Why workplace curiosity matters
If you were to list the most important personal qualities for professional success, curiosity might not be at the top. But recent research suggests that a sense of curiosity can be just as important to achievement as intelligence or ambition. Managers rightly sense that inquisitiveness is a strong indicator of problem-solving ability and critical thinking, something all organizations prize. But there are other important traits associated with it. Highly curious people are more open to new experiences, finding novelty more exciting than confusing. They are capable of thinking in more nuanced, subtle ways and tolerate ambiguity well. They achieve higher levels of education and knowledge and excel at finding novel solutions for complex problems. The bottom line – curiosity is an important trait in high-performing individuals and organizations.
Unfortunately, only about 24% of employees feel curiosity in their jobs on a regular basis. Though most leaders claim they value this attribute in their workforce, the reality is that organizations can unintentionally inhibit it via inertia. Processes and practices become set in stone and it can be difficult for any individual to challenge the status quo. Other barriers include fear of change, false assumptions, and technological hurdles. If you want creative thinking to boost your business, you have to encourage and nurture it. Cultivating a curious mindset in workers at all levels can help businesses adapt to changing market conditions and approach and solve problems creatively.
The benefits of a curious workplace
Everyone and every organization in every industry can benefit from curiosity.
For individuals, this characteristic can prevent us from making bad decisions based on our own confirmation biases. It helps us avoid stereotyping people and situations based on preconceptions and lets us approach difficult problems in new ways. Curious people tend to be more open-minded and report more positive social interactions with colleagues. It’s clear that for individuals in large organizations, this can be a career booster.
Managers who encourage and foster curiosity in their workers benefit too. Teams of curious individuals perform better and are able to approach challenges in new and creative ways.
There are major benefits organizationally as well. Outside of individual problem-solving, workplace curiosity can also have a big impact on organizational happiness. It is closely related to empathy which is why curious teams experience less conflict. When we can view issues through other’s perspectives, we are able to communicate more effectively and achieve goals more efficiently.
How to foster it within your organization
After exploring the benefits of workplace curiosity for individuals and companies, we can talk about the concrete steps that your organization can take to nurture this trait in your workforce. When it comes to learning, curious people tend to excel at training on their own. They often need continuous learning to feel their best, including autonomy and plenty of course choices. Companies that understand this dynamic have developed learning management systems that provide courses to develop diverse skillsets, while many have gone a step further to provide time and resources for workers to pursue their own learning interests regardless of business relevance. Whatever kind of training an organization offers its learners, it’s important that L&D teams regularly refresh the content selection with new courses in diverse or blended formats to satisfy curious employees.
Other companies have designated “why” days, on which workers are encouraged to question all aspects of what they do and how they do it. This method allows workers to interrogate systems and processes to find new efficiencies that benefit the organization. Finally, human resources teams can add curiosity to the list of qualities they hire for, bringing more curious people into the company over time. All these individual approaches are effective, but combining some or all of them can offer your business a massive innovation boost.
How to build a strong culture of curiosity
It’s important to provide your employees with the resources they need to feed their curious natures, but it’s just as important to support them with a culture of curiosity that starts at the top. Leaders should model the curiosity they want to see in their teams, while rewarding learning and recognizing curious employees. When workers see the benefit and rewards, they’ll understand it as a desirable trait they should focus on and develop.
At the individual level, it’s incumbent on managers and team leaders to actively encourage their workers to ask questions, challenge norms, and interrogate processes. Modeling workplace curiosity and rewarding it reinforces innovative thinking in teams. Challenging biases and preconceptions is vital and tools like ideation or brainstorming sessions can help managers drive innovation and creativity.
The business case for curiosity is as strong as it has ever been. It helps individuals excel at problem-solving, creative thinking, collaboration, and networking – all traits of natural leaders. It also helps in the vital areas of team-building and innovation. For organizations, the benefit of a curious workforce reveals itself in new ideas, new efficiencies, and a healthier bottom line. Regardless of the size of the business or the kind of industry, curiosity is a powerful tool for individuals and organizations alike. Building a culture of creativity and questioning is a win for everyone!