From Our CEO: We’re All In on Curiosity
Advice and assumptions are killing your company.
This might not be immediately obvious to you (and apologies for stating it in such stark terms), but let that sink in for a moment. Because even if it’s exaggerated, we at Box of Crayons maintain that if your organizational culture is more advice-driven than curiosity-led, then you are missing valuable opportunities to be more innovative, resilient and successful.
No one would ever admit to being an incurious person. There’s something noble about curiosity, and I’d guess that most people would consider themselves to be curious by nature. What’s interesting is that curiosity — this thing that is cultivated in most of us as children and admired by most of us in adulthood — is actually a lot harder to practice and to encourage in our adult lives. How many open-ended questions do we really ask these days? How often do we embrace (rather than deny) the really tough questions that might not have definitive answers?
From Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Maria Montessori and beyond, the value of curiosity has primarily been determined by childhood educators and adolescent researchers, who have theorized how curiosity increases our potential and ability to learn. What is curious (see what I did there?) is that both our individual capacity for curious behaviours and our institutional commitment to its flourishing seem to drop off in adulthood with the severity of a coastal shelf.
Given that we spend more of our lives as employees in organizations than as pupils in schools, this seems like a gap worth exploring further. This is not about demeaning people, but about asking: why don’t adults apply the same attention to nurturing our curiosity as we do when we’re children? As any list of the most sought-after capabilities of the future shows, the ability to develop and see learning as a lifelong endeavour reminds us how important it is to keep paying attention to what drives human curiosity and the desire to learn.
What’s at stake?
Let’s think about the consequences of this in terms of organizational and business success. We invest in other forms of learning and development for our people, and we know that curiosity supports humility, empathy and resilience, which unlock a number of enviable organizational outcomes. So why not invest in these capabilities?
The work of Harvard’s Francesca Gino and others shows us that organizations have come around to thinking about the role of curiosity in driving sought-after capabilities for their people and increased potential for their business.¹ What the smartest organizations have realized is that curiosity has the power to reinvigorate learning, drive innovation and support human connection. What they have also realized is that the work is not to recruit and promote curious people, but rather, much like some educators and parents have done, to create an environment in which curiosity is encouraged and supported — not diminished.
In short, they have come to the important conclusion that curiosity is a state, not a trait. That is, it is a human tendency that will either expand or diminish based on the degree to which it is nurtured or supported in the broader environment. From an organizational development perspective, this is not a matter of hiring for curiosity, but of transforming to a curiosity-led culture.
Why curiosity now?
We’re all being tried right now. As we navigate a new world struck by a global health crisis, we find ourselves in an “in-between” space that is uncomfortable, a discomfort that for some of us has been recently compounded by systemic injustices that the pandemic, in part, has further illuminated. What we’re facing is a long-needed reckoning that includes allowing the ways in which our thoughts and actions (often or even unwittingly) contribute to the sustainment of structures that privilege our own safety and flourishing at the expense of others’. This is an inventory, which if done honestly, is uncomfortable. And so a lot of us have found ourselves sitting in this threshold space. It’s not easy, but at least it holds the promise of movement, of entry into or onto another place.
The way we change, adapt and do this important work is by starting with curiosity: asking good questions (of ourselves and others), holding a space for people to be inspired by their inquisitiveness and seeing the gaps in our understanding as opportunities to learn. Curiosity calls us to this transformative place, and like a doorway, opens onto another space and another potential way of being.
How can Box of Crayons help your organization unleash the power of curiosity?
Are you curious? So are we. Let’s talk.
Dr. Shannon Minifie
CEO, Box of Crayons
Gino, F. (2018). The business case for curiosity. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2018/09/curiosity
To learn more about how Box of Crayons can transform your organization from advice-drive to curiosity-led: