5 Ways to Get Your Employees to be More Curious

June 16, 2016 5 Ways to Get Your Employees to be More Curious

How do we take curiosity from a novel concept to an accepted, on-the-ground business practice?

I’ve talked about curiosity in my blog a couple of times now, but there’s so much “meat” to how it applies to business today, to the disruption we face, I just keep digging deeper. The simple act of being curious opens up endless opportunities. It fuels new ideas, it leads to “ah-ha” learning and, especially important to leaders, it shows people you genuinely care about who they are and what they do.

Sadly, most of us lose our natural inclination to be curious at an early age. A research study in the UK a few years ago showed children between ages two and 10 ask an average of 300 questions per day. (Among my favorites: Why is water wet? Where does the sky end? What are shadows made of? We may not know the answers, but you can’t deny these are thought-provoking!) By middle school, kids’ questions dwindle down to practically none. Richard Saul Wurman, the original creator of the TED Conference, speculated on the reason: “In school, we’re rewarded for having the answer, not for asking a good question.” (The same is true in business, by the way.) By the time we’re adults, asking questions is seen as everything from challenging the status quo to a sign of incompetence.

So, how do leaders get employees to be curious? And why does it matter?

I for one believe curiosity is emerging as fundamental to business success, like quality and productivity in the 1980s and 90s. The world is advancing too rapidly for curiosity to be seen as frivolous; instead, it’s absolutely vital, especially to companies that live or die on innovation and newness. We need people to be curious, but it takes clear changes in leaders’ attitudes and actions to get employees to rediscover the inquisitiveness they’ve suppressed for years. Here are my top five ways to get the curiosity ball rolling:

1. Make it part of recruiting, retaining and rewarding employees. In other words, include curiosity in everything HR: hiring criteria, candidate interviews and screening, job descriptions, job titles, performance reviews and rating scales. This shows both current and potential employees you value curiosity and expect them to develop and apply it as a business skill. Like a lot of traits, curiosity is subjective, so define what it means to your company as clearly as you can.

2. Make it a core value. This takes buy-in at the top, but it’s a great way to signal to employees and the world how important curiosity is to your company and culture. Again, a good definition is essential.

3. Make it part of the vocabulary. Purposely add curiosity to everyday conversations and written communications. Make it cool, positive and enviable to be referred to as curious. Be natural and don’t force it to avoid sounding trite.

4. Make it a compliment. When was the last time you complimented someone on their curiosity, or mentioned it as one of your own personal strengths? Positive reinforcement will make people want to show off their curious side even more.  Add a “Curiosity” Page to your intranet. Include some background on Design Thinking.

5. Make it a habit. Set aside time every week or month to allow your team to be deliberately curious for a few hours. Pick a problem and, instead of challenging them to find solutions, challenge them to find the right questions. This is a commitment, but could be well worth the rewards.

As I‘m sure you have figured out by now, I think curiosity is a valuable human trait that we should preserve and nurture – not stifle. Tell me what your company is doing to get employees to, “Go Be Curious.” And while you’re at it, what are shadows made of?