended discovery has its place, but continuous curation will help reveal the most promising path. With endless information and data available, curation of the most reputable and most relevant content takes on a critical role. AI-based tools and technologies enable customizing content to individual needs and preferences. Technology can even help you find the conditions and people in your environment that will help develop your ideas. Blockchain technology may soon help lifelong learners document their achievements in a verified and inviolable digital ledger they can share with whomever they wish.
- “Creativity” – Researchers gave participants of a study unlimited time to pore over reading material in preparation for a creative task. They found that people who spent more time exploring before focusing on the task came up with more innovative solutions. To become more creative, people need idle time during which they aren’t focusing on a specific task. Open your mind and let ideas flow. Allow your curiosity to take you down different roads with no particular goal in mind.
- “Construction” – Moving from exploring and learning to impactful implementation requires tangible action. Look for people with whom to discuss ideas and for ways to test and prototype your ideas, including models and presentations. Find platforms or simulations to accelerate your process. Always document your attempts. Create an ecosystem of curiosity and learning by providing access to wide, deep and diverse content.
- “Criticality” – Without critical thinking, curiosity will fall victim to fake news, bias and lies. “Question everything.” Skepticism – though not cynicism – can prevent you from accepting wrong information. Become aware of your conscious and unconscious biases. Probe whether your ideas will work for people who aren’t like you. Deal boldly with insights that don’t sit well with you and don’t hesitate to ask unnerving questions to help you assess information objectively.
- “Confidence” – Confidence enables curiosity and vice versa. Failure teaches you how to recover and you’ll lose fear. Learning through failure builds memory. Gradually challenge yourself to keep your failures small and recoverable at first. Maintain confidence in your abilities by practicing them often. Do the same for others by designing projects and assignments that put them just outside their comfort zones. Incrementally challenge them to experiment, connect with others and learn in safe-to-fail environments.
Now and in the future, soft skills like curiosity matter more and last longer than hard skills.
Given the pace of change, new technology may soon replace today’s and require entirely different hard skills. Today’s most relevant soft skills, on the other hand, will likely stay in demand: Creativity, the art of persuasion, collaboration, adaptability and emotional intelligence seem poised for long runs.
“If you aren’t ready and willing to learn every day and keep up with the rapidly changing world, you can’t and won’t stay competitive.”
These power skills, coupled with curiosity, position you as a desirable employee even as AI and robots gain capability and sophistication.
About the Authors
Paul Ashcroft and Garrick Jones lead the London, England-based digital transformation consulting firm Ludic Group. Simon Brown serves as Chief Learning Officer at Novartis headquarters in Switzerland.
This document is restricted to personal use only.
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3 years agoAfter reading this amazing abstract, now i can make sense out of, one of the famous quotes by , <br>Albert Einstein - “ I HAVE NO SPECIAL TALENTS, I AM JUST PASSIONATELY CURIOUS “.!
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