The Business Case for Curiosity
Humans are curious beings. It is in our very nature to ask questions no one has asked before and to look for the answers to those questions and the questions that haven’t been answered before.
Sometimes that curiosity can result in marvelous achievements and scientific breakthroughs, which all leads to technological progress. Many innovations, business practices, and tools, used in various branches, are the results of people’s curiosity.
In this article, we will analyze why curiosity is important in business, why should employees be curious about everything they do and why should employers instigate curiosity in their employees.
WHAT IS CURIOSITY?
Humans are naturally curious creatures. Our propensity to learn and thrive is one of the strongest human urges, which keeps us in the state of the infinite search for answers. If we look at it as a constantly working mechanism, we can say that curiosity is the engine that powers that mechanism. We can look at it as an evolutionary tool, one of the most important crucial for our survival.
One of the most joyful feelings is to discover something new and the unknown. Everyone who has experienced it would tell you the same. That moment when we learn something we haven’t known before, the moment when we band together all of the things that seemed to be separated, is the moment of a great delight and personal fulfillment.
Vis-à-vis that feeling of joy and curiosity is a fear of the unknown, which can bring new, unpredictable consequences and dangers. This fear lies in all of us, but everyone experiences it in a different way. Some people are, let’s use a business language here, more or less risk averse.
Some are sparked, even attracted to danger, while on the other hand, there are those who value safety above everything else and who hate the very same thought that they could be exposed to a danger, especially the one unfamiliar to them. Those people suffocate their own curiosity because they fear everything new and the unknown and the failure it can bring.
They fear to make mistakes and, thus, they are killing their own curiosity and preventing their own advancement. For one thing is certain, there cannot be an advancement without making mistakes and learning from them.
Apart from these internal factors, there is a lot of external influence which fetters our curiosity, such as routine jobs, boring daily routine and in some cases the school system, which, in some regimes can limit what children learn and that way create people who are susceptible to authority and repetitive jobs, whose curiosity is completely drowned in that “cycle of doom”.
That is why, if we want to grow intellectually, spiritually, socially and morally, we always need to ask questions and look for answers, because when we suppress our natural curiosity, we can feel the emptiness inside of us, which we then try to fill with meaningless and corrupted things, which definitely cannot replace real feeling of joy that curiosity can create.
CURIOSITY IN BUSINESS: YAY OR NAY?
In the past, this topic was not considered so important. The main reason for that is globalization. Though globalization is not a new term since its roots date back to around 16th century, the effects of modern globalization started to show after World War 2. Businesses started to grow again, the global market opened and the world started to change.
Nowadays business environment is fast-changing, information travel fast all around the world, so companies must be ready to adapt to any change if they want to survive. That is why innovation and new ideas are welcomed in any branch of business. When a problem occurs, it usually needs to be taken care of fast, while maintaining the standard of working quality.
Finding the right solution could sometimes be tricky, so people have to be curious because when we are curious, we tend to think out of the box, which often leads to making the right decision and solving the problem in question.
So it does not matter if a job is routine, repetitive or creative. This applies to every type of job. Every industry, no matter how repetitive it is, needs curious people. That is why employers should instigate curiosity in their employees, not suppress it. It improves people, companies, and industries, which later leads to the advancement of the entire society.
You may think this is not true because of the various jobs or job interviews you may have had, where employers just wanted you to follow their routine, do your job, no questions asked. And yes, there are a lot of people in the private sector thinking this way, including a lot of big firms. They are all afraid of consequences that can come with potential failures. Their reasons will be analyzed later in the text.
Right now, we will give a simple answer to the question “Curiosity in business: Yay or Nay?”. And the answer is definitely “Yay”!
WHY CHOOSE CURIOSITY?
Italian-American behavioral scientist and the Tandon Family Professor at Harvard Business School, Francesca Gino did a research on this topic and listed several main positive outcomes of being curious in business. We will go through her research and analyze the results.
Firstly, one of the main results was that curiosity about your job helps with decision making. When we are curious we are less likely to make mistakes when it comes to our decisions. Instead of being simple-minded about some things (i.e. women being suitable to lead, searching for confirmation about your opinion etc.), curious people tend to broaden their mind and open it for a wide range of new possible outcomes without any prejudice.
Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD, Spencer Harrison, did several research projects, trying to assess the impact of curiosity on the business result. In one research, an increased sale of goods was said to be a result of a 34% rise in employee’s creativity.
In another research, he tested call centers, where they surveyed employees from 10 companies. The outcome was that the employees who were curious, who were asking all kinds of questions and shared information with colleagues, were ones who had the highest success when it comes to increased creativity with dealing with the customers’ problems.
Professor Gino conducted another research, where she divided the group of 200 employees in 2 groups. The experiment lasted four weeks.
Two days a week half of those employees were sent a message asking them what are they curious about on that particular day, asking them to rethink the way they do their work. Those people acted as an experimental group.
The other group of people was also getting messages, but of a different kind. They were asked what their usual activities are on that particular day, so mostly, questions about their routine. That group acted as a control group.
The results showed that the people from the experimental group got better results, because their curiosity was instigated, so they were more open-minded and thought of creative solutions for the problems their companies were facing with.
As Professor Gino had said: “When we are curious, we view tough situations more creatively.”
Another result that came out of the study was that people with boosted curiosity are more inclined to work with their colleagues instead of picking a fight with them. The reason is they try to put themselves in each other places and listen to each other suggestions. It also shows that the people whose curiosity has been induced work better as a team than teams whose ideas and thoughts are limited.
