How can we use our curiosity to learn to create workplaces where everyone can thrive and be themselves?
I recently spoke at the LinkedIn Carnival of Curiosity and wanted to share with you some of the key insights from my talk.
Curiosity is critical and necessary for great workplaces. Being curious is not simply being eager to learn and to know; it means being enthusiastically inquisitive.
Curiosity in people leads you to want to get to know and understand others. This builds relationships and enables a leader to better influence and lead his or her people. And it enables employees to better follow the leader because there is trust and relationships.
As we get older, there can be a tendency to dismiss curiosity as being childish or naïve, but it can have profound advantages.
Curiosity helps us approach uncertainty in our everyday lives with a positive attitude. Although you might believe that certainty and control over your circumstance bring you pleasure, it is often uncertainty and challenge that bring the longest-lasting benefits.
Curiosity is closely linked with the personality trait of ‘openness.’ Curiosity, though, is so much more than keeping an open mind. Curious people are ‘seekers’ – they not only enjoy new experiences, but actively look for challenges that will stretch them; whether that involves making new friendships, learning new skills, or pushing themselves to do their best work.
Many workplaces fear change, difference and failure and as a result go for the safe well-trodden path. But what could they be missing out on? Well, if we are not curious, we don’t unlock the potential of ALL of our staff. We don’t hear, see or acknowledge the alternative perspective in the meeting. There is a danger that your organisation will be publicly ‘cancelled’ because you didn’t have the right people in the room when you put that advertising campaign out, or you stagnate because of the lack of ideas coming through and your competitors surge ahead.
So how do you do it?
You can start by finding the novelty – even in the things we know all about. A worker in who a factory that made crisps created a game for himself of constantly scanning the crisps for ones that looked like celebrities and as a result became incredibly efficient at catching misshapen crisps. There is always something new to learn about your colleagues, hobbies, talents and hidden skills, go on seek it out.
Strive to make mistakes
Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer designed a study that highlights how being curious can actually transform anxiety.
She asked a group of volunteers to give unprepared speeches to an audience, and at the same time randomly assigned them to one of three groups. The first group was told not to make mistakes because ‘mistakes are bad’, the second was told that any mistakes they made would be forgiven. The third group was told they should deliberately make mistakes, then incorporate those mistakes into the speech itself.
The third group rated themselves most comfortable and their audience rated them the most composed, effective and intelligent of the three.
Langer’s experiment demonstrated that if we shift our focus from what scares us to what interests us, our inhibitions fall away. Anxiety and desire are two sides of the same coin.
Perhaps you’ve been afraid of having that conversation about Race and ethnicity? How could you approach it with positive curiosity and not be afraid of making a mistake?
Fail fast to succeed quickly
Curious people know dead ends are not failures, they are discoveries. They have discovered one more way to accomplish what they are striving towards. Or, on the road to accomplishing one objective they have discovered something quite unexpected. Some of history’s most famous dead ends or ‘failures’ turned out to be some of our greatest discoveries – penicillin for example.
Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, said – “I have not failed. I just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work.”
Developing a culture where failure is celebrated has so much more learning than when all people want to do is pretend that they get it right all the time.
Seek out those with different lived experiences to you
Consider your workplace. Do you spend your time surrounded by people who think in a similar way to you and have had a similar lived experience? Does this foster learning and innovation? Instead, be a curious learner and seek out those who may have a different perspective and come at problems and opportunities from a different frame of mind.
You could arrange coffees with colleagues and get to know them better.
Summing it up…
Curiosity is critical for great learning. Curious learners create a culture of curiosity. People are encouraged to probe, ask, investigate, invent, explore, experiment, be enthusiastically inquisitive and fail to foster creativity and innovation.
“The safest thing you can do is the riskiest thing, the riskiest thing you can do is play it safe.” – Seth Godin
Curious about how to address the inequity in your organisation? Learn more here.