Curiosity has been identified as one of the common traits of innovators and world changers. It’s also a strong trait for leaders. But what can it do for your business? And how can you foster it in your team?
Before we get to how you can encourage more creativity, it makes sense to ask (because we’re curious), does it help your bottom line?
Is there a link between curiosity and success?
While most analysts and researchers can’t draw a direct cause and effect connection between the curiosity level of employees and a company’s revenue, we can find plenty of circumstantial evidence that companies who value inquisitiveness do well in the market.
For example, according to a recent article in CEO.com, Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, has made it his life’s work to increase innovation in his company. He asks managers to set aside creative spaces where employees can safely explore ideas for improving the company. And he credits this approach in part for their success. Since 1998, he’s delivered a 15.9% rate of return to investors.
For another example of the successfully curious, look at Steve Jobs. He indulged his interests in architecture, philosophy, the history of technology, and even typography, all of which eventually contributed Apple’s revolutionary designs.
Renowned innovators such as 3M and Google have long cultivated curiosity at work. 3M offers employees 15% of their work time for pursuing their own projects. A little product called Post-It Notes came out of this practice.
And Google takes a similar approach, giving employees 20% of work time to follow their passions. These companies have bet that if they let people go where curiosity takes them, it will lead to ideas that pay off in the long run. And it seems to have worked.
Employees themselves recognize curiosity as a rock-star trait. In a recent Rackspace survey of over 1300 Australian and New Zealand white collar workers, “Sixty-one per cent of people said that Curiosity has enabled them to achieve great things in the workplace. While overall, two-thirds (63 per cent) of people said that curiosity played an important role in the growth of a business in terms of increasing revenues and sales.”
Why might curiosity have such an impact on business results?
Psychology researchers Kashdan, Rose, and Fincham studied the effect of curiosity on personal growth and concluded that it, “prompts proactive, intentional behavior in response to stimuli and activity with the following properties: novelty, complexity, uncertainty and conflict.” Thus, when inquisitive people come up against a challenge, they try to observe and understand it, rather than resisting it, and they’re more successful in solving problems as a result.
Curious people also take a personal interest in what they’re working on. Ian Leslie, author of Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on it, notes in The Guardian, they’re “good at solving difficult problems for their employers because they’re really solving them for themselves.” They just want to know the answer, so they look for it.
Research has also found curiosity boosts people’s sense of well being as they work to achieve goals. So employees get more personal benefit when they’re curious about their jobs, which further amplifies their motivation to tackle tough challenges.
[Learn other ways to love your job here.]
So how can you build a more curious company culture?
If all this makes you curious to know how you could infuse more of the exploratory spirit into your business, you have a few good options to try. To start at the very beginning, you can hire for natural inquisitiveness.
Hire inquiring minds.
Michael Ortner, founder of Capterra looks for two main qualities in an employee: curiosity and humility. He’s observed that curious people come from a growth mindset driven by their desire to learn, and intellectually humble people are open to new ideas, especially in the face of evidence and reason.
When interviewing candidates, find out how they’ve tackled challenges in the past. Look for unusual approaches. Find out if they turned up any surprising knowledge while solving a problem.
Watch how they answer some typical interview questions for signs of a desire to learn. For example, when asking about hobbies or outside interests, look for varied past times and see how passionately they discuss them. Curious people tend to have a wide range of interests that tickle their brains.
Also, observe how they respond when you invite them to ask questions. Curious people will have already done research on your company, and they’ll have a barrage of questions about that go beyond the superficial.
When you’re talking with a naturally curious person, you’ll usually get the feeling that they’re more interested in the discussion you’re having and less interested in the impression they’re making. They’ll also want to spend more time talking about you and the company than their work history.
Increase your curiosity capacity.
Hiring new talent isn’t your only option for upping your curiosity quotient. You can encourage your current team to exercise their power of inquiry. Start by inciting more questions. Every search for knowledge starts with a question, so get your team to practice asking them.
At the same time, start asking employees to objectively observe what’s happening around them. How are customers reacting to the product? What are they doing with it? What services are they asking for?
When employees focus on what’s going on around them, they’ll start asking questions like “Why do 15% of customers call support about our reporting feature?” The combination of observing and questioning piques curiosity, which in turn drives people to uncover real insights.
Give curiosity the ground to grow.
You also need to provide the right environment. Although innovation starts with questions, many companies have a culture that dampens inquiry. A 2015 survey by Merk KGaA, titled “The State of Curiosity in the American Workplace”, found that 2/3 of respondents faced barriers to asking questions on the job. Look closely at your company and identify any traditions or procedures that may be keeping curiosity at bay.
Experimentation doesn’t follow a prescribed course, so if you want people to blaze new trails, they need extra flexibility and autonomy. Autonomy gives people a sense of control, which in turn, intensifies the motivation to learn.
Interview your team members to find out what they’d love to work on. Then, consider following Google’s example and giving them some time to tinker on any problem they find intriguing. Or help them identify stretch assignments that fire up their passion and grow their capabilities.
Nurture curiosity with regular training.
Learning activities give people the space to stretch their inquiry muscles and explore ideas they might not be comfortable sharing at the weekly team meeting. Learning should be a regular part of the work schedule, but you don’t have to stick with traditional classes or videos.
A Forbes article titled “How to Hire Curious People and Keep Curiosity Alive” advises, “Whether you start a weekly book club meeting to discuss what you read or create a budget for people to take classes, give your employees opportunities to feed their intellectual curiosity.”
You can add autonomy into training by personalizing each employee’s development plan. Tony Reeves, expert on creative learning at CreativeHuddle, suggests, “Instead of telling employees what to do, ask them what they should be doing and allow them to set their own rules.” You can fold stretch assignments and free-time projects into these plans as well to help instill a knowledge-seeking attitude into every day.
[Here’s a tool to help you manage personalized training plans, including on-the-job experience and stretch assignments.]
Be the leader.
Any of these techniques will help you wake up the natural curiosity in your employees. But it will all start with you. Work on enhancing your own sense of wonder; question your own assumptions; and share your experiences with the team. You’ll find that curiosity is contagious. And together you can ask, “Does curiosity increase revenue in our business?” Hmmm, interesting question . . .
About the author: Carol Bleyle is marketer and official dog trainer for Pract.us.