This is why curiosity is one of the most important values employers are looking for when they hire new people. There is the full list of skills and values that you can check, and which can be really helpful.
YOU WANT TO BE CURIOUS? I DON’T THINK SO!
We’ve discussed the positive side and outcomes curiosity in business can bring. We’ve seen that it can be a very positive factor.
Then, you may ask, why it is not more widespread? Why most companies try to suffocate curiosity in their employees? You may think it is because their leaders do not understand how valuable curiosity can be.
No, that is not the case. Despite what people who don’t like their bosses say, most of the leaders are not stupid. They know that boosting curiosity is a good thing if it is conducted properly.
There are two main reasons which stop leaders from sparking curiosity in their employees.
In this capitalistic world money is power. And to gain more money than competitors and claim the market, companies have to be efficient. Because of that, they set a goal and pursue it and by doing so they often harm exploration part of the job, by rejecting some ideas which could bring some benefit in the future.
As an example, we can bring up Ford Industry. Almost everyone is aware of the significance Henry Ford installed in our lives by using the production line to reduce production costs of a new car. By 1921 Ford Industry covered more than a half of car market in the USA.
However, a couple of years late, the United States’ economy was boosted, the hunger for new products has risen and the consumers wanted more diverse products. At the same time, Ford Industry was just working on improvements for their Model T car, while nothing new has been introduced.
In another corner of the ring, there was General Motors. Their focus was not on making one same model. They decided to make a range of different car models and it wasn’t long before they took over the market from Ford. As we can see, Ford Industry lost because it didn’t focus on innovations. That is why innovating is so important in today’s fast-changing world.
If you want to see the story about Henry Ford, I recommend you to check this short video.
The other reason leaders do not instigate curiosity is a fear of failure. They often think if they instigated the curiosity, it would lead the company to the edge of the cliff in case of a failure. In those cases, they are concerned with the costs that could come out of those failures and, as we have already mentioned, efficiency is very important when it comes to maintaining a healthy company.
They fear, that if employees were to trust their instincts, try out new things, apply some fresh ideas, it could lead to a budget catastrophe in case of failures because it would be more difficult to control all the workers who would pursue their own ideas. Decisions would be much harder to make, which could potentially slacken the execution of the business processes in the company.
Another concern is that searching and exploring new options don’t always end up being useful and cost-efficient. But on the other hand, if successful, it can bring a lot of positive results to the company.
The conclusion is that leaders are not stupid, they know how important curiosity is, but they need to balance between efficiency and investing in innovations, which is most of the times, not an easy job.
WHAT CAN EMPLOYERS DO TO SPARK CURIOSITY?
There are several ways employers can instigate curiosity in their employees.
Look for curious individuals and hire them!
The best way to instigate curiosity is to have curious people in your team. And the best way to do that is to hire curious individuals. The most known example of this strategy is Google. It is known for looking for curious people, sometimes they don’t even have to have the right education, as long as they meet Google’s requirements. They use various methods to go through this selection and make the right choices, from online tests to interview questions.
Have you ever wonder why employers often ask you about your hobbies and interests? Yes, you guessed it right! That is another good strategy for finding curious individuals. Apart from that, they are very interested in the questions you, as an applicant, may have for them, regarding their company and the job itself.
Be the role model!
Most employees, especially the younger ones, need to have a person to look up to, someone who can be their role model. If you want to have curious employees, you, as an employer, have to be curious yourself. Show them they can pursue their ideas, think of new, innovative ways to do their jobs, while at the same time helping the company itself.
One of the good ways of doing it is not just to impose your authority, but to listen to what your employees have to say. “A good king listens to its people.” Even in the medieval times, one of the most important qualities of a ruler was his ability to listen, observe and to consider other opinions. When you are wrong, accept it and let it be an example to the people that no one is perfect, that everyone can make mistakes and learn from them.
Continuous learning as a priority!
You know how in most of the jobs there is some quota to hit. Companies often prioritize fulfilling that quota, so there is a little time for anything else. Well, some think it should be different, that instead of prioritizing certain performance quota, leaders should prioritize learning and advancement of their employees, which would later benefit the entire company.
This strategy suggests that employers should instigate people to learn new skills, motivate them to ask questions, thus improving their overall abilities.
Employers can use different ways to motivate employees. If you want to know more, make sure to check Bob Nelson’s video where he talks about this topic.
Cut the leash!
In the last part, we talked about motivating employees to learn. Most of the time, they can’t do that alone. Specialized training and seminars are often way too expensive, so most of the employees cannot afford that. That’s why a good leader should from time to time offer to pay for the employee’s training. It can achieve two things.
First, the employee in question would most likely see that gesture as a company’s responsibility for its employees, which could potentially raise his morale and he wouldn’t want to leave the company later. And second, the company itself would improve the skills of employees, which could lead to an increase in productivity and thus to higher profits.
Even though this sounds perfect, sometimes it can backfire, when employees quit after the training and go to the competitors. But this is a risk that companies need to accept because potential benefits outgrow the risks most of the time.
In this article, we’ve analyzed the most important aspects when it comes to curiosity in business. We’ve seen that there are a lot of positive outcomes if employees are curious about their job. We’ve also seen that a lot of companies still refuse to instigate curiosity because they are scared of the costs of the failure.
Sometimes being curious doesn’t bring appropriate results, but that doesn’t mean we should stop being curious. That is just another obstacle on the way of learning because without being curious we could lose our identity, become slaves of the system and be like robots.
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