I have always been a curious person. I like learning and exploring. I like understanding the whys and wherefores. And while this curiosity has served me well in being able to quickly understand and assess organizations and individuals, it is also a source of great stress. Why – because organization say they want curios people, but curiosity challenges status quo which is uncomfortable. Especially for those that are grounded in the existing culture of “we’ve always done it that way” or “well we’ve never seen it so it can’t be possible.”
The November issue of Harvard Business Review addressed the topic of curiosity and its impact on individual and business performance. Businesses are more successful when they hire for and encourage curiosity. But this is not easy – for the organizations or the people in them. It can be risky to be curious. But I would argue that the greater risk is to be stifled or forced to conform to old norms that eliminate critical thinking.
Think about what you are doing everyday professionally and personally. Are you asking questions or are you just going through the motions? And if you are not happy and just going through the motions, how do you expect anything to change?
In previous episodes, we have addressed topics such as courage and the alignment of words and actions. These topics tie directly into the topic of curiosity. The old adage of “there is no stupid question” becomes front of mind in curiosity. Curiosity requires courage. The courage to ask and listen actively to the answers. The courage to acknowledge that you don’t know something and are willing to learn – from anyone regardless of rank.
The level of curiosity that enables learning from anyone, regardless of rank, seems to be the most difficult for leaders. The appearance of vulnerability is seen as weakness instead of strength. If the issue was only one of personal development in this area, then it could be more easily managed. But it isn’t. This inability or unwillingness of leaders to be curious often translates into using curiosity (and it’s cousin, courage) as a weapon.
Weaponizing curiosity happens when the individual asking questions is not seen as curious but as disruptive. When that simple act of asking becomes a source of contention. This usually happens when the person being questioned has issues with ego or pride or has the need to always be right (dictatorial leadership at its finest)
In the same vein, curiosity can also be weaponized when the person being “curious” is asking the questions not for information or constructive discourse but rather for the purpose of distraction. When the behavior is addressed, the individual says they are being punished for being curious.
True curiosity is a mindset. It is built from a genuine desire to know and understand. To connect for a purpose. It is the one of the keys to innovation and creativity. And, ass in all things, a foundation of integrity and good intention is necessary.
And that’s The Rutledge Perspective. What does curiosity look like in your organization? If you are or have seen it done well, please share in your comments. Perhaps those that are struggling can get some great pointers from you. If you have an “interesting” situation, feel free to share that as well – you are likely not alone!