Curiosity is a mindset that challenges the status quo and helps us explore, discover and learn. Therefore, it is important in both our personal as well as our professional lives. It is also hardwired into our brains; we have a human need to explore, question and discover; acquire new information; and resolve uncertainty.
Curiosity is about openness, which helps us explore, cope with uncertainty and change, focus and work on complex issues. It is also a social role: The better we are at empathic curiosity, the more we are open to other people’s ideas, their emotions and their reactions. Lastly, curiosity means being interested in our inner workings and is the basis for exploring our purpose, values, and deep drivers and beliefs (including limiting beliefs and unconscious biases).
In the workplace, the benefits of curiosity are numerous. Curious employees are more engaged, more motivated, more open to change and more likely to volunteer novel ideas. They are also more willing to try new things and see things from different perspectives. When a team is curious, it sees reduced group conflict, fewer errors from its decision, more innovation and higher performance. Curious teams are also magnets for the best talent.
Curiosity needs two dimensions: curious individuals and an environment that encourages curiosity. So, what can your learning and development (L&D) team do to enhance curiosity in your organization?
Explore Your Own Curiosity Level
The more L&D professionals explore curiosity themselves, the more they will be able to advise their colleagues on how and where to adopt it. Identify the baseline curiosity level on your team:
- How interested are we as individuals and as a team in our customers, our business, and our products and services?
- How much are we empathetically interested in the deep drivers of the people we work with? How much time do we take to talk about things that excite or bother us?
- How interested are we in our own values, beliefs and biases as individuals and as a team?
Train Employees and Leaders
Telling people to be curious does not make people more curious. While every company has employees who have a significant level of natural curiosity, the majority of employees need some support to exercise their curiosity muscle.
However, curiosity is not typically on the L&D course menu. Corporate training has traditionally focused on training for primary business processes (e.g., product knowledge, sales skills, technical skills and compliance) and secondary behavioral and leadership skills. Training for habits and mindsets, for both leaders and employees, is a new phenomenon finding its way into organizations. This trend is good news, as curiosity is the foundation for creating a continuous learning culture, where employees want to grow and develop in the service of their organization and themselves.
Fine-tune Processes and Practices
Processes and practices are the visible evidence of a company’s values and beliefs. Some companies push training onto their employees, while others enable employees to leverage knowledge and resources when they need them. Some companies allow for easy job rotation and train their employees proactively to support transitions, while others don’t.
L&D should evaluate the curiosity appetite in the teams, departments and organization they are serving. This appetite is often influenced by environmental factors that translate into our human resources (HR) and L&D processes (For example, do we reward curious people who stick out their necks to learn new things? Do we celebrate curiosity and learning? Do we make it easy for our employees to find courses and resources?)
Celebrate Role Models
Every organization has some team members who stand out when it comes to curiosity. They read frequently, are interested in their field, actively contribute to their network, ask questions and display a confident humility that makes them open to the ideas of others.
Plan for Curiosity
Every journey starts with a first step in a positive direction. The important first step for L&D is to believe in the power of curiosity to drive positive change, innovation and engagement. Then, agile implementation can begin. L&D can communicate the power of curiosity in an internal messaging campaign, invite employees to discover their own curiosity profile, create hackathons and invite bottom-up ideation, and create “what if” days for employees to think out of the box. The key is not what you do. The key is to get started, plan structurally, celebrate successes and stay the course.