Ideal Outcomes

Harnessing Hidden Talent Through a Culture of Curiosity

by Jason Richmond, CEO and Chief Culture Officer at Ideal Outcomes, Inc.

Most of the groundbreaking discoveries and game-changing inventions throughout the history of humankind—from the compass, the light bulb, and the printing press to self-driving cars—all share one thing in common. They result from curiosity: the human desire to seek new information and solutions, and push the boundaries of what’s possible.

Why is Cultivating a Culture of Curiosity in Business Important?

In modern business, curiosity is the unsung hero of performance, profitability, and success. That’s because cultivating a culture of curiosity allows leaders and their employees to remain adaptive and resilient when in the face of economic uncertainty and competitive pressures.

Unfortunately, too often, businesses leaders set out with a high level of innovation but, over time, become less curious and start taking things for granted. They get stuck using the same formulas for success that worked in the past. Blackberry and Pan-Am are examples of businesses whose leadership became complacent. They clung to what was tried and tested and, as a result, weren’t able to keep pace with the changes in their respective industries.

The example of these high-profile demises serve as a message that organizations who remain open and committed to innovating and evolving lay a solid foundation for continued market relevance.

Research on the correlation between curiosity and positive business outcomes bears this out:

  • Over half of leaders believe curiosity enables greater efficiency and productivity (56%), innovating new solutions (59%), and greater employee engagement (52%).
  • Most managers agree that curiosity is a valuable trait when innovating new solutions (59%), tackling complex problems (57%) and general employee satisfaction (52%).

Why it Makes Business Sense to Cultivate Curiosity in Individuals and Teams

As leaders, when we allow our people’s curiosity to take flight and actively explore ideas beyond their immediate responsibilities, they’ll “see” their job with new eyes and “think” beyond the confines of their job description. They’ll consider problems and possibilities from all angles and be more likely to come up with better, more creative solutions.

Being intentional about encouraging curiosity in your workplace is also an effective strategy for nurturing talent and boosting your level of employee engagement. When you encourage questions, promote exploration, and celebrate discoveries, you’ll find that employee motivation and loyalty quickly follow.

How Can You Cultivate Curiosity in Your Workplace?

Successful leaders see curiosity as a critical professional skill that should be invested in and continuously nurtured. Let’s consider some strategies for building and sustaining a curiosity-driven working environment:

Hire Curious Candidates

Investigate curiosity in the interview process. Most hiring managers pay a great deal of attention to candidates’ qualifications and experience, but there’s much more to potential new hires than what’s on their resume. To build motivated and inspired teams, you want to hire people who are both qualified and inherently curious.

Question potential new hires about their interests outside of work. Are they drawn to reading or learning about topics outside their area of expertise? Also, listen closely to the questions they ask about your organization. If they express interest in learning more about the aspects of your company not directly related to their roles, that’s a positive indicator of an inherently curious mind. Another strategy might be to purposely hire candidates with unique backgrounds and different points of view. By inviting diverse personalities and viewpoints into your organization, you’ll set the stage for a dynamic environment that leverages different ideas as strengths and encourages natural creativity and innovation.

Invite Inquiry, Encourage Questioning

Give your employees explicit permission to be curious! They shouldn’t feel afraid to question the status quo or feel resigned to do something a certain way just because it’s the way it’s always been done. Challenge them to devise alternative approaches and support them with the time and resources they need to develop their ideas into a plan of action. Of course, curiosity won’t necessarily fix every business challenge or setback, but it’s a great starting point and might uncover some untapped solutions.

Bear in mind that some people may be more naturally curious than others. As with any other habit, developing curiosity requires practice. Create safe spaces where team members can freely inquire, challenge assumptions, and contribute ideas so great ideas are freely shared and spoken into action.

“You can’t just give someone a creativity injection. You have to create an environment for curiosity and a way to encourage people and get the best out of them.” Sir Ken Robinson, the most-watched speaker in TED’s history

Let People Choose Their Own Challenges

Offer employees a degree of independence in identifying their next challenge and growth trajectory. A new project is more likely to stimulate someone’s interest if they’ve opted in voluntarily rather than having it assigned to them by someone else.

Next, you might even grant employees autonomy regarding the “how” of implementation. By allowing them to experiment and take calculated risks, you’ll unleash maximum creativity. Of course, they may encounter challenges along the way, but they’ll be motivated to overcome them because they can explore and learn from their mistakes without the fear of looming deadlines or the need to accommodate overly strict project requirements.

Dissect Triumphs

Leaders who want to cultivate curious teams should take time to understand what propels their teammates forward. Set time aside to ask strong performers how they achieved a great result or overcame a particular challenge they faced on their last project. For example, you might say, “This project exceeded our client’s expectations—what key elements do you feel were instrumental in this success?”

You might also ask for feedback in how they think the company could improve in a certain area, or if there are any resources you could provide that would be helpful when they tackle their next big challenge.

Recognize and Reward Curious Employees

Following on from our previous point, when team members step out of their comfort zones, try something new, or accomplish something great, make sure you celebrate their achievements.

You can recognize and reward curiosity through both formal and informal channels, such as public recognition, promotions, or giving employees the opportunity to enroll in additional learning and development programs. Acknowledging those who aren’t afraid to ask questions and find smarter solutions will inspire others to follow their example.

“Pay attention to those employees who respectfully ask why. They are demonstrating an interest in their jobs and exhibiting a curiosity that could eventually translate into leadership ability.” Harvey Mackay, renowned American author and business speaker

Demonstrate Humility

Sometimes leaders may find it difficult to be challenged by direct feedback or even see it as a threat. Although the myth that “the boss knows best” is outdated in today’s modern work workplace, this power still persists in some corporate environments.

Let people know you don’t always have all the answers, you want to hear their bright ideas, and you’re excited by their new ideas and engagement. It shows you can be trusted to receive opinions that may run against your views or interpretations. It also signals to employees that it’s safe to step up to address the real issues and barriers to performance.

The Bottom Line

Change is coming at us faster and faster, and the more quickly you adapt, the more successful you’ll be. As a leader, it’s never been more important to remain curious, step out of your comfort zone, and embolden your people to follow suit.

Curious about your organization’s readiness for culture change? Download our free Culture Readiness Tool now.