In the first article of this 3-part series on Capitalizing (on) Curiosity, I discussed the documented benefits of curiosity for companies at the individual, team and company-wide levels. And in the second article, I shared several easily cultivated mindsets known to be effective in promoting a curiosity-driven culture. This final installment in the series includes some simple, straightforward steps you can take to encourage, support, and promote curiosity at all levels of the organization.
These are all known to help people feel comfortable not only tapping into their existing curiosity but also strengthening and ultimately maximizing their curiosity in a work context.
Gain a ‘Lay Person’s Perspective’
When a team feels a dearth of creativity or struggles to deal with a challenge, have them describe their work and the challenge at hand with colleagues in an entirely different department, with an entirely different set of skills and knowledge, who know little or nothing about the team’s work. Seek out fresh insights and perspectives on their challenge from a ‘lay person’s’ perspective. This will not only pique the curiosity of those being consulted, but will also help the struggling team gain some objectivity from their issue, see their issue from new vantage points and come up with some fresh ideas.
Promote Curiosity Through ‘Free Brain’ Thinking
Start design/development/other high-creativity meetings in a way that compels thought patterns that promote curiosity and creativity and ‘free brain’ thinking.
This can include opening your meetings:
- With a question that creates a level playing field among everyone in the room, e.g., a question about something non-work-related or, if work related, that no one already knows the answer to and invite everyone to offer an idea
- With a provocative, sometimes silly or off-subject ‘what if’ question for the group – What if we could redesign everything? What if our customers were only interested in things that are orange? What if we had to do all of our work outside?
- By asking one, a few or all team members to share something they don’t know – about anything, work-related or not. Do this to reinforce that not knowing is not only good, but it is encouraged, respected and even expected. Not knowing leads to the greatest levels of individual and group creativity, ideas and epiphanies.
- By asking team members to share something about themselves that is unknown and will likely surprise other team members. This is an especially curiosity-promoting exercise with long-established teams that have long-held assumptions about members and need some fresh perspectives.
Make Open-Ended Questions the Norm
Not only encourage, but make it an expectation that everyone in the organization use curiosity-building, open-ended language, such as:
- What If…?
- And/Both instead of But/Or
- Why Not…?
- That’s Interesting; Tell Me More. (When Someone’s Idea Seems Off-Base)…
- Let me see if I can build on your idea…
Ask Teams to Designate a ‘Director of Curiosity’
Give one person on the team (the person should vary often, if not each time the team gets together) the light-hearted, at times entertaining role as the team’s ‘Director of Curiosity’, or call it a ‘Curiosity Tzar’, or ‘Curiosity Curator’, or any title that best resonates with the personality and work style of a given team.
The job of the team’s curiosity lead is to encourage all team members to maximize the use of curiosity; identify and offer advice when one or a few people, or the team overall’s curiosity is too low or missing altogether and judgment is taking its place, and creativity and the trust and comfort level of the team is waning as a result; and also point out and give credit to individuals, or the team as a whole when they demonstrate high levels of curiosity.
Establish Psychological Safety
Make it an explicit practice to give people tasks they don’t know how to do. Whether or not it relates to their specific area of work. Then, let them know up front that no one will judge them on how well they perform the task, which creates a sense of psychological safety. The goal is simply to stimulate their ‘curiosity muscle’ and their capacity to enjoy and get energized by trying entirely new things, or being perplexed or simply not knowing the answer.
In this 3-part series, we have provided proof of curiosity’s benefits; a set of the mindsets that help promote curiosity; and some concrete suggestions for how businesses can set curiosity in motion at the individual and team levels.
Taking all three articles combined, the bottom line is that curiosity is an infinite, invaluable resource. All of us, by virtue of being human, possess it. And it is essential that businesses recognize and establish a culture that encourages, supports, and in turn praises, individuals and teams when they tap and apply their curiosity to their maximum potential.