The Power of Curiosity
One of the most powerful tools we have is our curiosity. It can help us grow, build relationships with others, adapt more effectively to change and create more innovative solutions. For these reasons, developing a mindset of curiosity can help you and your team be even more successful.
What is curiosity and how does it help us?
In its broadest definition, curiosity is about having a strong desire to know or learn something. In our work lives, a mindset of curiosity gives us the opportunity for great success. Curiosity is about having a tendency to seek out new experiences, knowledge and feedback while remaining open to change.
While curiosity can help us across many dimensions, let’s explore three critical areas where a mindset of curiosity can improve our performance and make our work lives better.
We all have certain work relationships that are more difficult than others. These relationships might have communication challenges or frequent conflicts. In the absence of clear information, we often assume we know why someone else is behaving in a certain way. If these assumptions become negative (i.e. this person is out to get me, my coworker doesn’t care about my deadlines) then it can have a negative impact on the relationship. When we’re trying to solve these relationship issues, curiosity can be a powerful starting point because it stops us from relying on our assumptions.
Think about your most challenging work relationships. Ask yourself: What assumptions do I make about this other person? What challenges could this person be facing that could be influencing how they interact with me? What information or feedback is this person receiving that could be impacting how they show up at work?
And even more importantly than asking yourself, try setting up time to ask the other person these questions. When you make it clear that you care about their priorities and motivations and want to listen to them, you can significantly improve your relationship.
As we progress in our careers, our expertise grows too. We build our proficiency and develop mastery in certain areas. In most situations, we then draw on this expertise in order to make important decisions and solve problems. It is also this expertise we are tapping into when we teach others or mentor coworkers who are earlier in their careers.
The risk of expertise exists if we see it as a fixed state: operating with the belief that once we are experts, we are done growing and learning.
Would you want to see a surgeon who graduated in the top of their class 25 years ago but hadn’t studied any new techniques since that time? How effective would an IT professional be if they hadn’t studied any updates in computers since the Apple IIe came out in 1983?
As the world continues to change ever faster, there are always knew things to learn in any area of interest. If we stop learning, our knowledge can quickly become obsolete. Curiosity is a tool that helps us avoid this trap.
Think about the areas where you consider yourself an expert. Ask yourself: What am I regularly reading or listening to on this topic? What other experts do I seek out? What changes are happening in this space that I could learn more about?
There is a growing body of research that supports the idea that individuals, teams and organizations that are more curious show greater levels of innovation.
INSEAD professor Spencer Harrison and his colleagues have looked at how people innovate together. One of their studies involved the impact of curiosity in a call center. Their findings demonstrated that when employees sought information from others and utilized that information in their jobs, it boosted their creativity in addressing customer concerns.
A mindset of curiosity can improve innovation in a number of ways. It encourages us to explore other fields, ask questions and look for patterns. Many times when we feel we’ve reached a dead-end, a mindset of curiosity can help us connect new information and synthesize seemingly disparate ideas.
The power of curiosity comes from its ability to help us learn and grow. It stops us from becoming obsolete, fills in our blind spots and improves our self-awareness.
A dangerous mindset for us is one of certainty: a conviction that the things we believe are definitely true. Certainty leads us to make incorrect assumptions about others; it causes us to believe that our opinions are facts. In its most powerful form, curiosity is an antidote to certainty.
In Wharton School professor Adam Grant’s latest book, Think Again, he explores the idea that the most important cognitive skill is the ability to rethink and unlearn. He advocates for seeing disagreements as an opportunity to learn and for opening our minds to hear things with which we might disagree. He argues that “embracing the joy of being wrong” can turn us into lifelong learners. As lifelong learners, we have a greater opportunity to build our relationships, become experts in what we do and generate more innovative ideas and solutions.
The next time you feel certain about something, use that feeling as a warning. Ask yourself: Is your certainty causing you to ignore certain clues that exist? Finding opportunities to be more curious and seek out information can help you succeed in a number of ways.
Grant. A. (2021). Think Again: The power of knowing what you don’t know. Viking Books.
Harrison, S.H., Sluss, D. & Ashforth, B.E. (2011). Curiosity adapted the cat: The role of trait curiosity in newcomer adaptation. Journal of Applied Psychology. 96 (1): 211-20.
Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.