Just Curious: Is Your Workplace A Curiosity Enhancer or Barrier?
The old adage that curiosity kills the cat doesn’t address a resurge in thinking that curiosity fosters creativity and innovation and that being curious is a very good thing.
It was Marie Curie who also said, “Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas.”
A new State of Curiosity Report 2018 from the German company, Merck KGaA, surveyed 3,000 employees in China, Germany and the U.S.. and found “that only 20 percent identified themselves as curious, with the highly curious demonstrating qualities, such as being organized, collaborative, and detail-oriented themselves—all traits required for high-performance. Over 80 percent of those surveyed felt that curious colleagues were most likely to bring an idea to life at work.”
And while curiosity is seen as a driver of new ideas, 58 percent said they encountered curiosity barriers at work, with 42 percent saying they encounter curiosity enhancers. The barriers include top-down work, and 90 percent said they encounter that. A lack of exchange, or an absence of collaboration is also an inhibitor of curiosity. Surveillance, or constant oversight by managers also puts the quash on the curious.
“Curiosity and innovation are pre-requisites to always renew our business; those aren’t just words; it’s part of how we operate and drive strategic thinking. We’ve learned that finding time and having the audacity for curiosity is a worthwhile investment that will show returns for our employees and our business,” writes Isabel de Paoli, Chief Strategy Officer, Merck KGaA.
A workplace culture that enhances creativity, according to the report, is open to “high levels of Joyous Exploration, Deprivation Sensitivity, or Openness to People‘s Ideas.” Yet, “their overall curiosity can be hindered by his or her lack of Stress Tolerance.” These blocks to innovation cause stress in many employees, particularly in U.S. employees.
The study found that different sectors harbor different levels of curiosity in employees.
“Scientific R&D, Technology and Manufacturing employees have higher Employee Curiosity Index scores than the overall with an average score of 70.3 percent. Healthcare workers had the lowest score at 66.9 percent Curiosity Index score. Public Administration had a 68.1 percent Curiosity Index score.
“Curiosity is one of the most important engines of working life. We almost never know the value a project will have when we start out, and many pivotal inventions have come about from pure curiosity without visibility on practical application. This study isolates important aspects of management-supervision, communication, credit, and team-working that allow all of us to bring our most creative and curious selves into the workplace,” Amy Whitaker, Author of Art Thinking and Assistant professor, New York University Steinhardt, writes in the report.
How can you cultivate your own curiosity in the workplace with authenticity?
“Cherish questioning,” Alf Rehn writes in Irish Tech News.
“In today’s complex world, it is often the company with the best questions that wins. Rather than silencing inquisitive people, organizations should incentivize them. It is only by not taking things for granted and instead relentlessly asking ‘Why?’ that a company can stay ahead of the curve when new technologies or business models emerge. Make asking questions, about yourself and about the competition, a continuous exercise. When in doubt, ask more questions,” Rehn writes.
Yet random acts of curiosity are not what Rehn suggests.
“A curious company is not necessarily a company that tries out any- and everything under the sun. No, a curious company is one that studies things, is interested in new developments, collects inputs and data without being too judgmental about where these come from. A well-resourced curious company then translates this into a series of experiments and projects, trying out the new new things to see whether they will fit with what the company is doing. What curiosity does not mean is that one throws all caution to the wind, and switches business models or product portfolios on a whim,” Rehn writes.
Francesca Gino, the Tandon Family Professor of Business Administration in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit at Harvard Business School, is the author of Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in Life.
Gino describes what a rebel talent is: “We think of them as troublemakers, outcasts, contrarians: those colleagues, friends, and family members who complicate seemingly straightforward decisions, create chaos, and disagree when everyone else is in agreement. But in truth, rebels are also those among us who change the world for the better with their unconventional outlooks. Instead of clinging to what is safe and familiar, and falling back on routines and tradition, rebels defy the status quo. They are masters of innovation and reinvention, and they have a lot to teach us.”
There are four kinds of rebel talents who are fueled by curiosity, Gino writes. They include the Traveler, the Pirate, the Climber and the Guard. On her site, Rebel Talents, she invites you to take a quick test to decide what kind of rebel talent you are, writers Gino, who is also formally affiliated with the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, with the Mind, Brain, Behavior Initiative at Harvard, and with the Behavioral Insight Group at Harvard Kennedy School.
“There is no good or bad type,” Gino writes. “Each comes with advantages and disadvantages — we all stand to learn, no matter what rebel type best describes us. The type of work you do, the country you live in, the culture of your family or organization — any of these factors may impact your rebel type. There is much about the dynamics of positive rebel behavior that remains unknown, but it is my hope that seeing the results of this simple test will help you appreciate the constructive role rule-breaking can play — and maximize your own rebel potential.”
Former First lady Michelle Obama said, “Instead of pretending that you understand something when you don’t, just raise your hand and ask a question.”
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon www.micheleweldon.com