We celebrated my granddaughter’s first birthday recently, and I couldn’t help but marvel at all a person could learn in a year. The little girl who couldn’t hold her head up 12 months ago was now running around and giggling as she dug into the cake before her. How could she learn so much in a single year?
The simple answer is curiosity. Every day is a never-ending cycle of exploration and discovery, which made me wonder: Where could our businesses be if we were equally as curious?
This isn’t a new concept. Decades ago, Walt Disney observed that his company kept “moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” Years later, when asked what attributes CEOs needed to survive, Michael Dell would say simply: “I would place my bet on curiosity.”
Doug Burgum, the current governor of North Dakota, and former Senior Vice President of Microsoft Business Solutions, has talked about the importance of courageous curiosity to solve the most pressing problems.
Still, many businesses continue to put more value on answers than questions. How do you change that? Here are a few ideas to help embrace curiosity within your organization:
Hire curiosity. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg famously takes on a personal challenge annually. One year, it was learning Mandarin. Another, it was running every day. Curiosity isn’t just asking a question (what would happen if I ran every day?) Curiosity is about actively pursuing the answer (in other words, lacing up your shoes and hitting the pavement every... single... day). Yes, what a person knows is important when hiring, but understanding what they’ll do to learn may have an even bigger effect. So, think about asking potential hires what they’ve learned in the past year as well as why and how they learned it.
Create a culture of curiosity. According to one 2016 study, just 9 percent of workers feel their company culture is extremely supportive of curiosity. The solution could be internal, like creating better cross-team collaboration or fighting the status quo. Or it could be external, such as providing new learning opportunities like those offered at the user group Summit. The bottom line is this: expose yourself and your staff to new experiences and ideas to get more comfortable with asking questions.
Figure out how to be wrong. If someone pushes the envelope and it doesn’t work, how do you handle that situation so as not to shut down the curiosity of others? It’s not an easy thing to do and often requires a delicate balance. But almost every innovative product on the market has come about through a series of mistakes. Be willing to be wrong - and allow your team members to do the same. Encourage people to admit to and learn from their mistakes. And don’t let it stop you from asking another question and pursuing its answer. We encourage all our staff to make mistakes each year – it’s how we learn.
We were all born with curiosity; most companies were too. Embrace it. Build it into the culture. And consider the question: Where would you be if you were as curious as a toddler?