In the fast-paced world most of us live in, curiosity seems like a luxury. We have deadlines to meet, stakeholders to keep on board, and a never-ending conveyor belt of projects to take care of.
So why would someone who knows enough to write the last paragraph, also write a blog on the importance of being curious?
That’s right, this week we’re looking at not just the need for curiosity as leaders, but why it’s so important. My point in this blog? If we’re not being curious we’re leaving an important aspect of leadership on the table.
Let’s begin with clarity on what I mean by curious. I’m talking about a type of curiosity that I call genuine curiosity. That’s different from good old-fashioned curiosity in one aspect. Traditional curiosity is the kind we’re all familiar with: it seeks to gain something. It’s curious about how to get a promotion, to get someone to listen, to make more money. Because everyday curiosity wants to get something it tends to center around solving a problem. It wants to find the shortest, fastest route to the problem. And in the pursuit of the ‘fastest’, it dismisses just as much, or more, than it considers.
If you like, it’s a transactional form of curiosity whose motto might be “get it fixed.” Nothing wrong with that. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a fan of getting problems addressed. But that kind of curiosity isn’t the kind I’m advocating. Partly because most of us are doing it already. What leader isn’t curious about how to get a challenge addressed?
But there’s another way to be curious. Genuine curiosity is one of the six attributes and a kind of curiosity that isn’t focused on a problem. It just wants to know. It doesn’t have a need to fix something, instead, it looks at a situation with a child-like quality and wants to know why.
Why do we have this process rather than another? Is it the best we can think of or the only one we can think of? Do we do it this way because we’ve always done it this way, or because we tried several ways and found this to be most effective?
Genuine curiosity asks why not because it’s trying to improve something, but because it wants to see the edges of a situation. It’s like it holds a statue in its hand and turns it every which way – gets the heft of it – before putting it back on the shelf.
In the real-world genuine curiosity asks why is the stakeholder insisting on x? Why do we organize the marketing team and sales team as if they’re two functions? Again, not because it’s thinking of changing the sales and marketing function but just because.
Genuinely Curious About Being Genuinely Curious
But why is it a good idea to be genuinely curious? The simple way to understand the answer to that question is to pose another question: why is a child curious? It might seem unrelated, but think about it for a second, why do toddlers ask why?
Type that question into google and most hits focus on how to handle the whys. but if we’re interested in why the whys, we need different information. Child psychologist Richard Gilham writing in baby centre in the UK, makes the point that a “toddler is curious about the world and wants to learn. And she’s starting to understand cause and effect.”
That’s a big clue to the question of being genuinely curious. Because genuinely curious gives us the chance to learn about the focus of our curiosity. Genuine curiosity explores possibilities. And though doing something with those possibilities isn’t the goal of genuine curiosity, it does help another of the six attributes: flexibility of mind.
Genuine Curiosity and Flexibility of Mind
I’ve said before that the six attributes aren’t individual attributes. They interweave – each complementing and reinforcing the others.
The two attributes most closely related in the dance of ideas are genuine curiosity and flexibility of mind. If asking genuinely curious questions throws up some interesting possibilities, flexibility of mind can work with those interesting ideas. It sees them as valid and combines them into a revolutionary idea. But that’s the subject of another blog.