When you think of curiosity – if you think of curiosity – you might picture exploring the mountaintops or reading books or exploring new places. But how does curiosity fit and, more importantly, why does it matter in the workplace? In productivity? In business and commerce and trade? Since most of us spend the bulk of our waking hours in these contexts it is worth considering.
The best workers are learners, those discovering new and better ways of doing things. The best leaders, the only leaders who last long, are learners. Specialists can thrive for a bit, but change out paces specialty, so we must be learners and adapters. We must be able to think on our feet and thrive in a variety of environments. The only businesses that survive in our rapidly changing world are those that can adapt. And these things can only happen if people are curious. They ask questions like how can we do this better? What challenges will we face? Who might be able to help us with this? How can our work support other people’s work? What’s next? Why? Why not?
A lot of leaders stop in their growth because they lose their curiosity.
– John Maxwell
The temptation, when things are going well in the workplace, is to keep repeating what worked before. The problem is that, while this will provide good results for a while, it never looks ahead at what’s coming next. Curiosity does. It wonders how might things change and how can we prepare for it. This isn’t change for change’s sake but rather necessary adaptation based on discovery.
Every successful entrepreneur has been curious. What if we try this? Why isn’t there one of these kinds of widgets? What if we created one? What are people’s needs or desires that we can meet? Question after question leading to results.
Think of Steve Jobs, probably the most celebrated and respected creative entrepreneur of our day. What drove him to create such brilliant products, items unlike anything to have hit the market previously? Curiosity. How did Apple come up with the interactive graphic user interface that replaced the need to type commands into DOS or some other program and completely reinvented personal computing? Curiosity.
How did the design of Apple’s products stand out with such elegant simplicity from every other design? You guessed it, curiosity.
How did the iPod become the device for “carrying a thousand songs in your pocket”? Curiosity about customers and marketing – the same thing that turned the iPhone into the standard for smart phones.
And not just a spark of curiosity, a discipline and culture of it. A spark of curiosity gets you one good idea or product. But only rigorously fostered and defended curiosity turns one good product into a series of subsidiary excellent products.
Consider Pixar and they work they have done over the decades with animation and story telling. Even their bad movies are good. The only reason we think they are bad is because they aren’t as good as Pixar’s best films. They have set the bar so high that we expect genius. Why? Because they have a culture of curiosity that takes story telling and graphics and technology to places nobody else ever considered going.
Curiosity makes us better co-workers too. It connects to the work of others as we understand what they do better and how our work supports it or it supports us. Curiosity leads to personal relationships and friendships that turn a work environment into a team environment. People work better when they are happier and they are happier when they connect with and identify with co-workers and bosses. We ask questions and understand others and find new ways to work with them. Curiosity helps us overcome conflict or differing work styles because it doesn’t stubbornly stick to its guns.
Emotional intelligence, EQ, is the measurement most smart organizations use to measure a persons ability to effectively understand and interact with co-workers. Simply put, people who have it are curious whether they realize it or not. They are curious about how to understand others, what others are thinking, how to communicate more effectively, and what type conflict resolution will connect best. EQ measure a person’s interpersonal curiosity, and people who rate poorly are simply not curious. They don’t think about others. They can’t picture how another person thinks, feels, or will react in a certain situation. They don’t care to understand how to handle conflicts better or can’t even see that they need to. EQ isn’t just a personality trait. It, like curiosity in general, is a practice and discipline that helps be better employees, leaders, and teammates.
Curious people create more, find better solutions to problems, overcome challenges, meet needs that arise, make connections, and prepare better for the future. These traits are in no way tied to work style or traits like introversion or extroversion. They are not dependent on a particular work style or position in an organization either. A curious custodian can make a noticeable difference in the work environment. A curious accountant can save a company thousands or millions of dollars. A curious sales person can build fantastic relationships with accounts. A curious editor can make a publication shine. A curious CEO can connect with employees at every level and take a company to places nobody ever considered.
Curiosity can be boisterous and verbal or it can be quiet and determined. It can work out questions in the quiet of solitude or in an open work area with a team of people. (Though, to be frank, not much can really be accomplished in an open office set up.) Regardless, the results will be the same: a happier and more productive work environment producing and creating at a higher level.
This post is adapted from an excerpt in my book, The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life.